Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Final Thoughts on Inquiry

Upon entering this course, I felt that much of inquiry was related to Science. Knowing that I do not teach Science on a daily basis, this worried me a bit based on how I would complete the tasks at hand. Throughout my time in class, I have come to learn and realize that inquiry is not just taught in Science, but rather curriculum wide. Sure, there is a strong need for it in a Science type of setting, and it may fit best here, but I have also come to realize that inquiry is formed through various skills. I have found that these types of skills are what students should be exposed to in all content areas as often as possible to help create lifelong learners.

I definitely want to make the implementation of inquiry a personal goal of mine for future lessons and years to come because I feel that it opens the doors for students. It helps to provide a sense of ownership for their learning, and it teaches them to search for answers. I think that taking an inquiry-based approach to all content areas will not only help to improve the quality of student understanding, but of student enjoyment as well. Inquiry allows students to fully participate in their learning, rather than simply absorbing it. A key component that I have learned from this course is that inquiry-based learning does not need to be hands-on, and not all hands-on learning is inquiry. When students discuss, debate, hypothesize, and draw connections, they are inquiring. During this time they are also discovering new things and actively participating in the learning process.

Teaching students how to discover and learn through inquiry provides them a wonderful educational experience that they can carry with them forever. Many life skills are developed through inquiry, that will help to create contributing members of society for our futures. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about inquiry and I will strive to utilize these strategies within my classroom, and throughout all content areas, as often as possible!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Developing Thoughts on Inquiry: Week 6

In this week's unit, many things were discussed. For one, the concept of the 5 E's were introduced, along with a discussion on the integration of Web 2.0 tools and assessment. I teach in a Learning Focused school, therefore the whole idea of the 5 E's seemed familiar to me based on the fact that we are required to have these areas in our daily plans. Engaging, exploring, explaining, elaborating, and evaluating are all important keys to a successful lesson.    

The engagement piece involves a hook to get the students interested in the task at hand, along with discussing the Essential Question of the lesson. Background knowledge and interests are activated and students are excited to learn. Within the exploring area, students have the ability to become actively involved in their learning. They feel safe enough to take risks and have a desire to learn more about the topic. Here they also begin to connect to their learning and share personal experiences. 

Next comes the area where the teacher explains the lesson and guides students. Here, students are able to explain the answer to the Essential Question and they can describe and explain what they are learning. After they are done explaining, students have the ability to extend their knowledge of the topic and can apply it to other situations or to the real world.

Finally, evaluation occurs. Evaluations include both formative and summative assessments throughout the entire lesson. Formative assessments are check ins throughout the lesson, and summative assessments of various skills will determine if the students mastered the overall topic.
I have learned this week that scoring is more commonly associated with formative assessments, and grading goes hand in hand with summative assessments. I do believe that formative assessments are crucial to the teaching process so that you know where your students are throughout their process of learning. I tend to do various check ins with my students such as thumbs up/thumbs down, clear, a little buggy, or totally buggy, or street light signs on their desks. These assessments are not only important for the teacher to gauge student understanding throughout the progression of a unit, but they are important for the student so they can gauge their own understanding of the material in preparation for the summative assessment. I stress to the students that they must be willing to take risks in order to learn, and that these check ins allow them to see where they need to work a little harder. 

This week's unit also stressed the idea that technology is an integral part of the formative assessment process. With all of the available web 2.0 applications that are available  online, most of which are free, it would be silly to not include these in our every day lessons. I have found a few that I love using such as Wordle, Tagxedo, Kid Blog, Glogster, Edmodo, and Prezi. All of these tools allows students to participate in their own learning, as well as allowing me to perform a formative assessment throughout the lesson. I do not always look at each of these assignments via Web 2.0 tools as a grade, but rather as an evaluation of their application of the skills being taught. I am always curious to find new ways to incorporate technology into my classroom, especially for formative assessments. 

Each elementary school in our district, along with a few individual teachers, have a set of clickers that allows students to respond throughout a lesson. I am curious to try something like this so that I could accurately judge their learning based on their intitial responses throughout the entire lesson. I think the students would also enjoy something like this, and they would be actively engaged the entire time.

