About MORE Than The Teachable Moments!

Yes, I’m a planner. I have detailed daybook plans for the week and long-range plans for the year. I like to be organized, and planning helps me with this. But inquiry has made me re-think the way that I plan. Even though, I like my detailed plans, I know that the week rarely looks like what I’ve indicated in my daybook. I know that every night, I re-look at what the next day will bring, and then in the midst of teaching and learning, I reconsider things again.

Inquiry provides lots of opportunities for formative assessment, and observations throughout the process as well as student interests help determine next steps. Much inquiry happens “in the moment,” but my vice principal‘s blog post from the other night, made me think more about this. Here’s the truth:

  • I know that I miss things in the moment. I think that I’m asking all of the important questions, but I’m not. As a teacher, I try to give my students “wait time,” but I also need it. Sometimes I need to think about a topic overnight and explore more on my own, so that I can develop the very best questions.
  • I know that I need to re-read curriculum expectations. I always feel as though I know the overall ones well (I spend a lot of time looking at them), but in the heat of questioning, I sometimes forget. Sometimes student interests and curriculum expectations don’t align, and I need to consider ways to help connect them. I have the curriculum documents on my iPad, and I’ve consulted them even in the midst of a discussion, but good thinking about expectations takes time. 
  • I know that I don’t work in isolation. Often I need to discuss our inquiry topics with others. Kristi, my vice principal, regularly provides me with these “thinking provocations,” and even reminded me of this in her tweet last night.

2014-05-29_18-19-12Yesterday was the perfect example of my dilemma when it comes to inquiry. Yesterday, my students shared their Passion Projects that they’ve been working on at home for the past month. One group of students baked and then made numerous connections to Science and Math. This yummy Passion Project had the class very interested yesterday in the topics of baking and chemical reactions. Just after Bus Duty, I happened to mention to Kristi how the students enjoyed sharing their baked goods with her. That’s when she told me that she gave my students some homework. She asked, “Why must every recipe that includes baking soda also include salt?” Interesting question. I didn’t know, so I told her this, and she explained. That’s when I connected to the volcano experiment that another group did and said, “I wonder if salt would help minimize the baking soda and vinegar reaction in a volcano.” Kristi liked that question, and came back at me with, “I wonder what would happen if you used all of these ingredients [i.e., baking soda, salt, and vinegar] together.” I told her I knew what we were doing tomorrow.

That’s when I emailed myself a list of ingredients to bring into class, and I started to do some Google searching. Wow! Little did I know that there is actually a link between this experiment and our current focus on the environment. Baking soda, vinegar, and salt actually create an eco-friendly cleaner. I didn’t realize that a short conversation with my vice principal would lead to so much new learning for me. And that’s when I knew that it was okay to re-explore an inquiry that was actually over now. In the midst of all of the excitement (and noise) from yesterday, I never got to ask these important questions. We didn’t get to extend the learning, and we didn’t get to make the connection to our new Science learning.

Today, I’d see if an inquiry really could be left and then re-explored. And you know what … it can! The students started talking about the baking soda, vinegar, and salt as soon as they walked into the room and saw the provocation. I heard students make connections to what happened yesterday with the volcano, and then they got excited to think that we might be making another volcano. As you can see in our Storify Story from today, the learning extended way beyond volcanoes, and helped students realize the connections between acids, bases, and neutralizers. Then at lunch, Kristi asked me another question about other times salt could be used as a neutralizer, and the in-class conversation continued before the students headed off to French.

I may have created today’s “moment,” but the learning was just as rich — if not richer — than the teachable one from yesterday. Maybe what we all need is a colleague (online or in-person) — be it a fellow teacher, an EA, a DECE, or an administrator — that can push us to see things in new ways, reconsider our questions, and make a prior learning experience, a new and exciting one. Will this always work? Probably not. Do all inquiries need to be re-explored? I think no. But today proved to me that inquiry can be about more than just teachable moments, and I thank Kristi for this. What are your thoughts on this topic? What role does — and should — “planning” play in inquiry? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!