Image by Author, 2016.
The unit of work being presented is one that I have been involved in teaching for the past two years. I have had an active part in reshaping this unit as it was a unit that was once VERY teacher driven with not much hands on inquiry. It has been transformed a little already, with room for further improvement, and the direction of delivery, and thus inquiry always changes in relation to the students and teachers involved.
The unit – Simple Machines, is a “Unit of Inquiry” planned using the Primary Years Programme, a part of the International Baccalaureate Curriculum. It is in the Transdisciplinary Theme of “How the World Works”. Intertwined in the unit are also American Standards that need to be covered in relation to Science and Social Studies.
Simple Machines is a 5 week unit for 2nd Grade students.
It’s central idea is that the students understand that “Simple Machines play a role in our everyday lives”. The Primary Years Programme key concepts; lines of inquiry; and teacher provocations help guide the inquiry of this unit. The students are involved in identifying what a simple machine is; exploring and playing with different types of machines; seeing how they work; identifying what they can do with a simple machine; applying the knowledge to different situations and constructing mini machines; then creating their own machine for a problem.
The summative assessment has gone through some significant change in the last two years. The original summative assessment involved the students “choosing an already made machine at home to write clues about, and then get others to guess what they thought the object was”…..where now the students create their own machine, linked to scenarios to help guide them in the types of machines that they will construct out of recycled materials. The students present their machines to the parent and school community peers on a sharing morning arranged by the teachers.
The links below provide access to the Unit document and the Weekly guides for plans.
How the world works Simple_Machines Unit Planner
Simple Machines Unit Lesson Sequence
When commencing a unit of work it is always good to revise its ideals and to spend time reframing it to ensure it suits the students within the learning classroom it is intended. Time is spent by teachers reviewing these notions and in our situation ensuring that “inquiry” is always a part of the process. This analysis aims to review a unit and provide recommendations to enable more “inquiry” into the planning. Suggested questioning frameworks and more open-ended approaches will be intended to be provided in this process.
“Inquiry learning involves learning to inquire in a formal educational environment.”
As the unit being critiqued is written using the ideals of the International Baccalaureate Curriculum, the students involved in this unit should experience “many different forms of inquiry based on the student’s genuine curiosity and their wanting and needing to know more about the world” (p.30, Making the PYP happen: A curriculum framework for international primary education, 2009). The unit documentation shows that there are many practises in place around this inquiry approach, however there is room for more “inquiry” processes to be implemented to keep the spirit of inquiry alive. A unit with standards to cover, often requires a certain amount of teacher directed, guided instruction to ensure that the learning is covering what is expected to be learned. Martin-Hansen’s (2002) description of “coupled inquiry” (Dunkhase, 2000) (See Figure 1) where you combine an open inquiry with a guided inquiry, I think is a very relevant term for the type of inquiry that is evidenced throughout this unit. There are certainly areas of this notion that are documented in the unit outline. There is evidence of student-centred approaches when the children are involved in STEM activities in Week 3 and in the creation of the summative in weeks 4 and 5. The other weeks 1,2 and some parts of 3 are very much the guided inquiry approach where the teacher is trying to explore specific skills and asks specific questions.
Figure 1: Created by author, 2016. based on Dunkhase (2000) in Martin-Hansen’s article information (2002)
It is noted that the first 2 steps and final stage are explicitly completed with the students in this unit very well, however steps 3 and 4 could be more student involved, getting the students be more apart of the questioning process, investigating their own questions and planning from there. Student questions and the development of “new” questions throughout the process would be more beneficial to maintain effective inquiry for the individual.
Other inquiry approaches identified as being used in some format in this unit are analysed in the table below. I have chosen to highlight the areas noted below to established what elements of inquiry are evident (or not) in the unit presented.
- Level of Inquiry – is used to identify how student oriented the unit of inquiry is.
- Inquiry Model – helps us see what style of inquiry learning is being followed – one particular model or a blend of models.
