On Display: The Power of Inquiry

The Power of Inquiry
A Spring Institute By and For Educators

Friday, May 10th & Saturday May 11th 2013


How does one capture the learning of two thought-provoking days into one blog post?  This is a nearly impossible feat, especially with keynote speakers like Dan Meyer (TEDTalk Math Educator), Dan Rahimi (Royal Ontario Museum), Wilfred Buck (Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre), and Ellie Avishai (Rotman iThink Initiative)!

I would like to begin by thanking Annie Chern from Natural Curiosity for inviting me and a team of educators from the York Region District School Board.  It was a true privilege to listen and learn about the varying perspectives of inquiry-based learning at this Spring Institute.

As it stated on the program, The Power of Inquiry two-day event supported and inspired educators in their practice of inquiry-based teaching in mathematics and science with their innovative speakers, engaging sessions, and practical resources.

Here are some of the ideas that resonated with me:

Dan Meyer's Keynote Address 
  • How do we transfer our math learning to the real world?  
  • Knowing that math models our world is very empowering.
  • Math teacher cannot just ask questions-must "set the scene" and create a need for the information
  • Get to the hook (spark students' interest) as fast as possible.
  • Make the first act visual and intuitive.  A video clip is often the best way to show this, and sets up a practical context for the upcoming work.
  • We have a privileged job.  We have to make math a real world model.

Breakout Session #1: The Sky Above and the Sea Below: A Year-Long Study of Birds and Salmon in Grade 2 (Cindy Halewood, Jackman ICS Laboratory School)
  • Children are endlessly interested in natural phenomena
  • Wonders are theories, questions, ideas, or starting points
  • Culture of caring and empathy around living things
  • Each child has their own Nature Notebook to record observations and draw sketches
  • Experiments that stemmed from the children's questions and interests
  • "Children need time to develop a relationship with nature before being expected to heal its wounds" -David Sobel
  • Book: You are Stardust as a starting point for inquiry and Owl Kids Website

Dan Rahimi's Keynote Address

Unfortunately, I was unable to stay and hear Dan Rahimi's Keynote at the ROM.  If you did, might you consider leaving a comment?

Wilfred Buck's Keynote Address
  • Other ways of arriving at the shores of understanding
  • We all know something and if we put our minds together we are awesome
  • Constant flow of energy that is transformational...flow of energy surrounds us...
  • What is life but a firefly in the night
  • "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." -Max Planck

Breakout Session #2: Integrated Environmental Inquiry (Nancy McGee, Toronto & Region Conservation Authority, Andrea Cousineau & Annie Chern, Natural Curiosity, Jackman ICS Laboratory School)
  • One of the mandates of the Jackman ICS Laboratory School is dissemination of research/learning
  • Inquiry requires flexibility on the part of the teacher.  The plans will change based on students' interests, however the big ideas are still there.
  • Try to integrate the environment with learning.
  • Can assess students' knowledge building, misconceptions, what they already know, vocabulary, etc.
  • I enjoyed the task of looking at student talk/theories and extracting assessment and extensions during the the presentation-provided rich discussion and proves that inquiry cannot be done in isolation (as educators we bring our own subjectivity to what we extract) great to collaborate and hear multiple perspectives

Inquiry Panel Discussion
  • Inquiry is a form of equity in teaching (Caswell)
  • We need to be windows to the world for children and mirrors of who they are into the classroom (Rochelle Gliterez)
  • Inquiry shifts the power in the classroom of authority figure (Caswell)
  • Ideas are the currency of the classroom (Messina)
  • Inquiry starts with thinking about-caring about-things that interest students (Comay)
  • It's important for us to build on our own understanding of math content so we can look for it in our students' play (Stephenson)
  • Assessment has to look different for inquiry-based learning (Caswell)
  • When teaching through inquiry there is no shortage of what you can assess (Messina)
  • There needs to be an amalgamation of inquiry, curriculum, and assessment (Caswell) 
  • Transformative assessment is to see students' growth and understanding along the way (Stephenson)

Ellie Avishai's Keynote Address
  • Where does innovation come from?
  • How do successful leaders think?
  • What is the process of innovative thinking?
  • You notice what you need to in order to function
  • Look at the varying perspectives
  • Nurturing integrative minds: structured, solved, single answer (convergence), messy, mysterious, many possible answers (divergence)
  • Integrative thinkers understanding existing model and generate new models rather than compromise
  • The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time (S. Fitzgerald)
  • Innovative leaders are able to select best aspect of diverse models and create new idea/model
  • There is an infinite sea of possibilities!
  • Help our students become creative thinkers...go beyond theories...

During The Power of Inquiry Spring Institute I also got the chance to visit the Dr. Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School and have a tour.  There I listened to an introduction and context set by their Vice Principal, Richard Messina.  He openly spoke about his practice and journey as a teacher, who began his public school career with a focus on creating and delivering "hands-on" but not necessarily "minds-on" learning opportunities for his students.  It was interesting to hear how he shifted and evolved into an inquiry-based educator.  His passion for inquiry-based learning was so evident!

Here are some images from the Lab School:

I'd like to extend a special thank you to all of the keynote speakers: Dan Meyer, Dan Rahimi, Wilfred Buck, and Ellie Avishai for sharing your intriguing insights and perspectives about inquiry-based learning.  Thank you also to some of the organizers that I had a chance to meet or exchange emails with: Bev Caswell, Andrea Cousineau, Diana Chang, Annie Chern, Sarah Naqvi and Richard Messina.  

I look forward engaging in future learning opportunities with all of you around the power of inquiry-based learning!

If anyone else attended this Spring Institute and would like to offer some of their learning, please feel free to comment below... 

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