I’ve been thinking a lot about my inquiry class this weekend. At some point I remembered what I actually did on the very first day of class the last time I taught an inquiry course for elementary school teachers. Instead of jumping into a month long inquiry into a topic, our class did an hour long inquiry into one physical situation and then we watched a video of children talking about the very same situation. In retrospect, this was a better decisions than I knew at the time.
First, it likely helped my students frame the science learning (I was going to ask them to do) in terms of their future careers as teachers. In particular, it sent a strong message about the potential connections that exist between their inquiries and children’s inquiries. I also, unknowingly, picked a topic and situation that adults and children tend to think the same about. Note that this isn’t always the case. Kindergarteners ideas about magnets, for example, tend to be centered around magnets being “energized”; whereas adults tend to think about magnets in terms of electric charges. Both,as we know, not how scientists think about it. But, importantly, there are many topics where children and adults tend to think the same. In the particular situation I asked them to reason about, it is likely the case that 4 or 5 ideas will always come up, and those will be the exact same 4 or 5 ideas that come up in the video. The video shows children having these ideas, sharing these ideas, and listening and responding to each others’ ideas in a sophisticated way. Thus, what we do on the first day (and what the children do) serves as a model for what I want them to do over long periods of time during a sustained inquiry into a single science topic.
Another big advantage is that we get to talk about the fact that they were able to easily make sense of what the children were doing and saying, and that this might have been because they had just spent an hour thinking, listening, and sharing their own ideas about the situation. This way, I get to let a mini lesson and video make the case that they will better understand their children by doing science based on their own ideas and not simply memorizing canonical science understandings. That way, when we are 4 weeks deep into a muck of ideas about a topic like light and shadow, I can remind them why we are doing this. We can even take a break to inquire again into childrens’ thinking.
Next time you teach this course, come back an re-read this post. It has lots of good ideas, at least I think. Best of luck next time.