Is Inquiry What I Do or Just Who I Am?

In the last few years of my education degree I have certainly heard a lot about inquiry based learning. We have been exposed to the concept in several classes, and have been taught how to incorporate it into units and lessons, and have also been tasked with working through the inquiry process ourselves so that we can get an understanding of what students could do. While this seems to have been an awe-inspiring experience for some of my classmates, it has seemed fairly “ordinary” to me.

Now, if you know me, you may have been shocked to read that last sentence. Did she really just say that inquiry learning is “ordinary”?  Yes, yes I did, and I’ll say it again. The experience of inquiry, to me, is ordinary.

It is ordinary because this is how my brain has always worked. Throughout my education “career” as a student I was always wanting to know more about things. I would read almanacs, encyclopedia, any book I could get my hands on, listen to tid-bits of information here and there, watch educational television shows, and dig for new information about the world in any way I could. As a child my mom shook her head and couldn’t believe that I would rather stay home and read on a weekend, and actually enjoyed my homework assignments. In high school I continued this trend, and was labeled one of those “nerdy” kids who was always doing school work and could always be found in the library. Same went for my first post-secondary program. Now, in the pursuit of my education degree, in a field where learning is pretty much in the job description, I’m still called a “keener” for always wanting to know and do more and affectionately known as the “research junkie”. This is because I just want to learn everything! Ok, now not literally everything, but I just love learning!

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For me, doing an inquiry project is just fun! Researching and finding new ideas is awesome! I just wrote a blog post about it yesterday actually! While my classmates may find they have to dedicate time and energy to working on an inquiry project, for me, It’s just something I do naturally and really enjoy doing.

I’m currently “inquiring” into the idea of differentiated learning with some of my classmates (Amie, April, and Emma – check out their blogs by the way!). For our investigation we are looking at ways to reach and engage all of the learners in the classroom As this is an area that none of are super familiar with, we’ve been starting off slowly trying to find some different sorts of ideas to start sharing with each other. Eventually we hope to be able to produce a mini-website of sorts to be able to share all of our amazing finds with other educators. We hope to include information about blended learning, adapting for learners with special needs, incorporating EAL students, challenging high achievers, and helping lower achievers find motivation to catch up and keep up. In essence, we hope to find many ways to change the content, activities, set-up, product, and environment of the classroom to make for successful learning for all of the students in the class. So far we’ve decided to all go out and explore the many different areas that are out there in differentiation and come back with several different things that have inspired us. From there we will venture onwards to dive deeper into some areas and see what great ideas we can learn from! I’m sure it will be an exciting process over the next several weeks!

Now to turn to you, readers! What do you like to find information about? What ways do you look for new things? And, what do you think about differentiated instruction and how might it look in your classroom?

Have a great weekend!

When Your Ideas Are Bigger Than You Are

Hi, I’m Kendra, and I have big ideas. I have ideas so big that I don’t know what to do with them. I have ideas that are overwhelmingly awesome, yet I don’t know how to apply them. I have ideas that are so amazing that I don’t even know where to start with them. My ideas stop me in my tracks and won’t let me pass.

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This is what has happened time and again the past week or so, even with trying to figure out what to blog about this week. I just have so many ideas, and want to do so much with them that I have no idea what to do. So instead of being able to show and share all of these awesome ideas that I have I’m just left in silence with the ideas chasing themselves around in my head.

I have ideas about the math unit I am currently working on. I imagine students being engaged in hands-on activities and never picking up a textbook to do repetitive questions. I hope to incorporate a project for students to work on and show their learning instead of writing a test, and making wonderful connections with the students throughout the process. I want to do things that are out of the ordinary, but not too crazy that students won’t be able to understand the meaning of them. I want to try new things, yet know that I can’t do something crazy every day too.

I get ideas from all of the books I read, and all of the books I want to read. I literally have a bookcase full of books I have been wanting to read and just haven’t made the time to do so. I have wonderful books that I have found that I hope will one day inspire the students I teach to read and explore. I have books about innovative thinking, about how the mind processes, and how to reduce the attachment to textbooks in the classroom.

