Bookmarked The art of inquiry teaching…from a distance: Part #1

Someone described it to me as the ‘moment when the clouds parted and the sun shone through’. That is what it felt like way back in June (remember June?) when, for a few precious weeks, I was able to go into schools and work with kids and teachers face to face. It was definitely NOT the same expe…

Kath Murdoch shares two posts (one and two) unpacking strategies for incorporating inquiry into the remote context:

  • Cultivate curiosity by provoking, modelling and valuing it
  • Ask more questions than tell
  • Release control and let learners do the heavy lifting
  • Notice, reflect and respond
  • Be personal by helping students find and pursue their passion
  • Harness real contexts, such as virtual field trips
  • Allow for humour and play
  • Encourage collaboration
  • Focus on concepts over busy work
  • Celebrate the skills within the learning

Emily Fintelman provides her own take on incorporating inquiry into the online classroom, as well as an excellent reflection in the DLTV Journal.

Bookmarked Staying awake to the world: taking time to inquire into and build our own

I have always been wary of the glib phrase: “Inquiry teachers can learn alongside the children”. While there is certainly truth in that (I have learned SO much simply being part of an inquiry journey with groups and individuals) it doesn’t mean we are ‘off the hook’. Our ignorance can prevent us from asking better questions, helping learners make connections or pointing the way to critical information that can help struggling learners make meaning. In fact I have often observed in my own teaching that the deeper my understanding of something is, the better I am at listening, waiting, questioning and holding back to support the learner. Even when we might be assisting learners in a personal inquiry that goes well beyond our own field of interest and expertise, we need to know enough about how to connect to and locate others with the expertise … and that, in itself, requires us to stay awake to the world around us.

Kath Murdoch responds to the prime ministers mistake in claiming that we have never had slavery in Australia by providing a list of ways we can stay more awake. Whether it be sharing podcasts or connecting with an expert, the intent of this time is to spur our sense of curiosity.

We need to have hungry minds that stay relentlessly curious about the way the world works and the way we understand the world. We need to keep pushing ourselves out of our “comfortable knowledge bubbles” and be prepared to be the geographers, historians, scientists, authors, mathematicians and artists we hope our students will be.

I remember trying to push the sharing of ideas and resources a few years ago through social bookmarking. I think the biggest challenge is legitimising the time. Too often in the busyness of planning things can quickly become about getting it done.

Bookmarked 7 Lessons from deep in the inquiry trenches…

Who else is flexing their inquiry muscles right now? As we all rapidly transition to teaching online or trying to support our learners at a distance (not all kids around the world have access to internet and devices #justsaying) teachers everywhere are immersed in personal inquiry. I am no exception…

Kath Murdoch reflects on her personal inquiry into online learning. She structures her thoughts around seven things that she has noticed:

  1. I have a real need to inquire
  2. My learning journey is messy
  3. Skills and dispositions are my most important asset right now
  4. I don’t know what I don’t know
  5. I really wrestle with feeling incompetent and uncertain
  6. I don’t want to be talked at for too long
  7. I have welcomed being able to manage my time and learning at my own pace

One of the messages that stood out to me was the impact having skin in the game had on her learning:

Would I have a sustained interest and desire to learn about online facilitation had there been no real purpose for me? Probably not. Would I have fully engaged with this inquiry if some well-meaning ‘teacher’ told me I had to?  I doubt it. I am doing this because I can see the value and purpose in it.

I think that this is a great post to consider when working with staff or students as they grapple with the changing learning landscape. It is also interesting to consider this alongside David White’s wondering about engagement and learning narratives.

Bookmarked Can we still do Project Based Learning at home? Yes we can! (Bianca Hewes)

I’m confident that collaborative learning will be able to continue effectively even if all students are isolated at home due to school closures. Why? Well, if schools are serious about project work, they will have created a culture in our schools where students and teachers value the work as reflecting that which is done in the non-school world (in industry projects, and in our personal lives like planning birthday parties). Despite many businesses already moving to working from home, many projects continue to move forward. I have no doubt that the project work already started at my school will continue when schools are finally closed.

