Why Was Today Different?

Today was a day to remember. It was a day where I was actually inspired to send out this tweet:

Now I’ve had many wonderful school days, but today was different! It’s almost the end of November, and yet, today was the day that I finally think that I actually understood inquiry. As many of my blog readers know, inquiry is my area of focus on my Annual Learning Plan, and I’ve been exploring inquiry in different ways in the classroom since the beginning of school. Today my student teacher, Yakira Smeltzer, did a fantastic math inquiry activity on mean, median, and mode, and I did a Social Studies inquiry activity on First Nations and European Explorers. Everything was documented in our Storify Story seen here.

So why was today different than any other day? I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and here are my thoughts:

  • Students had the time that they needed to really explore the topic. Yakira’s math inquiry was for a double math period this morning, and my Social Studies inquiry was for almost three periods in the middle block. Yes, mine addressed many language expectations and even connected with our current TLCP, but it was still three periods long.
  • Assessment and evaluation happened around “process” and not just “product.” Thanks to the videos, tweets, podcasts, and photographs from today, learning was captured and “pushed” throughout the process. Tomorrow, we’ll have a short Social Studies evaluation activity that provides a mark, but without a culminating task. I can’t wait to see how it goes!
  • We had an inquiry circle. I love the idea of an inquiry circle, but I know that I don’t have enough of them. Today for Social Studies, we took the time (over 20 minutes) to have an inquiry circle, share learning, ask questions, and solidify new learning. It was amazing! All students contributed. All students thought about the content and did not just regurgitate it. And all students built new knowledge. (A special “thank you” to Jonathan So, a teacher from Peel, that pushed our learning even further with a couple of his tweets.)
  • We scaffolded learning. I think that Yakira’s math inquiry activity illustrates this the best. With her varied questions at each centre, students could choose their entry point depending on their previous knowledge of the content. This meant that even an old concept became new, and all students left with a better understanding than when they started. If as teachers, we’re constantly pushing for “success for all,” then we need to remember this scaffolding component.

Now was today perfect? No. In retrospect, I really wish that I tied today’s new Social Studies learning back to the learning goal. This would have made an even clearer connection to the expectations. I also wish that I started with a gallery walk, where students could put out their work, show what they recorded, and reflect on any similarities and differences. This may have allowed us to address more specific examples and see connections between the various topics. Finally, I wish that I had the students reflect individually on their new learning. This could have even been done with a graffiti wall activity or a post-it note on a Linoit Wall. All students shared so much during our discussion that I didn’t include this individual reflection, but this may have allowed students to articulate their new questions. This could have been useful prior to our evaluation activity tomorrow. I’ll see how things go, and if we need to start with sharing and discussing questions first, then we will.

How has your approach to inquiry evolved over the past few months? Why did you make the changes? Where do you want to go next? I hope that we can share ideas here and grow more together!


8 thoughts on “Why Was Today Different?

  1. Great learning! Thanks for sharing your experience. I loved the activity and the way that centres, manipulatives, exploration and discovery all came together. If I needed a good lesson on Mean, Median and Mode, I would be duplicating this! Well done 🙂

    • Thanks Paul! I have to give Yakira credit for the math activity though. While we discussed it together, she was the one that pushed me to consider inquiry for it. I initially didn’t think that it was possible for mean, median, and mode. She helped prove me wrong! 🙂

      And once we discussed the options for inquiry, Yakira created the questions on her own. Jo-Ann also suggested some options that helped both of us see different possibilities. This is a good reminder that in teaching, we can’t do things alone! I’m glad that I could learn from Yakira and Jo-Ann!


  2. Aviva, inquiry is the way to go. Problem based learning evokes so much rick learning. One of my take always on learning and teaching through inquiry is do you truly need an assessment of learning when you already know what the students know and where their next steps are. If you are providing that feedback all throughout where is the real learning.

    I challenge my student teachers and anyone really that I meet, what do you value more learning or meeting expectations; or teaching more but not deep or teaching less but with real understanding. I think by what you gathered you have rich and meaningful assessment, without the need for a culminating task or test. What would be great is a reflection but you can always do that still.

    I also love inquiry because you do actually meet all of the expectations. You just have to know your curriculum and trust that a rich investigation will always bring it out. I will challenge you to always have math for two periods and spend the time on a consolidation piece, that is the real teaching and learning. Your inquiry circle is a prime example. Have you also considered learning progressions or a trajectory? Eg. Fosnot’s landscapes but you can make it for any subject. I found those really helpful as my assessment of learning and it helps with reflections.

    Thanks again for sharing your journey. Keep going you’ll be surprised at every turn.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jonathan! I’ve really struggled with the assessment piece, as I agree with what you’re saying here, but I still need to give marks on a report card. I want parents to see evidence of these marks prior to the report card. I was struggling with culminating tasks, as they were taking a long time and not really giving me any new information. I’m also not a fan of tests, but wanted some kind of quick assessment, but with choice and an evaluation component. This is what I’ve been playing with, and it’s what I tried to set-up for tomorrow. We’ll see how this goes! 🙂 As always, it’s a learning experience. 🙂

      As for math, I usually have a two periods, but because of my prep schedule, sometimes my two periods of math are split during the day. The learning can still continue, but the momentum that you can get from this double period isn’t quite there. Days like today with the double period of math are definitely my favourite ones! 🙂

      Thanks for mentioning learning trajectories. This is something that I’ve heard about a lot lately, but haven’t really explored. I think it’s time to do some research. I have to say that I just love learning from you on Twitter and through the blog, and I really appreciate how much you’ve pushed my learning. THANK YOU!


      • I agree with the mark component. I often will assess word problems and had students a coconstructed rubric. I don’t give marks but we talk about feedback. The only mark I give is on report card day but I say to them based on our coconstructed rubric and my feedback you should know what your mark is. I have had to educate parents but I have found more so this year then any when you let parents know what kids are doing and you keep them informed they will understand all that you do. This is especially true when kids can tell their parents the trajectories and what mark they are getting. I can’t remember where I heard this before but it is said that only giving feedback will improve marks more then giving marks but giving marks only will improve students more then both. It was an interesting moment. It’s a big shift in education and assessment. In doing my masters, I was told if you do everything right you should get an A. Everything write is plan, research, talk, revise, ask for feedback and your end product will be an A. This is still something I struggle with but am leaning towards less marks and more descriptive feedback, both to parents and students.

        • I completely understand where you’re coming from, Jonathan! I’ve done this in the past as well, but many parents told me that they liked seeing the marks before the report card. Students may know where they were at, but not all of the parents did. (I used to talk to the parents about the marks, but I guess that’s not the same as seeing it.) I understand this.

          So I’ve kind of come up with a compromise. I usually just offer feedback. I also periodically give marks. These are for summative tasks, and they only happen a couple of times for each unit. These marks help give parents and students a greater heads up prior to report cards.

          I wish that we just had comments on report cards, but until/unless that becomes a possibility, I’m finding it hard to avoid the marks. Thanks for engaging me in this exciting topic of discussion, Jonathan! I’m enjoying the conversation!


  3. This is truly a fantastic example of injecting inquiry into learning mathematical concepts. Providing an environment in which students construct their own understanding is messy, but provides priceless independence, social creativity, and sense of adventure.

    If you haven’t already found them, there are two blogs I would recommend to continue this inquiry into inquiry, Inquiry Maths and Authentic Inquiry Maths.



    Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm! Happy inquiring!

    • Thanks Bart! My student teacher did a fantastic job with this math inquiry activity. Thanks for the blog post links as well. I’ve seen the first one before, but not the second one. I always enjoy good math blogs!


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