I’m inspired by other teachers I talk to, by videos I watch on YouTube, by blogs that I read, and educators I follow on Twitter. The problem is that I’m so overwhelmed by inspiration that I’m not sure where or how to turn them into practical applications. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a “real” outlet to put any of these ideas into yet. Sure, I get to plan all sorts of lessons and units for my university classes, but as of right now no one is actually going to experience them. I think that’s why I’m so excited to work on my math unit, because I know that it will actually be experienced by students.

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The trouble now is that even though I know that the unit that I will plan will be something real, I still don’t quite know how to process all of the ideas I have for it. I am hoping that over the break for Reading Week I’ll have some more time to lay out my ideas and turn them into some amazing lessons. I think I have a plan, and I know that I have some great ideas, I just need to put them into action. I know that this will be a constant thing as a teacher, and I just have to remember that learning is always a journey, even as a teacher. I’ll always be finding new ideas, interpreting them in my own way and adding bits of pieces of them to my teaching.

So help me out here friends, what are some of your big ideas? How do you manage them? What are some ways you’ve incorporated some of your big ideas into teaching?

Everyday People Make Every Day Awesome

Look around.

No, really, look around you.

Come on, I know you didn’t actually look around you just then, or if you did it was only to briefly look up from your computer screen.

Seriously.

Stop.

Look up. Look around you.

Notice. See.

Breathe.

There, that wasn’t so hard was it? I bet it was actually kind of nice! Maybe you haven’t done that in a long time. Really stop, look, and breathe.

What did you notice?

Maybe some furniture? Maybe some people you know? Maybe some favourite thing?

Aren’t they amazing? Isn’t it truly incredible to be in a place where you can look up from your computer and be surrounded by people and things that you love?

In the last month or so I’ve tried to take more time to do just this. To be truly in the moment and notice where I am, who I’m with, and the amazing things that surround me. I am so privileged to live such a life that gives me so much, and I need to take the time to stop and really appreciate it. We all do.

Life is awesome.

Yes, your life is awesome.

Sure you might have a bunch of assignments due next week, or you’ve got a pile of report cards to comment on, or your significant other may have done something seriously annoying, or your child might have knocked all of your books off the shelf, or your pet decided now was a great time to dump out their water bowl, but stop and think about those things just for a moment. If you have assignments due it means you are privileged enough to go to school. A pile of report cards means you have a job and get to interact with amazing children each day. Your significant other, despite their super annoying habits, loves you unconditionally. You have a child who idolizes everything that you do and a shelf full of wondrous adventures to share with him or her. You even have a pet who knows how to put a smile on your face and just wants to be near you. You’ve got a pretty great life.

In the past few weeks I’ve had several people ask me why I seem different; why I’m calmer and more peaceful. Well, I’ll give you a hint, it’s about appreciating the awesome.

Every day, there are things in my life that I am truly thankful for, and I am working at acknowledging those things. It is not always easy, but I’m working on it.

I’ve also heard a lot of great things about “The Book of Awesome.” It’s written by a Canadian guy, Neil Pasricha, who, after some great losses in his life, decided to create a blog and list 1000 awesome things in the world. Well, the blog was a hit, he won lots of awards, and wrote a book. Awesome! But he’s just an everyday person like you or me, taking the time to notice all the awesomeness around him. He’s chosen to have a great attitude, live in awareness and appreciation of his surroundings, and live an authentic life, true to himself. These are his “3 A’s of awesome.”

Now, I’ve only just heard of this book in the last few months, and haven’t read it or even looked at it myself, but after watching this TedTalk, I think I just might make a trip to Chapters tonight and check it out. These simple things are just what I have been trying to bring into my life.

Another great book that has helped me really pause, focus and gain clarity in my life is “The Zen Teacher” by Dan Tricarico. He too encourages you to take the time to be mindful, to relax, and really find that calmness in your life. By doing so, you can also bring those traits into your classroom, teaching your students how to tap into that calm too. I read this book over the Christmas break, and really, it’s made such tremendous impact on my outlook on life. It’s made me realize that I don’t need to stress over assignments, that I can take time for myself to recharge, and that there is so much good in the world. His blog also has some great ideas to bring to your life and your classroom. Fear not my religious friends, this sort of Zen has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with being an even better person than you already are, because you’ve been better all along and didn’t know it.

From @DrMaryHoward via Twitter

From @DrMaryHoward via Twitter

 

So here’s my challenge for you: Take time each day, even just for 2 minutes, to be thankful for the awesomeness in the world, and the amazing people in your life. Take the time to notice where you are, to breathe, smile, and take that next step towards being a better you. It’s all there for you already, you just need to notice it.

