Sharing The Planet: Our Journey Through Inquiry

Introduction:

This time last year I had been left disappointed with the learning and teaching of my current inquiry. I found the scope too narrow, not enough depth for 'real' inquiry. I had not been looking forward to beginning it again. It was time for a rethink. I decided to approach the inquiry in a new way. My way did not work so lets see if we can change things. I decided to let things go and see where the children took me. It was time for greater student agency. I have documented the whole process and hope that you enjoy the journey. I have included a variety of learning but not all.

Please leave comments of what you think worked and how this could be improved. I am very open and welcoming to positive criticism. 


Transdisciplinary Theme: Sharing the planet:

An inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and with other living things; communities and the relationships within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution.

Central Idea: Animals and people interact in different ways in different contexts.

Lines of Inquiry:
The different roles animals play in people’s lives.
-     Suitability of particular animals for specific functions.
-     Our responsibility for the well-being of animals.


Before we begin an inquiry I believe that it is always important to begin with the 'Why'? This is based on the work of Simon Sinek. I have introduced this to my practice during the last couple of years and I have found that it really adds purpose to the inquiry and a logical progression in thinking. It provides a core purpose to the inquiry and why we do what we do. 

Why?
- Children recognise the important connection between humans and animals

How?
Through research the children will become 'experts' on a particular animal and develop greater understanding on others.

What?
- Facts.
- Responsibilities.
- Human Impact.

- The role animals play in our every day lives.



Within my practice I have always believed in the importance of provocations inside and outside the classroom to stimulate the children's thinking about a particular areas of learning. This has been especially true for Early Years. For this inquiry we had created a model farm and an area where the children can view small insects. We had also turned our role-play area into a vets. A variety of picture books about animals were also placed in the area. These provocations help to stimulate ideas, interest and discussion. An entry point to our learning journey.

'Environments are invitations for inquiry. These environments have the potential to promote learning processes where children engage with one another and with meaningful materials exploring, constructing and representing their understanding and theories' Louise Jupp

Writing stations were organised to provide prompts for the children's learning. This is helpful in supporting the language development with the inquiry. Providing language skills directly linked to the inquiry.



Our outside area would also play an important role in our inquiry as the children explore, question and investigate their natural environment. The learning experiences of the children's independent interaction with the natural world have been invaluable throughout the year. We have recently built a sustainable garden which has to develop further the children's connections with nature and a developing sense of responsibility.



Tuning In:

When the children arrived in the classroom the first day I casually pretended to be watching a video on a variety of animals. Straight away this got the children's interest and stimulated discussion. It was amazing the vast amount of knowledge that the children began to share with enthusiasm. All children it seems have a natural curiosity and knowledge about the animals we share our world with.

This is great I thought, so after some discussion I asked, 'Which animals would you like to learn more about?' Straight away hands went up, 'Black Panthers, Tigers, Rabbits, Ducks, Dogs, Cats, Polar Bears......' the list went on.

The children were then asked to think of at least one question that they would like to know about the animal of their choice. This is where our inquiry really began to take shape. I had wanted to use research as a means of driving the inquiry but I was unsure as to how much success I would have in an Early Years classroom. I knew that much of it was going to be supported but I always consider the Early Years as an introductory period for many of the skills that they would need later in life. I then asked the children to draw a picture of their animal and then each provided at least one 'question' they would like to find out.


As mentioned earlier, the children would certainly need some modelling as to how and where to approach research. I decided this was a perfect opportunity.

We began by choosing one of the children's question. I had decided that I would use an example provided by one of my EAL students as they would need the most support. The question was “Where does a panda live?’ We then discussed where we could find the answer. 'In a book? or on the internet' some of the children suggested. So we searched YouTube to find a suitable vdeo all about pandas and recorded the information we discovered. 

The information we discovered and recorded only led to more questions.

- What is mammal?
- What does endangered mean?
- What happens to animal when it become extinct?

And so our inquiry began to take shape......


During the first week of the inquiry we also thought about and discussed our pets. This also seemed a natural starting point as pets are many of the children's most important interactions with animals.

