Inquiry Learning today - added value - Mid-Pacific Institute

Elementary School Principal's Blog

Inquiry Learning today - added value

Posted on October 18, 2009

by Dr. Edna Hussey on October 18, 2009

If you've been frequenting the classroom blogs, you'll find more descriptions of how we're approaching inquiry learning today compared to previous years. While we do have curricular topics and essential questions based on national and state standards in content areas such as science and social studies, our approach is to create more opportunities to immerse students more deeply in their learning. You will notice more excursions, more exposure to experts in a field of study, and more explorations of websites and books. Students are encouraged to ask more focused questions and to explain their observations.  The teachers are listening more carefully to students' questions and comments.  We are teaching students how to work in collaborative groups and how to negotiate understanding. We are documenting more of their learning so that we can better understand our students' learning processes. I read every teacher's blog entry, and I can tell you that I was very excited to hear about the different journeys of learning that our students are taking across the preschool and elementary. Our teachers continue to meet in lunch groups to talk about the strategies they're using in their classrooms; the focused attention on how we are teaching inquiry is enriching.

One of the best examples of community service exists on the elementary campus. It's an outgrowth of a plan developed nearly twenty years ago when we were Epiphany School. The fifth graders have always been responsible for the work of the Peace Team, which in the past involved walking through the dining room and on the playground during recess to "keep the peace" and to help students resolve disagreements. However, over the years, there have been concerns voiced by the fifth graders and students in other classes about the reactive and rather limited role of the Peace Team. Since the beginning of the school year, the fifth graders, with guidance from Shirley Rivera and Jill Johnson who collaborate on teaching character education to this grade level and support from fifth grade teachers Cindy Hoddick and Bruce Black, have developed a new set of much more meaningful responsibilities for the Peace Team.  

They assist Pam Jenkins with setting up the before-school running/walking activity and passing out tokens after students complete a number of measured segments.
Instead of "patrolling" the dining room, they serve as "lunch buddies" and participate in lunch conversations.  A Peace Team member keeps time for students on the tire swing.  Others help to set up play equipment during recess. Other Peace Team members help to set the tables in the preschool for lunch and later read a book aloud to help preschoolers settle into their daily afternoon nap.

Though we are only moving into the third week of these new Peace Team responsibilities, the effect of these changes for the community is certainly heartfelt. Not only do the fifth graders feel that their service is more meaningful, but the other students in the other grade levels appreciate and respect their efforts. The Peace Team continues to intervene as needed when there are the typical playground disagreements, but the substance of their voluntary service truly makes a difference.
We appreciate the learning process that led to the changes -- valuing the thoughts and ideas of the students and allowing the time for thoughtful discussion.  It takes skilled teachers who understand how students learn and who can thoughtfully guide them to achieving their potential. Kudos to our fifth graders who were able to articulate their ideas and then to accept full responsibility for their plans.  Your children have real examples of how to participate in the life of a community.  

For our children,

Edna L. Hussey