The Climbing the Ladder of Inspiration

Years ago, I made stickers for my older gymnasts with all types of inspirational quotes. Some were ones by famous people, others I happened to stumble upon, and others still were little lines I would say to the girls. One of these quotes became sort of a motto that has stuck with me, and several of my gymnasts for many years:

“If you cannot be inspired, become the inspiration.”

I have been thinking about this quote a lot in the last few days. I have felt a little sad, and kind of in search of some inspiration and motivation to do great things. My desire to do school work has been pretty low, and I it’s been difficult to get myself to do much of anything. I have found myself kind of lacking in inspiration. So, what does the quote say? If I’m having trouble finding inspiration to do things, become the inspiration…well…while that sounds like a great line, I’ve been grappling with how that actually applies, and have done a little soul searching. Does this quote mean to suggest that I can still be an inspiration even if I am not doing amazing things? How is that possible?

It is possible for me to be an inspiration because I am working towards being a teacher. I am an educator. I am a coach. I am a person who inspires others around me, even if I may not even realize it. I am me.

Now, I don’t mean to get all philosophical and etherial here, but I truly believe that a teacher’s job is to inspire. Teachers give kids hope; in themselves, and in a better world. Teachers give students the opportunity to become inspired by new ideas, and the tools and guidance to help them dive deeper into those ideas. Teachers care, and they express that care through enthusiastic and engaging lessons to spark creativity and passion in their students. Teachers are every day heroes who inspire change in the world.

Great! So teachers are inspiring…well I knew that. My problem now is, how to find that personal inspiration to keep going, to build amazing lesson plans, and to dig deep into the assignments I have this semester to truly push myself to be that inspiration. But where to look?

Well, this week I got to visit the class that I will be doing my pre-internship block with, and had such a great time! I’m so excited to work with this great group of grade 7/8 students, to work with a great co-op and a great team of teachers at this school. While my co-op teacher told me that the kids were a little crazy, I must say that I found the atmosphere in the classroom just so wonderful! Everyone worked together, everyone had fun, everyone participated, and everyone learned! Sure, it was a little chatty at times, and maybe we could have taken a little less time on some silly conversations, but the connections and relationships in that class are real, and that’s what makes it so awesome. I can certainly see myself trying out new and crazy things with these students, and they were totally on board with anything I wanted to teach them. My co-operating teacher also seems very willing to let me try some new things, and I know she’ll give me lots of feedback and support. So there’s one source of inspiration – a great class of students, and a supportive co-operating teacher. But where do I go from there?

My internet hunting led me to a really great TEDx video by Joe Ruhl. In his talk he discusses many different strategies that he uses in his classroom. He uses menus of interactive and engaging activities for students to work through as they learn in the various units of their course. He explains how successful these methods are in getting kids engaged in learning, and the value they have in getting kids to retain the knowledge they gained through experiential learning. I also appreciated many things that he said regarding teachers being the “guide by the side” in students’ learning. While he talks about the power that teachers have to inspire students by getting them engaged in their learning and excited by the things they are doing.

While a lot of what Mr. Ruhl said in his talk are things I’ve heard before, what it did was remind me that I am already an inspiration for taking the path to become a teacher, because in my heart I know that’s what I want to be, and my reasons for it are based in helping students find their own paths to inspiration. What this video did was show me that I can take risks and try new things if the students’ learning is always at the heart of it. Although I’m not sure that I’ve truly found the inspiration that I was seeking to move forward this week into some full-on unit and lesson planning, I hope to keep my quote still in the forefront of my mind to remind me that I can do this; I can be an inspiration, because I am a teacher.

Photo Credit: technovore via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: technovore via Compfight cc

The Power of Choice

Choice is a powerful thing, but do we really stop and think about every choice we make and what impact it will have on our lives? Sure, we’ll take the time to consider those “big” choices in life, like perhaps a career, or a post-secondary school, a spouse, or perhaps the purchase of a home, but what about the thousands of other choices we make? Do I do my homework now or watch a movie… Do I wear the sparkly top with the leggings or is it going to be a jeans and a hoody sort of day….Do I go for the healthy breakfast of some fruit and eggs or am I picking up Timmy’s on the way? What sort of impact do those actually have on our lives?