I don't have any burning questions at this time, but I am enjoying this class and the fact that I have had some experience with the technological tools being used. It gives me a bit more confidence when taking these tools and applying them to my lessons, assessments, and evaluations. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Developing Thoughts on Inquiry: Week 5

Leading up to this week, I have learned many new things regarding inquiry, especially when it comes to the idea of facts and concepts. I enjoyed learning about how they are pertinent pieces of information that students must understand to take part in inquiry. I also was able to work on my skills when it came to creating investigable and non-investigable questions. I would have to say that this proved to be a bit of a challenge for me in some cases. I find that I do a lot of non-investigable questioning my classroom, and after this week's readings, my goal is to try to turn some of those non-investigable questions into investigable ones, so that my students can have a more active role in inquiry.

This past week, in particular, I learned about the different categories that exist within Web 2.0 tools, along with the various ways to incorporate these tools into inquiry-based learning. I felt that I had a background with many of these tools because I have used them in my classroom, and I have had a few classes involving them already. This made me feel like I was in my "comfort zone."  Despite having experience with it, I still feel that I learned a lot this week. I love the fact that Web 2.0 tools offer such a variety of categories such as Presentation Tools, Video Tools, Mobile Tools, and Community Tools...all of which can be tweaked to fit the needs of your students and the ever-changing classroom.

I found that the common theme among these tools is that they encourage sharing and collaboration in an Internet-based forum. It is wonderful to know that many of our students not only collaborate using these tools in the classroom, but they are eager to continue using them at home. Many even share what they're doing with their parents; therefore, there may be a bit more to the typical dinner conversation when a parent asks what their child did at school today:) Another positive thing to mention is that most of the Web 2.0 tools provided to an educator are kid friendly. I know I personally value the fact that I can tell parents that what their children are doing in class is not only helping them learn new concepts and technologies, but they are also safe while doing so!  Whether students are watching or creating an interactive Prezi with information literally zipping around the screen, or using Kid Blog to present inquiry questions through an interactive and safe blog site, students are employing the Internet as an interactive tool, not as a stagnant resource.

My burning question for this week reverts back to the typical question of time! When does a teacher have time to implement so many of these wonderful Web 2.0 tools into their lessons when there is SO much other curriculum and standards to cover? I feel like this has become a common question that I ask myself EVERY day when lesson planning. I have been teaching now for seven years, and I have never felt so much pressure as I do this year when it comes to fitting it all in and having lesson plans that cover every last thing that could possibly occur. Whatever happened to flexibility within a classroom? I am not sure if this is just my district or if others are feeling that pressure too, but the thought of incorporating this technology is just one more thing to do. I LOVE technology and try to use it as much as possible with my students, but I am finding that the high-stakes tests are driving us to teach towards standards only, leaving little room for creativity and technology enhancement!

On another note, having the resources available to do many of these things from this week proves to be a difficult task for some. We are blessed in my district to have so many technological resources available to us, but with so many teachers feeling the need to incorporate technology, the demand for more resources has increased. One must also keep in mind the time it takes to deal with any technology issues that occur along the way.

Overall, despite the issues, I find that using Web 2.0 tools in my classrooms has proved to be a wonderful experience that the students truly enjoy. It fills my bucket when I hear them talking about how much they enjoyed a particular activity that we did that involved a Web 2.0 tool, and that is what keeps me motivated to continue trying new things. As hard as it can be at times, I know that the students really do appreciate the things they have available to them. Afterall, it is the world they are growing up in, they want to be immersed in technology!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Developing Thoughts on Inquiry: Week 2

Unit 2 consisted of readings and discussions focused on the abilities and understandings necessary before one can implement inquiry-based learning in the classroom. It also focused on the importance of building a classroom community. 

I truly believe that creating a classroom community is essential when supporting an inquiry-based classroom for many reasons. For one, allowing students to feel part of something larger than themselves can prove to be a very powerful tool. Students need to feel like they are safe, and with that safety comes the opportunity to take risks. They must feel like a vital part of the team where they believe that they will be heard, valued, and understood. With this process, students will begin to take learning into their own hands and will advance in various areas across the board. When all students feel like they are part of their classroom community, they are working towards a common goal. This will help them become engaged in a fascinating topic, or it will spark an interest when trying to figure out a solution for a meaningful problem. Overall, students will feel more connected to the school and to each other when a positive classroom community is formed.

