Our Inquiry into Inquiry - Mid-Pacific Institute

Elementary School Principal's Blog

Our Inquiry into Inquiry

Posted on September 7, 2009

by Dr. Edna Hussey on September 7, 2009

What is inquiry? How can we help our students become better inquirers? How we can become better teachers using inquiry?

"Inquiry is a dance and the teacher is the choreographer."
"Inquiry is a time when kids are 'wondering' instead of 'wandering!'"
"Inquiry is the heartbeat of everything in the classroom."

These are insightful morsels from our weekly lunch meetings when three different groups of teachers on different days of the week read, talk, and discuss together their growing understanding about inquiry. Throughout this school year, the preschool and elementary faculty will focus on deepening their understanding of inquiry as a thinking process and a way for students to be able to "read" their world (various contexts from within the classroom and the school community to the national and global community). Although the elementary school has been implementing inquiry approaches for nearly twenty years, we are stepping back to take a good, long, critical look at two things: our practice and our students' learning.

During school year 2007-2008, the MPI Board of Trustees and Administration collaborated on articulating a new vision for Mid-Pacific Institute -- "Mid-Pacific Institute will prepare students to make a difference in the world by embracing change with creativity, collaboration, critical thought, and global awareness, guided by moral and ethical values." This vision calls for innovative, progressive teaching in order to prepare students for the expectations and demands necessary for our nation to survive. Tony Wagner describes these expectations as "survival skills" in his latest book, The Global Achievement Gap (go to www.gse.harvard.edu/news_events/features/2008/08/20_wagner.php) for a summary review.

According to Wagner, the seven survival skills are critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurship; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and curiosity and imagination. The whole of education cannot be limited to test preparation or memorization, nor can schools continue to teach in the same ways that you or I had been taught. I think you'll agree with me that your children should be provided much more intellectually challenging and stimulating learning experiences that help them develop these "survival" skills so that they are ready to enter the larger community as active citizens.

In September 2008, the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools announced an initiative called Schools of the Future, to be funded by the Castle Foundation and overseen by the Hawaii Community Foundation. The announcement of this initiative was serendipitous to MPI as we were considering ways to fund the implementation of our new vision. The first gathering of schools interested in receiving funding numbered over fifty. Mid-Pacific Institute has joined the ranks with seventeen other private schools as recipients of funding from the Castle Foundation to focus on improving student learning for the 21st century through innovative teaching practices. Robert Witt, executive director of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, recognized our proposal as bold, innovative, and unique as it included three well-developed plans for each division (preschool/elementary, middle, and high).

From MPI's executive summary of the Schools of the Future proposal: As a school, our collective 5-year goal is to enhance and transform our school-wide curriculum, instructional practice, and assessment methods in order to achieve our new vision. In 5 years, students at Mid-Pacific will experience project-based learning that investigates and offers solutions to actual local, national, and international issues; participate in various learning, multi-grade teams where collaboration is essential to the learning process; think critically about issues from inter-disciplinary and global perspectives; and create portfolios or other forms of in-depth assessments documenting their learning. The faculty of the preschool, elementary, middle, and high schools will collaborate on curriculum development, instructional practice, and assessment of student learning; engage in interdisciplinary team teaching; and include the community-at-large as viable resources and partners in their students' learning.

In the preschool/elementary, our first-year goals are to: 1) begin with a clear understanding about current inquiry practices in the preschool and elementary classes; 2) deepen our understanding about inquiry approaches to teaching and learning by creating a community of teacher researchers; 3) develop a K-5 tech curriculum to address the skills necessary for students to support their inquiry projects and to manage their electronic portfolios for learning documentation. We have begun the work. As described earlier in this posting, the faculty and I meet in study groups to read and discuss what we're learning in the book Comprehension and Collaboration (2009) by Harvey and Daniels. We're testing different strategies and bringing in samples of student work to discuss what we're learning about how our students learn. Now and then, you might read on the teachers' weblogs about the inquiry learning that your child and other classmates are experiencing. In fact, we'll keep you informed about our inquiry into inquiry via the website. Stay tuned for an announcement about an October meeting for all parents on our new inquiry performance continua.

What an incredible turnout of nearly 500 parents, children, and other family members to the 2009 Welcome Barbecue! We could not have asked for better weather -- humid with some gentle Manoa tradewinds and sunny skies. We are deeply grateful to co-chairs Lynn Yanagihara (son Jonathan), Wendy D'innocenti (son Tyler), and the team of fifth grade parents and students who successfully managed the entire event. Lynn commandeered the food planning and purchases and Wendy the set-up, games, shave ice and popcorn. The MPI choir, directed by Diane Koshi, opened the event with a few songs. It was a fun, relaxing afternoon of fellowship, camaraderie, and community. Our next big school event is six weeks away -- Spooktivity!

Thank you to all the families who have sent in donations and/or purchased seats for the Moon Over Manoa fundraiser event at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel. It's not too late to join us for this fabulous event. If you're unable to attend the event but would still like to make a contribution, please use the yellow donation form. If you have any questions, please contact Akiko Marutani at 358-8977 or amarutani@hawaii.rr.com.

Point of clarification: During the school year, you will be receiving important announcements via the parent intranet. This information, for MPI parents in the preschool and elementary, can only be accessed with a user name and password. If you receive an email, please read the excerpt, which will contain the user name and password. If you do not receive an email, it's because we do not have your email address or a correct address. Please contact Kelli Tokuyama in the office at 441-3801 or ktokuyama@midpac.edu with your current information.

One last thought as I write this week's posting on Labor Day: While those of us in the workforce are enjoying the holiday, I know many of you are concerned for those without jobs and homes. I believe that you are being supportive to the best of your ability and in your own way, whether in making monetary contributions to charitable organizations, supporting the economy through your purchases or investments, or teaching your children by modeling the attitudes and behaviors respectful of those among us who are without jobs and the means to be self-sufficient.

For our children,

Edna L. Hussey