Monday, July 23, 2012

Inquiry...reaching all students

Inquiry workshop is a model that I have incorporated into my classroom to create a predictable structure for students to act on their curiosity.  The inquiry workshop I have developed has a more informational text focus that revolves around curiosity, engagement, research, and presentation of new knowledge.  But does this model work for all students?  Can students be curious in different avenues?

To kick off the school year, I also begin with a series of inquiry-based activities to further reach my students that are more hands-on, more visual, and more interdependent.  Not only do I want to encourage language that includes what to do next if something is unsuccessful, but I also want to encourage listening to each other, brainstorming, and adjusting plans based on feedback/trial and error.  During the first few weeks of school, I use Design Squad Project Ideas to promote...

  • brainstorming
  • designing
  • building
  • testing
  • redesigning
  • team work
  • conversations

First, we watch Episode 110: Pumped from Season One.  (free on their website!)  We discuss the levels of conversations, parts of inquiry, and teamwork that occurs as two teams face off to build a manual contraption that puts water on the slides at their local YMCA.

Next, we use Wonderopolis 236: How Long is the Longest Bridge for examining bridges.  Little do they know that I am supporting them with background knowledge to attempt their first Design Squad Challenge... How to create a table that will hold a book using one piece of cardboard, a heavy book, masking tape, and 8 sheets of is called the Paper Table Challenge. (Last year's class designed a table that held 32 books!)  Our focus is more on conversations, meaningful observations, and determining variables while examining scientific inquiry.  We also do the Pop Fly Challenge and a Marshmallow Construction Activity in teams.  All year long the students beg for more Design Squad Challenges.  Design Squad by PBS is a great resource for promoting inquiry, community, mistakes, and accomplishments in the classroom at the beginning of the year.


  1. This look fabulous idea! I wish I could see your Paper Table Challenge--it won't open for me. Any way I can view it? Thanks!! Erin

    1. Thanks for stopping by! :) Here is the link to the pdf:

      Hope it works! If not...go to this site and select "get project instructions" right under the video.

      The Paper Table Challenge is my absolute favorite!!! :)

  2. How do I contact you Tracy? I have a question about this post--would love to know more!!!

  3. Feel free to ask your question!!!! I am trying to figure out how to put a contact me section on here...I will work on it tonight :) Please feel free to ask your thought or what you would love to know more about...these inquiry moments to start the year are my favorite!!!

  4. Thank you so much! I just asked Maria on twitter how to contact you. She mentioned to get it on here, but I know I'm not silly b/c you said you haven't put it on yet. I couldn't find it for the life of me! Couple of questions: how do you grade these? And do they relate to CCSS at all? I have to align to CC and was going to use Wonderopolis anyways so I want this to fit in somehow, but I only teach reading so I was wondering how I can make the Challenges (the students doing them) work!

    1. Oh boy! This is a big one :) If you look at my post on inquiry workshop...Cyber PD part two...Day one and Day Two focus on the Common Core standard for fourth grade...integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about a subject knowledgeably. So when I use Wonderopolis...the next day I provide books on the same topic...and students write about what both text confirmed, had varying information, questions they still have, point of view, etc...I assess this with a rubric. As far as the challenges go...I do assess the last activity which I did not is the Gobstoppers Experiment, but I assess it for scientific inquiry. The first two challenges are to guide students in building conversations that build upon other's ideas (to support book partners and book clubs) and also inquiry itself...this is more of the "we do it" phase in gradual release since it is the first two to three days of the school year so I do not formally assess it. Does this help? Muddy the waters? Feel free to ask questions back :)

  5. Hello!

    How much masking tape do you give each group?


    1. I gave each group of four a roll of masking tape. It was plenty. It was enough for this challenge and the Pop Fly Challenge. Remember...they will try many different ways before developing the idea they want to pursue! Let me know if you have any more questions.... :)