I’ve had a lot of opportunity to think about choices this week, and reflect on some of my past choices that have brought me to where I am today. All of this has made me wonder about what sorts of choices we make for and give to our students in the classroom and what possible affects those might have on their lives.

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In this video, Shelly Wright, a teacher from Moose Jaw, starts out by explaining how she taught for many years in the ways in which she herself had been taught or had seen in her journey to becoming a teacher. The classroom was set up in rows, with the teacher at the front, and the teacher directed the learning, not leaving much choice for the students. I’m not saying that this model doesn’t work, because it does. Really, even most of my university courses are still taught in this manner! I go to the classes, sit in my desk (though most are not in rows), listen to the instructor, and do the assignments listed on my syllabus without much thought to it all. But what if this wasn’t the way we learned? What if we got to choose what we learned? What if we got to choose how we learned it? What would that look like?

Well, this week, my school colleagues and I got a little taste of this in our Health Education class when we were actually given the choice of selecting the assignments WE wanted to do (be it from a list of a few choices) and assigning the weighting to those assignments. Now, while this was somewhat exciting, it was also a bit confusing, and actually a little intimidating! It meant we had to do some thinking about what it was that we were really interested in learning, where we wanted to focus our efforts to improve on areas we wanted to know more about, and decide how and where to dedicate our time and energy for the projects we chose. It got me thinking more though about what student choice really looks like, and what it could look like in my own future classroom.

In the TED talk video, Mrs. Wright talks about what happened when she really let all the rules fly out the window and let her students take control of their learning. It is quite a remarkable story! The students really took their learning into their own hands and chose to focus on something that could really make a difference in the lives of others.

I think that choice is really at the heart of what our education system needs to be. In fact, choice and student-led learning is quickly becoming the core of my teaching philosophy (which I’m currently working at re-vamping from where I was at a year ago). I believe that the purpose of education is to teach students to discover what drives them, and to teach them the skills and tools to inquire, investigate, research, explore, and interpret our world. This idea can be very big, but it can also start in small ways. Even just by allowing students to be a part of the classroom by choosing where they sit, or on what type of chair/surface they sit is a way to start, like this video shows! Or maybe it can start with choice boards for assignments and homework, or incorporating concepts like Genius Hour where students get to dig in deep into something that they really have a passion for. This article from Edumenic shares a few such ideas, which give a great start to taking differentiated learning to some new levels.

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Since I began on my journey to becoming a teacher I have known that I wanted to teach” differently,” and each year I find myself redefining what that looks like. In my first year of education I was really interested in interdisciplinary instruction and found that concept so interesting, and just knew that was going to be the way I taught and how I would be different. In my second year I dug deep into learning about Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences (even made my own website!) and thought, yup, that’s going to be how I’m different too, I’ll differentiate to the multiple intelligences! Now, this year, I’m all about doing all of that, plus tossing in some student-led learning strategies. What does that look like though? Is it just like Mrs. Wright’s classroom where I just let the kids take control and choose what they want to do? Not necessarily. In this article, it describes student-led learning as a way to empower students, to let them help guide where their learning needs and wants to go, to collaborate with classmates, and to allow them to take the time to pause in areas where they need more help, or thrive in areas where they are confident.

I’m currently reading a great book called “Learn Like a Pirate” by Paul Solarz, which takes this concept of student-led learning to new heights. He talks about empowering students,  giving them choice, and teaching them skills that they’ll need to work in our modern society that is so based in collaboration and cooperation skills. His blog has some great posts and ideas, in addition to his book of course! I am really hoping that my thoughts will just continue to evolve as I read this book, and that I can really incorporate these ideas into my teaching philosophy, which is continually growing and evolving the more I learn.

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The bottom line is that choice is empowering. Every day I make a choice to continue my journey towards becoming the best educator that I can be, and will have to continue making that choice every day as a classroom teacher. I believe that choice in the classroom is also important and that giving students choice in what and how they want to learn will teach them skills far beyond a textbook. We, as teachers may not get to choose who we teach, but we can decide how we teach, and if we’re willing to take a chance, get a little messy, and go off the beaten trail, I think that the rewards will far outweigh the risks. I’m excited to continue breaking this new trail in my journey.