A good point to start was to find out which of the children in the class have a pet. So we asked the question and recorded our results. A good opportunity to make cross-curricula links to our Maths outcomes.


I also wanted to assess the children’s understanding about the concepts of pets. This would be important as we would begin to categories animals later in our inquiry. So I the asked the question, 'What is a pet?' and through discussion the children shared their thoughts and ideas which were recored on our board.


We also thought about the different roles our pets play in our daily lives. We came up with four very important roles, play, family, fun and friendship.


Finding-Out:

After our previous discussions regarding our pets we shared our ideas regarding our responsibilities. We shared our own thoughts, ideas and experiences. Many of the children had an excellent understanding of how to care and be responsible for their pets but we wanted to find out more.

We thought about the different ways that we can research information e.g. internet, books, or even just asking someone who is knowledgeable. We decided to try the internet and quickly found the video below: 



After watching the video we used the information we already had and added some extra information that we found out to create a list of our responsibilities for our pets.


As research is going to play a big role in our inquiry we decided that we wanted to find out more about our pets. What better way to find out more than to ask the people most knowledgeable about them. Over the next few weeks the children brought in pictures of their pets while the rest of the class practiced our questioning skills to find out more e.g. What do they eat? What are their names? What is their favourite food? The children really enjoyed sharing their knowledge.

We are very lucky that our school has an abundance of wild life just outside our classroom. Throughout the inquiry the children have been observing many of the animals and asking questions to find out more information. Here are a few of the animals that we found.

Where our inquiry was really beginning to take shape and take a life of its own was with the children's research into the animals of their choice. Questions led to research which led to more questions e.g. What is a mammal? Is a snake a mammal? What is a reptile? We had started to make connections across our inquiry board. each time we made a connection it led to further questions and further research. There was a danger at one point that the inquiry may get out of hand. the scope too broad, the questions too many!

Thankfully one area of learning that was beginning to become of more importance was the idea of endangered animals and the affect of human impact on the animals habitat. As the children researched their animal it was evident that many of the animals were being affected by the activities of humans.

Sorting Out:

The joy of this inquiry has taken many directions which has been one of the greatest successes. The children were following their own path of learning with their questions being the driving force. As mentioned earlier, however, this had started to worry me slightly that the inquiry was becoming too broad. Would we ever come to the 'why' of the inquiry and if we did would there be enough time to inquire about this in depth?

By about the third week of the inquiry the children had begun to naturally sort animals into different groups. As the questions and research developed we had begun to think about mammals, reptiles and insects. We had also begun to think of the different places we would find animals. First it was the pets in the home and then the children had begun to discuss the concepts of farm and zoo animals. At this point in the inquiry the children did not identify 'wild' animals that would come later but they did seem to think that many animals lived in the zoo. This was a misconception that would need to be tackled later in the inquiry. 

Through the children's independent questioning which were introduced to words like nocturnal, carnivore, herbivore, mammals, reptiles, birds etc. The children began to sort these animals into different groups based on these characteristics.

As farm animals are the most recognisable animals to the children I inquired further as to why certain animals identified by the children lived on a farm. The children's suggestions are below. At this point they did not recognise the function of the animals and held very innocent views as to why some animals lived on a farm. A point I found quite amusing.




After beginning our interest in the farm we continued our research through a variety of online virtual tours. I would rather take a field trip to a fram but unfortunately the traffic in our city makes it impossible and what would be available is not the healthy farm environment that I would like the children to visit. Online virtual tours were our only option.


Through our research we developed a better understanding of the function of farm animals and their connection to our daily lives. Over the next week we decided that we would have a go at making our own produce. We made butter, cream, and even ice-cream. We learned a lot about the process of how some of our food gets from the farm to our plates.


At the front of our classroom I had created a board that made our learning journey visible. The board is littered with post-it notes showing the development of the children's ideas and thinking through our inquiry. In the Early Years, I try to include as many visuals as possible so that the children can easily make connections and access the learning. Although the children are unable to read the notes themselves they take delight in their ideas being recorded. It gives value to their participation and thinking. I also use the notes to reflect back on past learning, reminding the children of their ideas and then developing them further. This approach has been a real driving force in our inquiries. The visual documentation provides information about children's learning and progress within an inquiry. The focus is on how children make meaning and how they came to understand.