- and Lupton’s GeSTE Windows (2016) – these windows are enabling us to view whether there is inquiry learning and information literacy in the unit of learning.
- Generic Window identifies skills and processes.
- Situated Window works with the Generic and can involve a particular area of learning – e.g. science, history
- Transformative Window works with the Generic and Situated but can involve a political view or some sort of social action.
- Expressive Window can also work with the Generic and Situated and is encouraging learners to be reflective and express themselves.
||Which Approach is Identified for this unit
||Where in the Unit
||Analysis / Recommendations
|Level of Inquiry
||Teacher and Student Directed
||From the beginning to the end it is clear that the teacher is guiding in some way. Week 1 / 2: The teacher is guiding the research, based on teacher questions. The resources are mainly teacher chosen. The students are completing the procedures with limited times to ask their own questions. Week 3: The stem activities are ones found by the teachers for the students to complete.
||The unit aims to have a very student driven approach however due to the age group and concepts there seems to be more teacher direction to ensure that the children are able to explore all the options to create a competent machine. It is suggested “that more time is allocated for Student questions to be asked and explored”, be implemented throughout the unit. A thought would be that this could happen right from the start of the inquiry.
||This unit aligns with Kath Murdock’s (2010) Inquiry Model and Gourley’s(2008) Inquiry Circle. The classrooms in the school all have inquiry circles of some sort displayed in some form to help guide the students and teachers through the inquiry process. The “Process” Questions associated with the Inquiry circle help guide the questions.
Another approach identified however not explicitly implemented at this stage is Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari’s(2012) Guided Inquiry Design: Open; Immerse; Explore; Identify; Gather;Create; Share; Evaluate
|Not clearly identified anywhere in the unit. There are Teacher Questions in the main unit document that are a guide but any other questioning is not provided.
|It is an expectation that the inquiry cycles are displayed in the classroom in some format. It is recommended that the Inquiry Circle process be added to the main unit plan to help identify the stages with which each week is in. This would also help the teachers use guided questioning that is helpful to the students.
Introduce the idea of “Guided Inquiry Design” and its relevant wording to the PYP Curriculum Coordinator and the teachers involved as a way to guide the inquiry? This may not be the chosen way to guide inquiry in the current setting however its wording and ideas are similar to the processes currently followed.
|GeSTE Windows (Lupton & Bruce, 2010)
||This unit sits in the
|Generic Window – skills and processes are completed and practised, throughout the whole unit.
Situated Window –authentic scientific practises happen within the STEM experiments; Week 3-5
Expressive Window – Children design, create and reflect on a machine that they have made – weeks 3-5. Mini reflections are made on the iPad for student private blogs throughout the unit.
|It is nice to discover that this 2nd Grade unit of work essentially sits well in the GeSTE windows. It may be a little too focussed in the Generic area with a recommendation for more focus to be placed in the Situated area. This could be through more problem solving tasks linked to the students asking more of their “own” questions related to the topic.
A suggestion is to add in the Transformative Window from the angle of considering different ideas – Who would benefit from your machine? What else could be added to your machine to make it do something else?…..This could happen by making the summative assessment more open ended and not to a set scenario. The students have more control of their machine and ideas to complete this area of the windows.
By looking at the unit through a Blooms Taxonomy lens it is revealed that the unit, whilst containing some higher order thinking skills, still remains in a mostly teacher led, remembering and understanding level of inquiry.
The diagram outlines the levels of each of the activities in the unit by colour coding as follows:
Based on Blooms Revised Taxonomy (Pohl, 2000), re-created by Author, 2016
Unit of Work Lesson details, written by Author (2015)
Overall, it is nice to see that this unit sits in each stage of the revised Blooms Taxonomy in some part. A move to more student driven applying, analysing and evaluating around the big idea will be the aim for the future unit design.
Upon reflection after reviewing these approaches I have some suggestions of how to implement some aspirational notions to this unit. This unit follows some relevant Inquiry approaches and aspires to provide students with more freedom to inquire. As the Youth Learn document (2016) stated, “asking questions is at the heart of inquiry-based learning”. It is recognised that the aim of the teachers involved in this unit is to guide the children however a new direction of techniques implemented to do this may allow “the educator’s role to be different and encourage the projects to be student driven” (Youth Learn Document, 2016).