Bianca Hewes explains how even with the disruptions of moving learning online that Project Based Learning can still continue. She provides some strategies that are already in place in her school which will support this:

  1. We have established and will maintain a structured approach to all projects.
  2. Online resources are organised according to our discover, create, share model.
  3. Our students care about the work they are doing, so they’ll keep doing it.
  4. Allocation of individual responsibilities within teams.
  5. Following the learning calendar already established at the beginning of the project.

One of my concerns with moving online is the fear that students will not have meaningful opportunities to engage with each other. I therefore wonder if team based learning is even more important in times of isolation.

In addition to Bianca and Lee’s work, Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy have shared a step-by-step guide to project based learning in a virtual world.

Replied to Praxis iii – starting a new course with Dungeons and Dragons (Bianca Hewes)

The game essentially involves storytelling and decision-making. It’s a bit like choose your own adventure, maybe? The dungeon master tells the story, and sometimes rolls a dice to decide on things (e.g. level of damage an action has), and everyone else listens to the narrative and then calls out actions they want to make if possible. We are playing the beginner campaign, so we are trying to get a wagon full of stuff from one location to another – we’re gonna get paid 10 gold pieces each if we make it. I’m a human fighter, I can’t remember my name, oops. I do know that I am wearing heavy chainmail which makes me the least stealthy of the group. We only got about 15 minutes into the campaign before the bell went, but we decided to continue again today. Already playing D&D has helped me to learn a lot about my students, and how they work as a team. I can clearly see the leaders, and those who would like to be leaders. I can see the patient ones who have interesting ideas, and the ones who need to work on their impulse control and collaborative turn-taking. I can also tell that they are going to love this course, and so am I.

I am really enjoying return to blogging Bianca (although I am assuming that you were still sharing, just elsewhere). I am also looking forward to reading your current praxis journey.
Bookmarked Inquiry in the mist – and midst – of troubling times.

In returning to our classrooms in the coming weeks we will need, in part, to trust that the learners will lead us – if we take time to listen. Of course we will need to make some plans, and think ahead about what and how to manage the opportunity and the challenge but if we plan too tightly (even with the best of intentions) we may miss out on the most important element in the inquiry process – tuning in to the thinking and feeling of the learners themselves in order to get gradual clarity about the best ways forward. So ask your kids – ask them for permission to have the conversation in the first place, ask them how they feel about talking about it and – if they want to – ask them to share their wonderings and allow yourself to ask “What does this reveal to me? Where might we need to go next?”

Kath Murdoch reflects on the Australian bushfires and the challenge of grief work. She provides a number of suggestions to support teachers, including staying open to possibilities, inviting students rather than assuming a position, think conceptually and take action associated with the situation.

Many of us feel more positive about challenging situations when we feel we are taking action – when we have some agency to make a difference.  Your students may wish to explore some of the many ‘actions’ being carried out by people within communities all around the world and be part of these,  This is a great time to make real connections with individuals, community groups, and organisations and empower your students through involvement in real projects.

This builds on Jackie French’s discussion of learning in the midst of tragedy.

Bookmarked Making spaces to create: environments for collaborative planning

Now of course, great inquiry teachers can plan anytime, anywhere. No one really NEEDS an inspiring environment to design for powerful learning. BUT I wonder what would happen if we did indeed pay a little more attention to the spaces in which we ask teachers to do this important work? How might it contribute to our wellbeing? Our creative process?

Kath Murdoch questions the space we cultivate for teachers and the impact that this might have on learning. To support this, Murdoch provides a number of strategies, such as access to resources, professional reading on display, objects and light to inspire and an active ‘wonderwall‘ for staff. Personally, I think that the space where teachers plan can often provide an intriguing insight into the wider school culture as it is often the last space considered because it does not directly involve students.
Replied to #rawthought: What’s the Big Idea? A Thematic, Inter-disciplinary Approach by amyburvallamyburvall (AmusED)

Why not center the entire school-wide curriculum around umbrella concepts that spur big (and little) questions? I’m talking total multi-generational and interdisciplinary. I’ve previously pondered a curriculum derived from the lenses of philosophy and the arts (I’m still loving that idea), but I wanted to play with what grande topics could be the anchors of study.

