Saturday, March 31, 2007

Kath Murdoch and Inquiry Learning - Part One

My friend Paul at Ddraig Goch Pod was remarking recently that New Zealand is getting all the quality Professional Development lately, and I'm afraid he might be right. In the last few years I have had the privilege of attending workshops by Jason Ohler, Marc Prensky, Bernie Dodge, Tom Marsh, Ian Jukes, Tony Ryan, Jamie McKenzie, David Warlick and today I am sitting in a two day seminar run by Australian Educator Kath Murdoch.

This may be a long post as I am recording my notes while in the seminar.

Kath is the author of the book "Classroom Connections" and we follow her inquiry model in our classrooms in my ICT cluster in Dunedin. Kath has asked us to document our personal learning goal for the day... hmmm... I would like to consolidate my knowledge of Inquiry learning and the theory behind it to help in my role in supporting schools in my cluster. To achieve my goal I think I will record my questions here to help me think about them later and link my new knowledge to my previous thinking. As always, I think questions are the answer to learning!

To begin with inquiry in the classroom you need to help students understand that learning is something they do for themselves and not what is 'done' to them. By setting goals students take ownership of their own learning - "learning is something I do, not something done to me".

Why do you think it is worth using an Inquiry Learning approach? Inquiry is a teaching method that comes naturally to me and just makes sense. Think about your own learning style. Do you learn because people tell you to? Or because you have a burning question you would like answered? I hold to a social constructivist model of teaching and learning, (see my previous post) and Inquiry fits with this theory.

Kath states: Why inquiry?

  • Vehicle for integration of the curriculum
  • fosters connected rather than episodic teaching and learning
  • Caters for range of learning styles
  • Transferable process
  • Taps into students' curiosity

To illustrate this point Kath uses a great text for teaching about questioning and how children learn, Stella, star of the sea written by Marie-Louise Gay, published by Allen & Unwin, 1999.

Kath asked, are you more like the character Sam or Stella?

What view of the child does this text portray?

In this text I see Sam as the questioning inquiring child, and Stella as the creative child who has an answer that constantly changes, her answer is constructed through her world view. Students all have theories about how the world works. We need to be able to draw these theories from the students and then gently shape these theories by allowing them to question and make more connections. This book also highlights the different learning styles students may have.

What view of the child does an inquiry approach assume?

Kath states: In an inquiry approach, we must firmly believe in students as:

  • curious
  • searching for meaning
  • intelligent in a range of ways
  • experienced - something to offer
  • thinkers
  • collaborators
  • active
  • risk takers
  • co-learners
  • co-teachers

Kath has developed an inquiry approach that takes you through certain steps. She is, in this workshop, taking us through the inquiry model to investigate the inquiry model.

The first step is 'Tuning In'. This is where you engage students in the topic at hand. This begins the 'wonderings', students begin to think of questions they might have. But it is not essential for students to have questions at this stage, these questions will continue to be asked during the next stages.

The next step is 'Finding Out' where students gather in information about the topic. This step is followed closely by 'Sorting Out' where students use this information in a certain way.

Finding out: We were asked to consider these questions:

  • What is the difference between themes and inquiry?
  • List two advantages of using inquiry
  • List two challenges in using inquiry
  • List three skills students will need to carry out an inquiry
  • List three skills teachers will need to carry out an inquiry
  • List two questions you have about inquiry.

Sorting out:

After sorting through all the data we had gathered something occurred to me. Inquiry takes more time than traditional direct instruction, but wow! it is so much more powerful. When the students have to engage with the data rather than the teacher interpreting it for them powerful learning occurs. As teachers we really need to stop doing things for our students just to make sure we cover enough 'content'. If I think about sorting data, the question of what is more important, content or process comes to mind. The students are engaging with the data in a meaningful way and they are internalising it as they have to sort it. But the process of sorting it is a skill they will be able to transfer to many other situations. In inquiry - what you learn about makes a difference to the skills you use and vice versa. The content has to be worth learning about, be of value and interest to the students and to the wider world.

