Friday, March 7, 2014

Reflection on Inquiry Based Learning

As my exploration of Inquiry Based Learning (IBL) comes to an end, I am left feeling excited about the possibilities that await me and my students.  The information that I have gathered will allow me to better educate my students while preparing them more for the real world problems they will face upon graduation.  Gone are the days where my class will learn in a clean sterile environment where I disseminate information to students who greedily consume it.  Instead, my class will be a dynamic learning environment that will allow students to struggle with bigger concepts while developing the soft skills necessary to succeed later in life.  To achieve this goal I will make a number of changes in my room and philosophy.

First, I will start each unit with the end results for the students planned out.  This backwards planning allows me to make sure that my educational goals for the students are actually being taught and measured.  I have to admit, that once or twice I have reached the end of a unit and realized I missed an important concept.  Well no more!!  The standards will drive my instruction, because everything I teach to my students will be in an effort to reinforce that concept to them.

Second, by using the 5E model (discussed in a previous post) I will know that my students will be engaged and learning in the assignments for each unit.  While it would be naive to think that all my students will be engaged all the time, by purposefully building in engagement activities I will have a higher level of involvement.  By using the 5E model, I have a blueprint to follow to make sure that I am not missing something vital for the students. 

Third, technology is a part of our society today and must be included in lessons for today’s students.  When they reach adulthood they will be expected to know how to use technology in ways that I cannot even think of today.  By exposing students to technology in the classroom, I am allowing them the opportunity to learn and explore what is out there in a relatively low stakes environment. Using technology will allow me to motivate my students, and allow others who struggle in more traditional school activities, to perhaps shine.  As technology continues to develop the possibilities that are made available for teachers is only as limited as ones imagination.

Finally, I will make a purposeful effort to change the type of questions that I ask to my students.  It will be a goal of mine to shift away from the simple fact based questions to more concepts based.  This will allow me to still assess the facts the students have acquired, while allowing me the ability to see the bigger connections they are making with the material.  If I have learned nothing else about IBL at least I know that the soft skills and ability to make connections that is learned throughout this process is the most important skill I can provide to my students.  Anyway can look up the date of an event on their phone, but only a few can tell you it’s importance in the context of history.

I will leave you with this final thought.  While IBL is at first a scary idea, and seems out of place in today’s schools were we rely on high stakes testing far too much, let me assure you it is more appropriate than traditional teaching.   Learning information out of context, or in a box, does not allow anyone to remember it forever.  It is learned for the test and then promptly forgotten.  However, IBL provides the same learning but in an authentic environment that the students will be able to remember.  While the facts might be lost over time, the process they used to reach their goals will stay with them forever.  It is for that reason, and the others I have mentioned today, that I will be shifting my classes over to a more inquiry based environment.  After all, these students will be the ones leading us only a few years.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Strategy to follow

            Throughout this week I have been looking at ways to guarantee that my Inquiry Based Lesson appropriately engage my students, why also challenging them.  With that in mind I stumbled across an instructional model published by the Biological Science Curriculum Study.  This study boils down every lesson to five simple ideas, called the 5E’s.  These 5E’s are Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate.  If you develop a lesson with the specific purpose of incorporating all 5E’s, then your lesson is on its way towards being Inquiry Based.  This educational model has been proven scientifically to work.  On a number of different studies significant increase have been shown when teachers use this model as the basis for their instruction.  To see the actual results that I am referring to click on this link and examine page 35 of the report.

            In today’s digital world the use of technology in any lesson allows for you to more easily engage the students in the lesson.  By purposefully choosing technology that targets your goals at each of the 5E’s you can guarantee your students will be interested, at least somewhat.  With engagement the academic goals you are trying to achieve are easier, because the students want to learn.  This means that even if your lesson is not the best you have ever taught, your educational goals can still be achieved because your students will take ownership of their learning.  I know that to me this is a relief, especially because I am the type of person that is hyper focused on always completing steps in a process.

            The way that I think is pretty straight forward, I need a plan to follow and once that plan is clear to me I can dive in head first and accomplish anything.  With that in mind, I have to tell you that this discovery of the 5E’s has proven to be a real help to me.  Knowing that there is a simple framework for me to follow to guarantee the correct structure to my lesson has proven to be just the thing that I needed to get me going with the development of lessons.  To see exactly the lesson that I am referring to please examine the website that I created to showcase the 5E’s at work.  

                Finally, I will leave you with some sayings that have really struck me as I have progressed through my knowledge of Inquiry Based Learning.  They do not exactly tie into this particular post but instead have come to be a kind of mantra that I think to myself as I work through my lessons. 

They are:
“It is okay to fail, it is even expected”

When people ask how to motivate every student for these types of lessons just respond, “I don’t know, how do you motivate those students every day when you are teaching?”

By keeping these ideas in my head as I try my new style of teaching I am more confident in what I am doing, and after all it is okay to fail.