I've posted this to my Group in my role for a PLP cohort, but want to post the bulk of it here as a way of documenting part of how we start the school year. I don't pretend to be an expert on Inquiry but offer this over-the-shoulder look for anyone who is interested:
I went back to work today, as here in Australia we have just concluded our summer holidays break. We have three preparation days, then the Australia Day public holiday before welcoming our new students for the 2010 school year. I thought that I'd share with you all how Inquiry sits in our preparation for the coming year and how we approach both our units of Inquiry and the development of an inquiry driven classroom.
First, a bit of context. This year I am a tandem teacher of a class of thirty Year Sevens (12 year olds) - I teach the class three days a week and my partner Kim takes the other two. As well as that, our school has a model of co-planning teams where the Inquiry Units are planned and implemented in a consistent way. So, Kim and I have a co-planning buddy - Maria, who is the teacher "next door" who has a class of thirty-one Year Seven students. We met today to start to map out our Inquiry units for the coming year.
Our school has developed a Scope And Sequence for Inquiry that incorporates outcomes from our local curriculum in the subject areas of Studies Of Society & Environment (known as SOSE), Science, Health and The Arts. Literacy and Numeracy outcomes are woven in where relevant but each co-planning team has a series of six Inquiry Units designed to "cover" the defined curricular outcomes. It is similar in many ways to an International Baccalaureate program of inquiry, and there are key questions developed to represent each unit and help in starting the design of that unit. We have a great deal of freedom within each unit in terms of activities, guiding themes, focus but two things are constant in our approach to Inquiry design.
Firstly, we use a document planner template (Word format although we may move it to a wiki eventually) that is designed with the principles of Understanding By Design (UbD) in mind. The thing that many teachers are guilty of when planning any units of learning is leaping to designing the activities that they believe the students will enjoy or taking a theme and going extremely wide in covering as many aspects and tangents behind the inquiry question as possible. So, the key thing this planner does for us is keep us going back to the designated outcomes and "Essential Understandings". What is it that we want the students to understand? What skills and knowledge will help them to get there?
Only when we are clear on this can we move to the next aspect which is thinking about assessment. How will we determine that students have moved in their understanding of the unit? Then we move to selecting and designing learning activities that only serve those purposes and we use an Inquiry Process developed by an Australian educator from Melbourne named Kath Murdoch to lead the students through the inquiry process. Here's a link to a webpage that includes some resources related to her work. The page also has a link to a great PDF that outlines her approach, the approach that we use throughout our school.
Well, we are not ready to plan anything yet for this year as we like to re-design units of work to avoid the issue of any students saying "We did that last year." Today, we started to put together an Inquiry Timeline, placing the required units from the Scope & Sequence in a suitable order and determining the approximate time in weeks to spend on each unit. We looked to tie one of our Inquiry units in with our planned double class camp down to Aldinga Beach, with an Indigenous Studies focus. Once we have established the sequence for 2010, we will pull out a new digital planning document and start the design process.