Going Further:


Throughout our inquiry the children have continued to research their chosen animal with support. This has led to many discussions regarding the different habitats where the animals lived. This led us to begin to study each of the habitats a little more closely. What we discovered was that many of the habitats were connected by the terrible effects of human behaviour. This learning really began to change the direction of our learning.


We began by watching a video of a diver in Bali. It was shocking to see the amount of plastic that was in the water. We have discussed different ways that we can help to reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans:

1. Stop using plastic bags when we are shopping.


2. Recycle our waste especially plastic which takes a very long time to decompose.


Who has made all this mess?! My teaching partner and I decided to provide a provocation to stimulate the children's thinking about recycling. Her class were learning about different materials and my class had just begun to think about the concept of recycling. It seemed a perfect time to collaborate.


When our classes returned from break they were confronted with a pile of rubbish that had just been dumped on our break-out space floor. This had to be recycled and we were there to help. We sorted the objects depending on the material that they are made from. We found plastic and paper. We can now recycle the objects properly for other things.


With the recycled material we decided that it would be a good idea to create a craft. We used the bottle tops to create the outline of a whale. We then used the remaining plastic to fill in the rest of the whale. Over time it developed into an awareness poster.






We continued to explore a variety of different habitats over the coming weeks. We were continuously shocked by the negative human effects on our world. The conversations amongst the children were stimulating. Many demonstrating a deep empathy for the plight of animals and demonstrating a growing understanding of their responsibilities. We should not be afraid to teach our young learners about Global issues. We need to make a change and they need to make a difference.







Making Conclusions:

At the beginning of the inquiry I had been unsure about a Summative Assessment task. I had been willing to go along with the children's thinking and see where it leads. As I was unsure of where the learning would take us I was not sure what the Summative Assessment would look like. Once the children had started to research information about animals I then thoughts, 'Maybe they could present their information to the class?' I believe that this was a worthwhile exercise but not really a good assessment of the learning journey the children had been on. By the time we were reaching the conclusion of our inquiry we found that we had already collected enough data to complete our Rubric. Allowing the children to present their information using an information book they had created helped to provide value to the process. The children also used Book Creator as another means of sharing their information.

Our experiences travelling the world had helped to develop a sense of empathy for our animal friends. We thought about how the animals might feel and what advice they would give to us given the chance. There were some wonderful responses from the children.




Action:

'Action in the PYP. Taking action is an integral conclusion to the learning that incorporates students making connections to what they have learned, applying a variety of real life skills.' Even our youngest learners are capable of meaningful Action.


The most pleasing part of our inquiry has been the amount of Action that the children have taken. I consider this to be the most meaningful assessment of the children’s understanding, commitment and engagement in our inquiry.


  • We watched a video about the different ways hens are kept on farms e.g. free-range, caged, barn. After some discussion the children all decided that they would like to be free-range if they were hens. Some of the parents have now commented that the children have requested free-range eggs when they are at the supermarket.
  • After our learning about plastic in our oceans some parents have commented on the children's concerns about using plastic bags when shopping.
  • Throughout the inquiry the children have demonstrated and developed greater care and empathy towards many of the animals they have encountered in our environment.
  • Children have began to independently research animals delighting in sharing their new found knowledge.



It is always nice to receive positive email from parents especially when they document the children's reflection of learning. Below is an email we received during the course of the inquiry.

'This is let you know that Vihan has been constantly talking about the devastating effect of plastic on our environment and what we can do to help.

He has spoken to the maids and security in our apartment to ensure that plastic bags are not being thrown away, instead reused and recycled. 

Vihan noticed that the bag of spare clothes that he carries to school everyday, is plastic and immediately insisted that it be changed to paper or cloth bag. He found a suitable paper bag and is now carrying that to school.