* It is suggested that the unit start with more explorations rather than content.
*It is suggested and encouraged that more student driven questions be implemented and explored throughout.
* That the students get to drive more of the investigations.
* A variation on the summative be considered – maybe no scenario; considerations of who would benefit from the made machine.
* The inquiry model should be outlined (the stages) with the plan to be clear to readers of which stage each part is in.
*Show how Guided Inquiry Design can be fit into this unit to the Coordinators and Teachers involved.
Development of Inquiry Skills
This unit has been written in the context of the Primary Years Programme Curriculum, Transdisplinary Theme – How the World Works – Simple Machines. It is a curriculum that states in its documents that “the PYP has been infused with the spirit of inquiry……..framed by means of questions such as ‘What do we want students to understand and be able to do?'” (2009,Making the PYP happen: A curriculum framework for international primary education,p.28). This understanding is what drives our thinking as teachers, when working through these units with our students. The Science strand (p. 93-102,Making the PYP happen: A curriculum framework for international primary education, 2009) suggests:
- ” there should be more hands-on learning rather than teacher demonstration;
- being exposed to more than one approach;
- challenging students to find out more;
- take on actions etc.”
There is evidence in the Unit Weekly plans that there is thought to the above ideals however, the evidence of this open hands-on learning and providing the children with time and opportunity to challenge their thinking to find out more, is not clearly available.
Another element of the PYP in this unit are the key teacher questions:
- What are force and work?
- How do simple machines work?
- How do simple machines make work easier?
These are used to guide the students through the inquiry process to help tune them in to find out more, and stay involved in this inquiry thinking process.
This unit is also designed to be aligned with the American AERO standards in Science and Social Studies – these are identified at the end of the passworded document and are set. It is noted that they have to be covered.
Many when thinking PYP inquiry think about Kath Murdoch’s Inquiry Model (2010) and this is part of the development of inquiry in this approach, however, from being a part of the “teaching” for this unit, I identify now more with Gourley’s (2008) questioning model when presenting and working through this unit with students. There is evidence that there is some sort of inquiry cycle happening throughout the learning process to help the children develop their thinking. This tool is utilised and displayed in the classroom and the children and teacher refer to this as they are working through the cycle to help understand where we are in our thinking.
There is evidence of “inquiry wording” throughout the written planning document: analysing, interpreting, engaging, describing, drawing conclusions, connecting, creating, understanding, lines of inquiry, wondering, teacher questions – notice there isn’t an area identified explicitly on the plan “Student questions”. The thought process here is that by using this language with the students we are engaging them, and exposing them to the language used in inquiry learning.
The unit overall has elements of the inquiry skills displayed. It would be beneficial to define areas more explicitly and provide more examples.
*More hands-on learning opportunities rather than whole teacher demonstration.
*Setting a range of challenges to guide students to explore further.
*More explicit use of inquiry cycles within cycles.
“The questioning process is crucial to all stages of inquiry” (Lupton, 2016) as it helps guide the inquirer through the process of analysing their information and what they want to know more about. We encourage students to constantly want to find out more and to delve further based on what they have discovered. It enables them to learn more about their own wonderings rather than those just prescribed by others. Modelling and guiding students through good forms of questioning helps develop their inquiry skills to always delve deeper to find out more. The more I spend time on analysing this unit the more I seem to identify that it is a little lacking in the development of the “questioning” department, to help drive the instruction. There is evidence of some questioning techniques but it is an area that could be developed more in the sense of the student. The following table shows the styles of questioning evident in the analysed unit. It is obvious that the questioning is mainly directed by the teacher. There are questioning tools and strategies being modelled however in a very directed manner.
||Key questions asked throughout the general inquiry of the unit. Many just factual retrieving questions, with the knowledge that the teachers are aiming to branch out with their questioning style.
