Kath Murdoch Seminar

Teaching and Learning through Inquiry

Inquiry tends to meander according to interest and priority, but still adheres to a basic plan. Going to look at the essential questions behind inquiry based learning. What interests Kath is how the theory of inquiry learning stacks up against the practical application in the classroom. Blessing and curse of the job is that teachers never stop learning (good teachers anyway).

We started with Personal goal setting for the day. Here’s mine – stay focussed, on topic, resist the temptation to pursue distractions, and reflect back on my classroom practice. Sometimes, reflection involves interaction with others in the pursuit of clarity. Why goal setting? Inquiry as a methodology is much bigger than units of work.

“We are all responsible for our own learning. The teacher’s responsibility is to create educational environments that permit students to assume the responsibility that is rightfully and naturally theirs.”

Brooks and Brooks, 1999.

Start the year by inquiring into learning - self assessing and goal setting.

We did a partner questioning activity using the five whys process (5 whys before you insert a how). Metacognition is regulating your thinking after you’re noticed it. Question was “Why use inquiry thinking?” My first response was that we want students to take responsibility for their own learning.

Teachers often have own agenda when using questioning in the classroom. Talked about the concept of “wait time” when responding to deeper questions.

Why? Engagement, independent learning skills, understanding, integration, connected teaching and learning, cater for learning styles, transferable process (for all learner, not just those designated as students) and tapping into students’ curiosity.

What is the essence of inquiry?

Y chart exercise and placemat activity. Visual organiser, used to examine an unusual object. Inquiry is not just students choosing what they want to do with the teacher becoming the “guide on the side” providing resources and inspiration.

My thought –inquiry is structured but not restrictive.

Use learning strategies, not just classroom activities. Have menus of strategies in the classroom - create your own menus. See “Classroom Connections. Strategies for Integrated Learning” by Kate Murdoch.

Students need to be building on what they already know. Inquiry classrooms are explicit environments, talking about the topic that is being explored as well as consciously focussing on specific skills.

If it’s inquiry, then questions will be driving it. Students will be working though a sustained investigation, actively gathering and processing information / data for deeper understanding.  It’s about building skills and strategies with a strong emphasis on developing understanding not just fact finding, with students have opportunity to pursue questions of their own.

An interesting comment from the audience about the role of facts - hunting and gathering of information needs to move onto deeper exploration. Use the “facts of the day” to build understanding of concepts. Question the content as it’s not just about recall. Not all units of work need to be the same length – give time when it is needed.

Different forms of inquiry – “project” oriented inquiry (driver by action or culminating task), inquiries that accompany key events in the school, local or global community (used the example of the Olympics which car be done as medal tallies, flags, athlete biographies or the concepts behind the Olympics can be used for deeper learning). Open up topics to a more generative question (what makes a good pet?) and the use of spontaneous inquiry.

Kath’s model:

Finding out: How can we investigate this?  Still important to ask the kids how they might learn about their topic? If using an expert, how do we make sure that the students get the most of the opportunity? How to gather information, sorting out and make understanding of it.

The sorting out process is very important - take the time to pause, reflect and check on whether students understand. One method to do a "temperature check" using five sentence starters about the topic - 1. I learned... 2. I used... 3. I tried... 4. I felt... 5. I wondered... Another method was the fishbowl activity that has one group sorting ambiguous statements into "more true" or "more false" categories while others observe. In the adult setting of today, my colleagues noticed the phenomenon of the "piranha" in the fishbowl - the person who grabbed all the statements and then sorted through with their method of consultation being, "I think this. Don't you agree?"

Kath's point about what work in the inquiry process gets done where - synthesizing at school under the guidance of the teacher, while leaving gathering information and creating presentation are suitable for home based work. She emphasised the importance of the "pause" button along the way - and that one of the best ways for me to cement what has been learned is for me to teach someone else.

Finally, how we frame the inquiry up in the first place?

  • Why is this question/topic the focus?
  • What is it that we want our students to understand?
  • What do we want them to do?
  • What is it that we want them to be?

Inquiry needs to be Understanding driven, with a clear set of goals. (Sounds like the UbD model is a natural fit.)

That's the end of the notes - a reflective post on what this all means for my classroom coming in the near future. So much to consider in terms of what I do in relation to our student Personal Research Projects, our global collaboration projects, what I read over at Konrad's blog recently and my comment exchanges with Artichoke. Some of what I do runs parallel to Kath's processes and ideas but others branch off into different areas and some unexplored territory - and I'm not convinced that I'm totally wrong. 

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5 thoughts on “Kath Murdoch Seminar

  1. gregc5

    Thanks Graham … a good summary of your day. For me the key point of Inquiry is the focus on concepts and understandings rather than simply collecting facts – pouring them into children’s heads and squeezing them (via assessment) to see if enough drips out to prove some stuck in there.
    Action and actually doing something with what you now know is also crucial. You have been learning, but ‘so what?’ Sharing of learning and social action are also key factors in children’s engagement in many topics.
    It is also great FUN!

  2. Kim Pericles

    I’m really enjoying your posts on Inquiry learning. The quote from Brooks & Brooks runs close to my feelings about learning – I have been gliding around inquiry learning the past few years, but have had no real T&D on it until your posts. Thanks for the links and references – I have been following them up (inquiry learning about inquiry learning 🙂 ) and some of the structures and planning ideas have worked well in my room recently.

    Can’t wait for your reflections on this event!

  3. tam

    Hi Graham,
    I have been reading little bits of your blog lately and have found it really interesting. I am new to blogging and am new to education being in my first year of a graduate entry teaching course, however I am really excited to see such a strong online community of educators that are willing to share ideas. I like your badge of open educator – how has that been received?
    I have done an assignment for uni that was supposed to be a webquest but has sort of evolved into a website that would be a rough guide for inquiry based learning on a whole range of topics loosely grouped together under the themes of cycling. I would really appreciate if you have a bit of time to have a quick look at the site and what we are trying to get kids to do – it still needs some fine tuning but the essentials are there and we would like to get some schools using the site next year, so I would appreciate any advice you have to offer. To have a look, go to http://www.cycling.edublogs.org

    Thanx in advance,

  4. Graham Wegner

    Tammy, I’ll take a look but I am no expert on inquiry learning at all. I’m flat out plugging the holes in my own practice and process to be dishing out too much advice to others. Kath’s seminar was the classic example of feeling like I knew less at the end of the day about inquiry learning because it exposed how much I have to learn. What I see at your webquest site looks pretty good and does comply with Kath’s statement that good inquiry learning is heavily scaffolded and supported – it’s not just letting the kids find their own way. I like the authentic activities like organising a Bike Day and having students create their own safety presentations. Good luck – great to see more “open educators” like yourself making your way into the Australian education system.

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    Greg's Blog - principal (le?) learning » What makes a good inquiry unit - according to Kath Murdoch

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