Love this idea Amy. Wonder how it differs from Kath Murdoch’s discussion of throughlines.
Replied to Detractors from afar by gregmiller68

Over the last few weeks St Luke’s Marsden Park found itself in the news more than usual. That can be partly explained by our appearance on ABC’s 7:30, a television program with a national profile. Overall, the story portrayed St Luke’s in a positive light; however, the assertions by Jennifer Buckingham from the Centre of Independent Studies  that, “the approach taken at St Luke’s really is an experiment” and, “there is a great risk that this experiment will fail”, could not be left unchallenged.

This is a great reflection on the journey that you have started at St Luke’s. I think that it fits with the idea of change through encouragement, rather than revolution. To me it fits with the model of change being pushed by groups like Agile Schools, where bit by bit education is progressively transformed. Is this an experiment? Maybe, but the question I have is what support and structures are put in place to support such changes. I think where things becomes undone is where we think it is just one thing that will make all the difference. I recently read The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and have been left with the reality that all we can do is inoculate ourselves against the treat of the unexpected result by spreading our investments, rather than betting on a unicorn. I wonder if this is a part of what Gert Biesta describes as the beautiful risk of education.

Having said all this, I was also left wondering (and worrying) as to what detractors wish as an outcome by making the case about experimenting in school? Does Jennifer expect you to stop everything you are doing and pivot to what someone else is doing? In some ways this reminds me of the uproar involving Johanna O’Farrell from a few years ago. Although tribes are good at building a sense of community, there are times I wonder if they really evolve the conversation? I think that this is the problem that groups like Team Human and #ProSocialWeb are trying to grapple with.

Bookmarked It’s about time we inquired into time…. by Kath Murdoch


Kath Murdoch reflects on the challenge of time and priority. She provides a number of suggestions to support this process, including being mindful, being consiously calm, remember we all have 24 hours in a day, resist the urge to plan too much and know your curriculum. This reminded me of Seth Godin’s statement

“I didn’t have time.” This actually means, “it wasn’t important enough.” It wasn’t a high priority, fun, distracting, profitable or urgent enough to make it to the top of the list.

I was also left thinking about Tom Barrett’s discussion of innovation compression:

We need to lead with a deep appreciation for what is on people’s plates. We need to avoid innovation compression by clearing the way, closing existing programmes and providing people the resources they need to make things work.

I think that hexagonal planning can be useful in helping with this process.

Bookmarked Getting personal: conferring with learners as they inquire by Kath Murdoch

Critical to the success of our experience with personal inquiry is the role of the teacher in conferring with learners. Far from being a routine that allows learners to simply “go off on their own” , teachers are working the room as coaches, guides, observers and co-researchers. Scheduled and spontaneous conferences are the mainstay of the teachers’ role during iTime.

Kath Murdoch discusses the importance of conferring during the inquiry process. These conversations can contribute to formative assessment, getting to know students building trust, providing feedback and learning about learning. To support all this, Murdoch provides a list of tips and questions, such as providing multiple ideas if suggesting solutions or articulating what the child has taught you. I have found one of the biggest challenges with conferencing is to support students in owning this. In a different post,Tom Whitby discusses the power associated with communicating and conferring with parents and explains how this can influence our knowledge of students and the way they learn.
Liked Getting the mix right: Teacher guidance and inquiry learning. (Kath Murdoch)

So I have been playing around with this image – as a way to illustrate the nature of teacher guidance in inquiry – and our quest to nurture agency through it. I see it a little like a sound engineer’s mixing desk. For most of us, the tendency can be to raise our level of guidance too high and too soon and for too long. Practising the techniques of releasing responsibility, allowing some struggle, observing and listening, slowing down, waiting and explaining at the point of need means we learn to step in less frequently and with less ‘volume’ than we may have thought necessary.