Many chances for “wondering” questions throughout the unit. The students complete some Visible thinking strategies (Ritchhart, Church, Morrison,2011) related to wonderings.
|More “what if” questions or “Why” being effectively driven.
Use a visible thinking tool at the absolute start of the unit with some random machines /parts etc. to encourage the students to begin their own questioning process – this is mentioned to complete but is done after other activities and would be a good beginning to start the questioning process.
Have the wondering wall displayed (like in other units of inquiry)
Suggestions that there be more time and guidance given to the students to generate their questions using some more structured frameworks – for example the inquiry cycle guide questions.
||The unit being PYP is based on a Central Idea; posing teacher questions and provocations. There are key concepts that drive the inquiry – for this unit Function and Causation questions “How does it work?” and “Why is it like this?”
The teacher questions in the unit plan are “big idea” questions designed to “help students make sense of important but complicated ideas, knowledge, and know-how – findings that may be understood by experts.” (Wiggins, 2007). The main central questions above drive the inquiry.
|Ensure these questions are being displayed somewhere in the room to help the children refer to them. This will enable the inquiry to keep on track and help drive the inquiry. Or come up with one BIG idea to allow the mini questions to drive off this main investigation.
||Gourley’s (2008) Inquiry Cycle is what the teacher uses to move through the inquiry learning process. These are displayed in each classroom and used as the teaching is moving through the unit of inquiry.
Minor “KWL” (Ogle, 1986) strategies are modelled with the students at the start however not really evident in the planning as it is completed incidentally.
|After researching questioning the idea of KWHLAQ (Barell, 2008) would be more beneficial to the students in the inquiry process as it can be completed, at the beginning of the cycle process, throughout and at the end…..establishing a “true” cycle of inquiry.
||When the students are completing the STEM activities the questions are based on scientific questions e.g. “What is an incline plane?”and “Why does the incline plane help the toy car travel a further distance?”“If I add this simple machine to my complex machine, what will it help it do?”
||These are not clearly shown in the lesson plans. Show more examples of these in the lesson outline.
It is thought that maybe using more explicit questioning models throughout the inquiry process may help these younger students become more proficient “questioners” in “their” inquiry of the bigger ideals within the unit. Another thought is the idea of having “a compelling or rich QUESTION to drive the inquiry” (Murdoch, 2012) to run alongside the ‘Big’ idea that the unit is inquiring. This would enable us to help the children see that these compelling questions invite us to “ask more questions to investigate and explore our inquiry.” (Murdoch, 2012). The thinking is that they will then see that the questions they have are useful to their own thinking….thinking about something rather than just fact finding.
Lupton’s (2016) GeSTE windows are used to critically evaluate information literacy and learning processes in inquiry. They use a hierarchy idea to to show the degrees of sophistication. Exploring this unit the students are encouraged to evaluate information but on a very Generic/Situated scale. There is evidence that they also express their findings in the Expressive window, through the construction of their own designed machine. The table below displays how the GeSTE windows can be used to evaluate the unit provided.
Using the GeSTE Windows to Critically evaluate this Unit of Work – Simple Machines.
||Information is evaluated by examining…..
||Supplied by others
|From teacher; books; websites; videos
||Managed; organised; purpose
||Using what is shown; reading
||My teacher found so must be worthy?
||Supplied by others, Prior knowldge and Own thoughts
||Own knowledge and experiences; opinions; ideas
||Lots of different tools; Lots of information provided; Seeing how things work.
||Playing with the machines
||Why does this happen?
How does it work? Where is it used? Who uses this item?
||Thoughts; ideas; own experiences;
||Making meaning from information; reflecting on understandings.
||Designing a machine;
Making a machine; Self expression
|Does this show others my thinking?
Am I proud of my design? How did I feel throughout this process?
From the above analysis it can be seen that this Unit mainly sits in the Generic and Situated windows, with elements being explored in the Expressive Window. There are avenues that can be explored in the Transformative window to help bring about a societal view in this area of thinking.
