Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Expo Has Come and Gone - Here's A Taste

Slices of Life on Tuesdays Are Hosted by Stacey and Ruth 


My school’s Expo was held last Thursday.  Excitement permeated the school in interesting ways in the days before.   It’s always interesting to me that while the getting ready for the crowds holds challenges for everyone; the days before the event are calm, with students so focused on finishing their displays that it is eerily quiet in the school.  As I explained in a post a few weeks ago, each student studies an individual topic around which the curriculum is written.  Expo is a day and evening of celebration of the learning thus far for the year, with displays of products completed by each student.   
The ways in which my school works is a difficult thing to explain in a few sentences, but in my many years’ experience here I believe much of the approach to learning has to do with questions.  I thought I would share the beginnings of the school year with students and what I’ve asked them to do with me as their teacher.  Each teacher might do this in a slightly different way, but the basics are the same, all having to do with questions, the answers discovered by both the student and the teacher:  What are possible topics of interest?  Why?  What would you like to increase your skill in?  What are your strengths?  What might be challenges for you in these strengths?  Where are your areas of weaknesses?  What might be some ways you can improve these?
I realize that these are sophisticated questions for very young students, yet their teachers follow similar paths to discovery.  They are the questions I asked my middle school students, who answered them through beginning research of their unit topic choices, through several conferences with me, and often through talks with their parents.  No matter what the age, they are their ‘wonderings’ about something.  I have been lately interested in reading about teachers who are exploring the site Wonderopolis because the site mirrors the goal of my school for its students, to find topics to wonder about and to pursue deeper learning within that topic. 
After deciding on the topic, and answering some of the questions, a unit of expectations is written by the teacher for each student with input from the student.  Weekly assignments are derived from that unit as the student’s weekly goal.   The intent of the questions remains the same, but the ways they are asked depend on class levels and with each child.  Teachers assess constantly by observing what a student is communicating through the work and through conferring often.  A path may start one way and then veer another depending on new information learned and the needs and interests of the student.  It is complex, but encompasses all that is being discussed as inquiry and/or project based learning.  Students are motivated when they have choice, and Expo is a celebration of the results of their learning choices. 
I’ve included a slide show of examples of displays from all the classrooms.  Some of the photos show students in process of completing the work and some few show visitors.  I didn’t include the crowded evening with parents, grandparents, neighbors, but at that time, the classrooms and halls are filled with those interested in visiting as many displays as possible and learning about the topics themselves.
 I visited all day Thursday, asking questions as the students played host to their displays, and taking pictures of representations of the work.  It was hard to choose what to show.  Over 250 topics have been researched.  My mind was swirling as I ended the day, full of questions of my own about certain topics.  It is a satisfying celebration of work well done. 
Next, students will continue on their journeys with the same topics or will choose another topic of inquiry for the remainder of the year.  Lifelong learning is a continuing journey we want all our students to enjoy.  Please take a look at some of the photos.  There are many, but I wanted to include some from all the ages, five through fourteen.  



Slide Show - Expo  

15 comments:

  1. This warms my heart. Doesn't look like test prep to me, thank G-d!
    What a wonderful experience to showcase Linda.
    3 cheers to learning and teaching with passion!
    Bonnie

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing. All these projects reflect the learners.
    My school follows the Primary Years Programme by IBO. We encourage inquiry a lot but it is not completely student driven. Instead of science and social studies we have six units of inquiry at each grade level. The students are expected to find a topic of interest within those units. For example in grade 4 they study Plate Tectonics, Ancient Civilizations, Businesses, Theatre, Energy and Religions. All these units create our school's Programme of Inquiry. Do I understand correctly that inquiry in your school is completely based on student interest and there are no prescribed scope and sequences or topics?

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    1. Your program sounds close to what we do, but yes, you do understand, there is no expected scope & sequence at all. Teachers should know the approximate levels that are appropriate at the ages, but there are also no ceilings, so a child could be reading at a very high level in the primary grades & is supported in that. The one exception is in math, where those students who are ready for algebra & beyond are pulled out to study with teachers expert in those areas. There are other experts where students can add additional studies during a time termed matrix classes, like art, drama, other science or language arts, etc. It's a study in processes with students choosing. Those getting ready for high school realize they might need to round out some gaps in content & often choose accordingly, but they are not required to do so. They are taught to research what they need to know, so can fill in gaps at any time in their learning. Lots of independence is one key to their success.

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    2. I think your school is amazing. It really allows the potential of each student to flourish. It does demand quite a lot from the students. I find that sometimes the independence and the responsibility that inquiry based learning places on students are the greatest challenges.
      Thank you for your response.
      Terje

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  3. I love the projects they're engaged in. It definitely shows that real learning happens inside of the school walls (and at home). The kids are truly invested in their learning. Thanks for sharing the photos as well.

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  4. I love both the projects and the information about your school. Very interesting. Our school system keeps using words like "innovation zone," but I never know if that means an administration or a teaching method. We'll see when kiddo enters school in a few years. I suspect many things will change.

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  5. What a neat experience for you and your students! It truly sounds like an inspirational day for everyone. I bet the excitement about learning is contagious!

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  6. The slide show is incredible! Thank you for sharing this wonderful event of showcasing the work students have engaged in this year. All I can say is WOW!

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  7. Love this! We've been toying with the idea of using a set amount of time on Fridays for Inquiry in my group of three classrooms. I'm going to use your post as a jumping off discussion point. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. This looks like a rewarding place to teach and learn. I love when your posts remind me that great places like this exist out there. We need to find ways to do more of this kind of thing EVERYwhere. Thanks especially for the slideshow!

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  9. The photos are wonderful, I eagerly looked at all the projects the kids did as well as the amazing artwork and installation pieces that they have crafted. They must have been inspired by their mentors to develop something that perfectly represents the learning they have gained over a period of time. You must be so proud of the kids! :)

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  10. Thanks so much for sharing your school's process and these wonderful questions, Linda:
    >>What are possible topics of interest? Why? What would you like to increase your skill in? What are your strengths? What might be challenges for you in these strengths? Where are your areas of weaknesses? What might be some ways you can improve these?<<
    These actually remind me of the questions we pondered in my MFA program when setting our semester goals. I never considered using them with young students. Thanks, also, for sharing the link to Wonderopolis. I just visited the site and watched a fun video of prairie dogs "playing" with a robot. :-)

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    1. Students who are 'veterans' at school, even the youngest talk endlessly about topics for their units, what might be next, what they've thought about all summer, what they're planning for after this Expo. The critical question of 'why' permeates almost all of what goes on. thanks for your comment.

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  11. Thanks everyone for your interest and thoughtful comments. Best wishes for inquiry in your own schools or in your personal lives.

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  12. There are two sounds I like at school...one is the eerily quiet of people working intensely and the other is the even buzz of involved, interested, inquiring students. Looks like you got them both!

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