My first day of the workshop is now finished. I am exhausted because I have been thinking so hard. I am brought back to the question that always haunts me. If we know this approach is of such value how can we get it into more classrooms?

I have been reading an article by Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller, and Richard E. Clark entitled Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. Others have critiqued this article here. I found myself arguing out loud as I read this article. And this article represents why a lot of teachers do not adopt Inquiry Based Learning in their classrooms. There is a misconception that Inquiry means letting the kids loose on learning with 'minimal instruction'. Inquiry is not an either / or dichotomy. It does not mean that you either teach them or let them teach themselves. It is a rigorously framed and supported structure that relies on the elements in Vygotsky's zone of proximal development to guide students through their learning. In Kath's model, Inquiry means engaging students in deeper more meaningful learning than direct instruction alone can offer.

If you have not yet looked into Inquiry Based Learning I encourage you to do so. It suits the way that digital natives learn, it fits with the idea of 'clickability' that today's kids hold. Learning is finding the answers to the questions I have. A talented teacher helps students to find and focus those questions to find out about their world and their place in it.

Can't wait for part two.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Oral Language Survey

This year I am conducting research to find some answers to the question: In what ways and to what extent does podcasting enhance oral literacies in primary aged students. I have created a questionaire to see how teachers are currently teaching oral language in their classrooms. I would be grateful if you have a few minutes to complete this questionaire, it should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete. My research will be available early 2008 and i will link to it from this blog. All submissions are anonymous. Click on this link to be taken to the Oral Language Survey

(I've just been told that the link doesn't show up in bloglines, you can either click on my blog to open it and follow the link from there or put this link in your browsers:


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Thursday, March 29, 2007


I found this really cool website where you can make cartoons on line and then publish them for people to comment on. It is way too much fun! Check out Toondoo.
My own female

I made this cartoon with just a few clicks. I truly was surprised when my son came home from school about 8 years ago to tell me he had been given a female. He went to a progressive school with lots of computers and I didn't even have my own computer yet then!

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Memoirs of a school student

I have been reading a lot about constructivist theory lately and I personally hold to a social constructivist theory of teaching. But it got me thinking. Constructivism as explained by Vygotsky in the late 70s is built upon a lot of Dewey's work which was written in the early 1900s. This school of thought is not new.

"The movement of a swimmer does not 'resemble' that of a wave, in particular, the movements of the swimming instructor which we reproduce on the sand bear no relation to the movements of the wave, which we learn to deal with only by grasping the former in practice as signs. That is why it is so difficult to say someone learns: there is an innate or acquired practical familiarity with signs, which means that there is something amorous - but also something fatal - about all education. We learn nothing from those who say: 'Do as I do'. Our only teachers are those who tell us to 'do with me', and are able to emit signs to be developed in heterogeneity rather than propose gestures for us to reproduce" (Gilles Deleuze, 1994, 23).

I assert that the most powerful learning takes place because of ‘do with me’. Learning happens jointly, collaboratively, with and from each other, the teacher and strangers. Students require authentic audiences, and authentic contexts to motivate learning.

Davis and Sumara (2002) suggest that constructivism is popular with people interested in the processes of learning, and this is certainly the case for me. I am intrigued watching the students construct their meanings as they interact with each other and the world around them. I particularly hold to the theory of social constructivism, which is linked with Lev Vygotsky (see Davis and Sumara, 2002 p 192). I believe that students construct and then reconstruct their knowledge to ever more complex levels because of their interaction with others and their environment.

So what? Well, I started thinking about my own time as a student. I was in primary school in the 70s and high school in the 80s, surely I must have experienced some form of constructivism. My early memories of primary school include being a milk monitor; being a sports monitor; being publicly humiliated when I was a subject of bullying and started to cry, the perpetrator chanted at me 'don't worry mummy still loves you' and then the teacher said 'he's right, your mummy still does love you'. I was mortified!; Speed reading lessons where I was put in a dark room and text was flashed onto a screen in front of me one line at a time at increasing speeds (what was that about?); and sports days. Mmmm, no memories of following my own interests or working with others in my primary school days.