Thank you very much for making the students aware of plastics and its effect on Earth. We really appreciate it'


Another email I received from a parent was about one of the children reusing unwanted objects at home. In this particular photograph it shows a chocolate box that has been reused to put all her jewellery in.



Our Inquiry-Cycle:




As I work within an inquiry-based curriculum I find it extremely helpful, both for myself and the children, when I document and make visible our learning journey throughout each of our inquiries. For each inquiry, I document each stage of our learning journey using an adaption of Kath Murdoch’s inquiry-cycle. I have found this very useful as it provides the children with a visual documentation of activities, learning and ideas throughout our inquiry. It also helps me with keeping track of our learning and next steps in lesson planning.

Student-Initiated Inquiries:


The pleasing element of this inquiry is that it has almost all been student initiated. It has been the children's questions and curiosity that has really driven the inquiry. We have tried as much as possible to follow the children's thinking. When possible we made connections between the work.




Step 1: We found a bug in the playground. It was a beautiful little thing and it certainly grabbed the children's attention. The bug seemed to be injured and there was a lot of discussion about what might be wrong with it and how we might best care for it. We decided that it may be best if we leave it in peace.

Step 2: Once in the classroom we remembered that one of the questions from last week was 'What is an insect?'. I showed the children a variety of toy insects and we talked about what they all had in common. What made an insect an insect? This was a good opportunity to assess the children's prior knowledge.

The children's responses:

1. Some have fur and some don't.
2. They are tiny.
3. Some insects sting (The children gave many examples of themselves and family members being stung)
4. Insects have 6 legs (I had to prompt them with this one by counting the legs)


Step 3: It was clear that we needed to find out more information. I asked the children how we could research to find out more. I was pleased that some answered with Youtube. this demonstrated that the children were becoming more aware of how technology can be used to support our learning. We searched Youtube and found the video below.


Step 4: We discussed and shared the information that we found out. The children's understanding of insects had quickly developed.

Children's Findings:

1. They don't have bones but many do have a shell (exoskeleton).
2. They are cold blooded so they prefer warm places but can be found anywhere in the world, even Antarctica!
3. Most have wings and antenna.
4. They hibernate.
5. They lay eggs.
6. Some insects change shape during their life.

What is the biggest animal?

Step 1: An another example of student-initiated inquiry that happened began with the question 'What is the biggest land animal? We had to find out!

Step 2: We used our I.pads to research the question as a whole class activity. We want to support the children's research skills.

Step 3: We found out the the elephant is the largest land animal. We also found out through our research that the giraffe was the tallest animal. This was great because our strand of Maths for this inquiry is measurement. We decided that we could measure how big and elephant is and how tall a giraffe is. We could then compare this to other animals we had already measured. Great opportunity to integrate our Maths objectives authentically into our unit of inquiry.




Technology Integration:

When ever possible I try to make authentic technology integration within the learning. With our focus on research it has been quite easy to make this connection as the children have used a variety of web based searches to gain information regarding the animals e.g. google, Youtube etc. the children have been supported in how to find information with a developing independence.



This year I have been introduced to Seesaw, an online portfolio. It has made technology integration so much easier than ever before. We used Seesaw to label to different body parts of a variety of animals as this has been part of our science expectations for this inquiry.


The children also used Book Creator as another means of presenting and sharing their research about the animal of their choice.



Conclusion:

It has been a very interesting learning journey. I can certainly say that it has been much more successful than the previous year it terms of learning and student engagement. We have tackled some ‘real world’ issues and the children have responded brilliantly. The amount of meaningful, authentic Action that took place made it all worth it. It has demonstrated that even our youngest learners are capable of taking Action. Through the inquiry we have created an awareness and developing understanding of Global issues which the children will take forward with them.

The whole process has made me reconsider my approach to both inquiry and assessment. I will certainly provide greater opportunity for children’s interest and thinking to drive the inquiry. I have also had to rethink the importance of creating a Summative Assessment task at the beginning of the inquiry, if they are needed at all. If we use detailed formative assessment throughout there is little need.
















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