Inquiring minds

I have recently read Nigel Holloway’s great post on the, Art and Power of Reflection. I am a very reflective person by nature and I guess you would say I am a bit of a self learner too. I often reflect on how I have contributed to, or behaved, in a particular situation. For example if the kids are not on task during a lesson, I think first about what I could have done differently.

One thing I don’t always do is reflect on the positive things I do.  But today I had good reason to.  I had one of those moments that I work hard to acheive.  Well not achieve per say but to see occur in my classroom.  First I need to give you a bit of background.

For the last ten years I have taught using an inquiry approach.  Well at least I thought I was. Like many others I use the topic headings to plan all of my unit – tuning in, finding out, sorting out etc.  But what I wasn’t doing was actually giving students any opportunity to inquire or think for themselves.


Last year I was lucky enough to spend a few days learning from Nadine Le Mescam, an educator who is passionate about inquiry based learning and is an amazing wealth of knowledge.  From those few days, with Nadine,  I learnt so much and now work very hard to give students opportunities to direct their own learning and lead inquiries.

With this in mind I planned, along side my colleagues, the beginnings of an inquiry unit on electricity.  Our inquiry question was – How does electricity affect our lives?  I say ‘was’, as this is where it started but it has evolved since then.

As a school we were using the Primary Connections as the basis of our planning and although I found it a little too prescribing for what I wanted to achieve,  I used elements of it to frame the question, such as finding out how a circuit works.

Now back to the change in question.  We watched an episode of Mythbusters about electricity and the kids came up with loads of questions.  I couldn’t let the opportunity be wasted so we started getting into groups to investigate them.

The questions included; How much electricity does it take to kill someone?  Can electricity jump out of a power point?  Does a conductor have to contain metal?  Of course we decided that some of the questions couldn’t be tested by ourselves and would rely on researching.

Today we had a group of kids working on a question about static electricity.  The question had changed a couple of times as they researched and found new information but they settled on – Can static electricity move water?  Together as a group they did some research and designed an experiment where they would create static electricity by rubbing a balloon on their hair and placing this near a running tap.

If I am to be honest, I doubted (in my obvious lack of science knowledge) that it would happen.  But sure enough I could see the water move.

The great thing was that the learning didn’t stop there.  They then wanted to know the science behind it and did more researching.  They have also altered their experiment to test if all objects will transfer the static energy – like a comb.  Or if they rub the balloon against their hair more will the water move even more.

Watching the kids with huge smiles on their faces from their inquiring and being so eager to share their learning for others was a great moment today.  It was a time where I definitely reflected on how I had set up this learning experience and allowed them to inquire in such a way.  A moment that I am very proud of. I love that I was so far off the mark with what I thought the kids would learn but because they led the learning and used the problem solving and researching skills I had taught them, the learning was so much more meaningful.

And by the way – the kids are now writing out story boards to make their own films based on the Mythbuster theme, which we will enter in the 60 Second Science Video Competition.

What great teaching moments are you proud of?

How do you use inquiry in your classroom?