I enjoyed dissecting a lesson using the Discovery Education Techbook...what a fantastic tool!!! It was great seeing how this lesson paralleled many familiar things that I already do within my classroom, showing me that I can definitely create an inquiry based classroom with a few adaptations. It was also nice to see the additional things that I'm missing, and from that, I was able to take a few notes and tips on how to go about making my lessons even better. I teach World Cultures so having a variety of lessons to look at gave me some great ideas:)

Within the Processes of Inquiry topic, I found it fascinating when looking at all of the items that schools are responsible for when it comes to college and career readiness. The more I read, the more my head was spinning! I was able to voice my opinion here when it comes to the fact that we cannot teach every student as if they are heading to a four year college program. Instead, we must find their interests, talents, and motivations, and we must foster them so that they feel, and are, successful. Encouraging students to attend trade schools is not a bad thing. Just because they do not choose a college program does not make them any different than anyone else. Regardless of the path, students must have necessary life skills to flourish, along with the processing skills it takes to compete and achieve success.  

With so much information discussed in this unit, and especially during the last topic of looking at processing skills, I have one crucial question...How do we determine whether or not students are achieving success in the development of crucial life skills and processing skills? Each student is different and may be on a different path. With that being said, how do we know for certain that each student, regardless of future endeavors, is achieving on the appropriate level?

Not to take anything away from this unit, but I didn't feel as if this weeks discussions and readings lead to a new development in the understanding of inquiry, but I feel that it helped create a deeper understanding of what truly goes into creating this type of classroom. I also feel that it really opened my eyes to what educators are responsible for within our classrooms. I continue to take pride in getting to know my students and caring about them beyond a test score or grade, but it was amazing to see just how much pressure is being placed on teachers when it comes to teaching the foundations of academics AND life skills!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Developing Thoughts on Inquiry: Week 1

Prior to this course, I knew what inquiry was, but did not fully understand its depth. After completing this week’s readings, I now understand why inquiry based learning is a process that is tough to define, and even harder to teach. Since there is no manual for inquiry, it becomes a process that is learned through experience. Having said that, inquiry may look different to each student. The Inquiry Page: Learning Begins with Questions website (http://inquiry.illinois.edu/inquiry/process.php) does a wonderful job showing the cyclical pattern that inquiry follows. It describes how questioning, investigating, creating, discussing, and reflecting all work as one to create inquiry. Upon reading about inquiry, I made the connection between its process, and the lesson planning that I do within our Learning Focused school. Starting lessons with an Essential Question, is very much like the beginning stage of inquiry. Despite starting with a question, I feel as though many lessons miss out on the depth that inquiry can offer. So many times we scratch the surface instead of diving into the material and really investigating it, creating new things from the information at hand, and reflecting on why it was important.

For some students, such as those who are gifted, inquiry may come to them more naturally, but for those who are struggling learners, inquiry may become a challenge in itself. After reading this week's articles, I feel that everyone has the ability to experience inquiry, despite the fact that it may happen on various levels. Teaching inquiry to our students allows them to have ownership of their learning, and at times can become uncomfortable for the teacher since they simply become the facilitator when the kids take the active role. Despite it being uncomfortable at times, we need to be open to inquiry and encourage it in our classrooms in efforts to create lifelong learners in our students.

Inquiry really sparks my interest because it reminds me of the concept of project based learning and the positives that can come from it. I believe that incorporating as many real world projects and applications into my classroom will better prepare my students for their future and will allow them to get the most value from their learning.

One question I have is how should we be molding our classroom lessons at the elementary level to spark inquiry? We homogeneously group our students so some of our groups naturally lend themselves to inquiry, where as others do not. Even though all students are capable of inquiry, the lower achieving students tend to sit back and let the teachers do things for them since they have learned helplessness. I guess that all goes reverts back to the never ending battle with finding what motivates each student!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My thoughts as I see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Upon graduating and starting my career as a teacher 7 years ago, I have been a student as well as a teacher...I like to call myself a lifelong learner. Within this time, my goals were to fulfill my teaching requirements, and to receive a Masters Degree. I feel that I have not only done that, but in doing so, I've also become a better teacher based on the things that I was able to "take home" from these classes. Not only is this my last class for my Master’s of Science in Instructional Media degree at Wilkes University, but it is also my last class to put me at M+30 within my district (woo hoo)! I'm looking forward to all the great things that I'll learn in this class that I can apply to my classroom that will help my students learn best.

This program has provided me with a great experience, and it has been incredibly rewarding to be able to work with, and hear from, the variety of colleagues from across the country. I will miss participating in these courses, but I'm sure I will find many other things to keep me busy and improving as a teacher:)