*A way that the Unit of Inquiry could incorporate more inquiry type questioning is using KWHLAQ charts in this unit right at the beginning.
*Need to ensure that the cycle of inquiry is happening, questions are being asked and reasked.
*Experiences and teacher guidance is provided to allow these student questions to be explored / tested out.
*More directions in framing good questions or problems (Jackson, 2013)
*More than one approach should be exposed to the children when working with simple machines.
*Visible Thinking Strategies (Ritchhart, Church, Morrison, 2011). This particular unit has more standard questioning techniques driving the inquiry.
*Try to incorporate the Transformative Window of the GeSTE windows through getting the students to think about “who may benefit from their machine?” – a more societal view or challenging themselves to add more elements to their machine to enhance it.
My overall thoughts after completing this process is that the unit is a “coupled inquiry” (Dunkhase, 2000) however there is a chance to expand more student driven elements. It is an inquiry that is appropriate for the age group it is intended. There are many opportunities to add in more effective questioning techniques and more student interest to the investigations. At the moment it seems very much that the students are “‘doing’ a topic rather than investigating” (Murdoch, 2012) it. There is evidence that this investigating is the way that is intended however more elements need to be put in place to effectively achieve this outcome.
Barell, J. (2008) From Lupton, M. (2012). What is Inquiry Learning. https://inquirylearningblog.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/what-is-inquiry-learning/
Dunkhase, J. (2000) in Martin-Hansen, L. (2002), Defining Inquiry. The Science Teacher; Feb 2002; 69, 2, p.34-37
Gourley, B. (2008). Inquiry Circle. Retrieved from Lupton, M. (2016) Inquiry Learning Modules.com
International Baccalaureate Organisation. (2009) Making the PYP happen: A Curriculum framework for International Primary Education. Revised edition. Anthony Rowe Ltd, United Kingdom.
Jackson,S. (2013) Helping Students Develop the Ability to Ask Good Questions. Scholastic Education. Canada
Kuhlthau, C. Maniotes, L,K. Caspari, A,K. (2012) Guided Inquiry Design. Rutgers School of Communication and Information.(2016)
Lupton, M. & Bruce, C. (2010). Chapter 1 : Windows on Information Literacy Worlds : Generic, Situated and Transformative Perspectives in Lloyd, Annemaree and Talja, Sanna, Practising information literacy:bringing theories of learning, practice and information literacy together, Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies, p.3-27.
Lupton, M. (2016) Inquiry learning: A pedagogical and curriculum framework for information literacy. In Sales, Dora & Pinto, Maria (Eds.) Pathways into Information Literacy and Communities of Practice: Teaching Approaches and Case Studies.Chandos Publishing. https://eprints.qut.edu.au/95005/
Lupton, M. (2016) https://inquirylearningblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/critical-evaluation-of-information-geste-windows-overview/
Lupton, M. (2016) https://inquirylearningblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/critical-evaluation-of-information-generic-window/
Lupton, M. (2016) https://inquirylearningblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/20/critical-evaluation-of-information-situated-window/
Lupton, M. (2016) https://inquirylearningblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/22/critical-evaluation-of-information-transformative-window/
Lupton, M. (2016) https://inquirylearningblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/24/critical-evaluation-of-information-expressive-window/
Murdoch, K. (2012) Walking the world with Questions in our heads…..
Ogle, D. (1986) KWL. Retrieved from Lupton, M. (2012) What is Inquiry Learning. https://inquirylearningblog.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/what-is-inquiry-learning/
Pohl, M. (2000). Blooms Revised Taxonomy. Retrieved from Lupton, M. (2016) Inquiry Learning Modules.com
Ritchhart, R., Church, M., Morrison, K. (2011). Making Thinking Visible – How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for all Learners. Published by Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, USA
Youth Learn © 2016 Education Development Center, Inc.
Wiggins, G. (2007) What Is an Essential Question? Big Ideas An Authentic Education e journal. Authentic Education.