What about high school then? I can remember an English teacher who treated me with respect and gave me a passion for words and literature. He let us watch videos of Breaker Morant and Gallipoli in class and nothing was said as I cried. I can remember a Geography teacher who brought in reels of his holidays in remote places in the world and talked about Geography from experience and with passion. Maybe there were elements of constructivism sneaking into my high school. Pockets.

It is now 2007, why, in some schools, do I still see rows of students with books open to the same page, all working on the same task? Constructivism makes so much sense, why do things take so long to change?

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Digital Photography at TUANZ

On Monday I presented at the TUANZ conference in Invercargill. For those people who attended my digital photography workshop, I'm sorry that I didn't have enough hand outs and you can download the booklet by clicking on it here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sheryl Nausbaum-Beach

Sheryl delivering her keynote Delegates in Invercargill

Unleasing Student Passion

I'm sitting in the Ascot Hotel in Invercargill after a three hour bus trip from Dunedin listening to Sheryl talking about the flatness of our world. She says 'there is one language that we're all speaking, and that is the language of the 21st Century'. This is a statement I would like to think about and unpack a bit more. Students need to learn how to be communicators in a world where traditional communication with text is reducing and communicating creatively with images, sound, collaborating on the web and interacting globally is common place. The value we place on creativity needs to be looked at in our classrooms.

We have the access to transformational technologies - the power to transform. We are the generation of educators that are going to redefine teaching and learning. Wow! It is really exciting to be on the cutting edge and to have a say in how education is changing. We need to realise that we are not just adding to what we already do but we are transforming - changing - the way education is happening. Think of the changes in the world pre printing press and post printing press - pre television and post television. This is transformation.

Sometimes I wonder if I am running too far ahead. Is it only the elite or privileged that are using this technology? We keep saying that students are out there using this stuff, but are they? I know that my own children are and I know that their friends are. But what about those students without the financial access to this technology? No! This makes it even more important that these students are exposed to this technology in their schools. We need to address the balance.

Sheryl asks:

"How do schools need to change in order to meet the needs of the 21st Century students?"

"How do we prepare students for jobs that don't yet exist?" Is that what we are really doing? We need to prepare students to be successful people not working machines.

"What do you really need to know if knowledge is only a click away?"
Think about the fact that knowledge is power but now we are all knowledge creators and can access knowledge at a click. Students have the future at their finger tips - David Warlick talked about 'clickability', how students already think that everything they need is a click away, they even think their parents are clickable. Students now expect to have the power that knowledge provides. How dare we stand in the way of that!

"How do we balance safety and access in order to empower our students with technology?" We need to teach students to be ethical users and consumers of this knowledge and content available for them.

"Are we ready for 21st Century teaching and learning?" When I think about the fact that I have had computers in my classroom for the last ten years it is scary that we are still asking this question and that there are still classrooms without computers, digital cameras or projectors?

We need to rethink the definition of 'school' 'teacher' and 'learner' to address the needs of 21st Century teaching and learning.

You can't give away what you don't own - Great statement! If you are not really sold on the powerful uses of technology then you can not give it away to your students.

Recommended reading: A whole new Mind - Daniel H Pink

To read more about the discussions taking place in TUANZ conferences around New Zealand you can vist the wiki:

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Looking for a Podcasting Buddy

Hi all

I am looking for a class to be our 'podcasting buddies' for term two this year (23rd April to 29th June). My students are year 5/6 which makes them between 9 and 10 years old. I would like to explore ways of using enhanced podcasts to explain our culture to students of another culture. I was thinking of starting with having the students create a still image story about their school life and then seeing how the unit progressed. The students will have contact with their buddy class through posting podcasts and making comments on each other's podcasts. So if you are new to podcasting or a podcasting 'oldie' drop me a line and we can plan this unit together.


skype: janenicholls1 (in New Zealand)

Looking forward to making connections :-)