Learning is Happening!

8 05 2014

Holy moly! Learning is happening. A few days ago, I had my doubts, in fact, I was downright fearful about the direction this new inquiry would take. If you didn’t read my blog post from a few days ago, you can read it here.

So here we are, two days later… And learning is happening! While I thought learning might happen, and hoped learning would happen, I am surprised to see such amazing learning emerging so soon.

Today I sat with two groups to ask where they were with their inquiries and how I could help. Here are of few of the conversations we had:

Me: “Where are you and how can I help?”

Student 1: “I started learning about treaties. Did you know that there are 15 treaties? But I really want to focus on treaty #6. This treaty was the one that described who was going to get what lands and what they would receive in exchange. I think the First Nation people agreed to them because they thought it was important to work with the government to protect their people. And the treaties made it seem like they were getting stuff in return. I think they thought it would be a peaceful way to work with the government. Can I find out more about this?”

Student #2: “I started researching wars. I wanted to find out about the different perspectives – like the First Nation and the European Explorer perspectives. But, when I found out about the Beaver War, I learned that the British and the Dutch sided with the Iroquois and the French sided with the Huron. It seems like the different European groups had different perspectives. Can I focus on the French and the English perspectives instead?

Student #3: “I started learning about muskets. I was curious about their role in wars. But I found out that many of the Europeans started killing the buffalo and that made it harder for the First Nation people to hunt. Do you think the First Nations used guns to hunt too? I’m curious about how guns changed the First Nations people’s way of life. Can I find out more?”

Student #4: “I started learning about Cartier’s ship. I was planning on brining in old pieces of timber and maybe a page from his log to show how he started trade. I learned that at first he was nice to the First Nation people and they started to trade. But as time went on, he seemed less respectful. It seemed like he was taking advantage of the people, and they felt trapped because they needed the things he was trading with them. The settlement was not doing so well because the climate was so harsh. As time went on, Cartier seemed to get more and more disrespectful to the First Nations people and kidnapped the chief and his sons. It seems that he thought his religion and beliefs were more important. I want to find out more.”

Student #5: “Did you know that spears were different in different tribes? I wonder if they were different because of resources or the ways they used them? Can I focus on the interrelationships between the type of spear and the place where they lived?

Student #6: “Did you know that art and symbols had different meanings with different groups? I wonder if they all had religious significance?”

Student #7: “Some Europeans described the religious masks as “pagan”… What does pagan mean?”

Learning is happening. It’s working. I feel like I’ve started a wheel in motion and my kids are digging in. I thought it might happen, I hoped it would… But in this moment, I’m completely surprised that is has taken root so deeply, so soon!


Inquiry: Looking Forward… Looking Back.

6 05 2014

At the end of our last unit of inquiry, I remember the amazing feeling of contentment that settled over my class: A sense of pride and accomplishment.  The students had dug deeper and engaged in richer learning than I had ever witnessed before.  Looking around, and reflecting on their learning, … the view was  spectacular!

Starting a new inquiry ….It’s full of curiosity, interest and at times completely overwhelming.  My stomach has a lurching feeling – a mixture of excitement and nausea.  Having gone through unit long inquiries with my students before, I feel both better equipped and completely inadequate to start this daunting new task.  Our first inquiry was an exciting unknown journey full of wonder and it gave us the freedom to dig deeper and think harder than we had ever done before.  Now, at the cusp of a new inquiry, I’m feeling both eager and reluctant.  I’m excited because I know the amazing learning opportunities that will arise.  Likewise, I’m reluctant to plunge into the abyss of the collective unknown again.  I know that embracing innovation and change is important, but there are times when being pushed out of my comfort zone, is, well, uncomfortable.  Plunging into a unit of learning where I’m unsure of the exact path we will take is both liberating… and scary.


Our classroom is covered with chart papers:  Lists, questions, ideas, groupings.  Our typical “Guided Reading” times have been replaced with “Guided Inquiry” and “Inquiry Research” replaces “Independent Reading and Writing” times.

Yesterday, I sat with one group for our first Guided Inquiry time together.  As I pulled up a chair, I looked into the faces of my students.  “I’m a little nervous”, I admitted.  “I’m not quite sure how this is going to go.” I said cautiously.  A smile broke across one of my student’s faces.  “Me too.” She said.  “What’s your starting point?” I asked…. “Let’s go from there.”… and the conversation grew, questions started to form, ideas began to take shape.  Before us, the initial path to discover began to appear.

All of the learning I have done this year around the new SSHG has taught me that students are to ‘do the work of historians’, or ‘do the work of geographers’.  Well, how exactly do historians do their work?  They start with the evidence in front of them and figure out what it all means… by asking questions and digging (sometimes literally) for answers.  This sounds familiar… Ask questions, and search for answers… Inquiry!!

As my students explore the various elements of Heritage and Identity (Communities in Canada, Past and Present), they will do just that.  Begin with artifacts (something concrete) that show that someone (or some group or people) came before and search back through time to determine it’s historical value.

  • Perspective: Who’s stories can we uncover?
  • Significance:  Why was it important? What was it’s impact?
  • Interrelationships:  How did the environment effect the way people lived?  How did people effect the environment?


Simple… and yet complex.  Exciting… and overwhelming.  All at the same time.

In the past two days, I have met with four of the five groups.  Some groups buzzing with excitement, and some seemingly paralyzed by the openness ahead.  “What’s your starting point?” … Starting with something concrete (an artifact, an image, an item, a map, a painting)… and working backwards through the sandglass of time….

Right now, at the start of a new inquiry, the lens is muddy, the path promises to be wide and overwhelming at times… but hopefully, the destination will be well worth it.  Because, when we reach the end and are looking back, I know that the view will be spectacular!

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