Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Five Tips to Managing an INQUIRY Based Classroom!

If you haven't heard of inquiry, then you haven't been listening at your staff meetings. Inquiry and inquiry based teaching seem like the new buzz word/phrases in education this year. Now I've been teaching for nine years and lots of words come and go, is this one here to stay? Who knows, but I can tell you I absolutely love this model of teaching. My students are thinking for themselves, engaged in their work, proud of their accomplishments, and have become better communicators! Want to try it out in your classroom? Below are FIVE tips to get started. Please note, I am not an expert, but as a newbie, I am happy to share what I learned this year!

#1. Student independence is a huge piece of inquiry. This not only refers to independent actions, but it also refers to independent thoughts. When we encourage students to think on their own, we really are encouraging them to wonder and inquire about the world around them without worrying about the right answer or what the teacher will say. When students express and explore their own thoughts, their learning takes place at a much deeper level. Creating an independent classroom environment empowers the learner, allowing them to extend their learning beyond the given task.

#2. The teacher is still involved. Keep the lesson short, don't give everything away. Allow the
students to want to create and explore questions in their heads and out loud. Let me start by saying an inquiry based independent classroom is NOT a free for all. The teacher doesn't sit behind the desk and browse Facebook all day, but instead the teacher learns with the students and checks in on groups at all times. Sometimes, during scientific investigations, I like to sit a student desk and see learning through the students' eyes. Do I stay in that one space? No, but it is a great place to blend in and really listen to student discussions.

#3. Be ready for NOISE. Self discovery is great, but students communicating and problem solving TOGETHER is even better. After all, aren't we trying to teach students content as well as life skills. So much can come from a student verbally explaining his/her thinking. Through trial and error this year, I've found out that a strong inquiry based classroom works cooperatively, understanding that two heads are better than one. Often, the teacher is the last resort resources, due to the fact that independent students enjoy seeking and finding answers on their own. 

#4. Get organized! Students will be using classroom materials and the cooperation of their peers to solve problems. When puzzled or stumped, students are able to direct themselves to a resource that will help them to solve their problem or answer their question. Accessing books or information on computers or tablets is a part of everyday life in an independent classroom. These materials should be in a consistent locations that is accessible to all students. Getting students in the routine to get their own materials is a huge step to independence. It may take double the time, but it will be worth it in the long run.

#5. Model, model, and model again! In fact, even try to role play a scenario. Some students may think it is silly, but before long, you will notice students mimicking your actions and dialogue. Getting students to speak academically to each other to find answers and gain perspective from their classmates, is a HUGE goal of mine. Seriously though, if I hear, "Can you help me get the thingy to work, my group is stuck?" one more time, I will fall over. Academic vocabulary comes from modeling everyday. Turn it into a game, have students copy down vocabulary words, role play scenarios, do anything to get the student to start speaking like a student.

Still need some more guidance? Check out my science unit on Force & Motion. It contains specific directions, print outs, examples of anchor charts, and student samples for FIVE different investigations. I've been so happy reading feedback from other science teachers that said this unit has helped with inquiry and making science fun and hands on for their students.




I know that seems like a dream, and it won't happen over night, but don't give up. Try, try, and try again. If it doesn't work the first time, refocus yourself and your class and model some more.  Just this year I stopped being so Type A, and let go of some of the control in my classroom. It is the most I've ever seen my students grow and we still have TEN weeks of school left. My fourth graders will make their fifth graders teachers proud next year! :) 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Leprechaun traps were ready and set!

My fourth graders couldn't have been more excited to receive the take home STEM optional assignment. Believe it or not, I heard a ton of positive feedback from the parents too! I have around 75 students and over 30 completed traps. On St. Patrick's Day, we all met together for a triad meeting and each student presented their trap, told about the simple machine they incorporated, and showed how a magnet would help catch a leprechaun. Each student showed amazing engineering skills and so much pride in their invention. Check out some of their projects! 

And guess what? The next day every single trap was set off, but no leprechaun was in sight! However, we guessed the leprechaun was impressed with all the creativity he saw because he left candy, stickers, tattoos, pencils, gold coins, and jewels! 

We even spotted some footprints! 😂

Overall, this project was a huge success and the students will remember it for years to come! The way they incorporated magnets and simple machines truly amazed me! 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Science, Stem, and lots of Magnets!

My class is just finishing up our magnet unit and I have to say the learning that has been going on in this classroom amazes me! I am so proud of my students, and lets face it, myself too! I can honestly say now that the change from eight years of ELA to Science/Social Studies this year, might have been just the refresher I needed in my educational career. I am excited to come to work, excited to see my students wonder, learn, and discover, and am blown away by the expectations of the new NGSS

We've been drawing diagrams, collecting and analyzing data, explaining our thinking, and proving our answers. Check out this gorgeous diagram below explaining what the student learned in the static electricity center.

Some examples of our magnet centers. I will post more about them soon, I promise!

Have you heard of Gizmos? They are interactive stimulation lab activities that are awesome! They work from 4th grade all the way up through middle/high school and are math/science focused. 

Luckily Gizmos work on Chrome Books and our students love them. In one half of the picture below students are learning about materials that are attracted to magnets and other materials that are repelled by magnets. In the other half of the picture, students are discovering how to use field lines to tell if magnets will be attracted or repelled. Pretty high tech four fourth grade, isn't it! ;) 

So that's what we've been up to in the classroom over the past few weeks. I have so much more to blog about and share with you. Do you teach about magnets? My students also really enjoyed working on homework that applies directly to our current unit. I also feel that it is a great home/school connection and I received a ton of positive feedback from parents on the quick, meaningful, reading passages assigned. Check out the packet on magnets. Not only are these packets created with short passages, but also ELA standards are addressed when the student has to create a one-two sentence summary, diagram, and find choice vocabulary to help them remember the content.