Bookmarked Inquiry, noticing and the changing seasons… A tribute to the late Frank Ryan. by Kath Murdoch (Kath Murdoch)

The changing environment offers an incredible opportunity for inquiry. But why limit that inquiry into one stand alone unit when, in fact, the opportunity to learn about, notice, anticipate, observe and record change is available to us every single day? Inquiring into the environment is SO much better as an ongoing experience. And I am not just talking about a filling in a weather chart each day! On a regular basis, take your kids OUTSIDE to observe and record what they see, hear and smell. Take time to record, to photograph, to draw – and simply to BE in the outdoors. Have each child find their special spot – a place they will return to all year and document change. Find a window in your school through which to see the outside world. Watch the way the view out that window changes over the year. Draw it, write about it, capture it in a diary that will be used again next year to anticipate change

Kath Murdoch reflects on the potential of the environment associated with inquiry. She shares a number of activities to support people:

Connect with places around your school in which you and your children can spend time in more natural environments. Build a relationship with your local parks, waterways, beaches, gardens.

Go for walks. Walk slowly and learn to notice the small things. Nature is everywhere…even in the cracks of the footpath of the most urban street. Record what you see on your walks and take the same route each time to notice the subtle and more dramatic changes.

Create a timeline in the classroom that depicts what you are noticing each month about the environment around you. Include photos, sketches and observations on the timeline. What birds are in the school yard at different times of the year? Which plants are flowering? Where are the shadows falling in the school yard?

Encourage your kids to get to know nature in their neighbourhoods or back yards. Have them keep diaries or journals, take photographs and track the way that places change over a year.

Find out what kinds of plants there are in your school yard. Keep track of how they grow and change over time.

Start noticing the birds – what species are in the school grounds? Does it change over the year? Which birds are native? Introduced? What are their habits? Where do they prefer to hang out? Why?

Connect with kids in other parts of your country or even state. What is their experience of the environment at simultaneous times of the year?

Find out about the ways the indigenous people of your area identify seasonal change.
Talk to your kids about what YOU notice as the days pass over the year. Model what it means to be fascinated by and connected to your environment. Marvel aloud at the changing seasons.

This continues Diane Kashin’s conversation about place and my reflections on learning outside.

Bookmarked But You Can’t Do That in a STEM course! | Hybrid Pedagogy by Karen Cangialosi (Hybrid Pedagogy)

When we stop judging students they stop judging and censoring themselves. They begin to actually learn. Even in a STEM class.

Karen Cangialosi unpacks the argument that open pedagogy strategies have as much place with STEM subjects, as they do within the humanities.
Bookmarked We live in Pinteresting times….. (Kath Murdoch)

How do we model ethical use of materials to our students? How much does this matter to us anyway? How freely should materials be shared without consultation or permission? When is it OK to sell our work? What does ‘original’ mean? If the words are someone else’s but we choose the font, colour and images – does that make it original? What responsibility do we have as producers AND consumers to acknowledge the work done by others? Who really owns what? What do we know/believe about the thorny issue of intellectual property? AND…. Why do we prefer a glossy, pretty poster over the children’s own documentation on our walls? Do our learners USE the stuff we decorate the walls with? What should be on our walls anyway? Who is it for?

Kath Murdoch reflects on the endless requests for Inquiry posters. Even though she continues to refuse, believing that it should be a conversation had, rather than a rule followed, othera think differently. She therefore wonders about the ethics of sharing. This is an interesting read in light of creative commons and the creation of graphics.
Liked Looking back to look forward – reflections on learning about ‘agency’ (Kath Murdoch)

For those of us like myself who (all of a sudden it seems) mostly find themselves the oldest teacher in room, there is a strange sense of déjà vu about the flurry of excitement around agency. The challenge to rethink the way we ‘do’ teaching and learning and the desire to wrench schools from the transmission/factory-inspired model of the past has burned brightly within so many educators for a long time. It is not a new idea and therefore, not one to be dismissed as a fad or ‘the latest buzz word’. And this is far from another proverbial ‘pendulum swing’. I am eternally grateful to those who have gone before. Those who have believed strongly that learning is not something that gets done TO us – it is something we do for ourselves. It is so exciting to see a globally respected organisation such as the IBO place learner agency at the centre of its enhanced program. There is something palpably different about the new rise of ‘learner agency ‘ in the contemporary landscape.