An Exciting Collaborative Inquiry Project

Yesterday I invited 40 high school educators to think about how we might invite students to engage in inquiry based learning. I asked them to consider different ways of delivering credits. We discussed what it means to think in an interdisciplinary way. We discussed opportunities and barriers to thinking about teaching and learning differently.

What inspired me about this meeting was that this group of teachers was willing to think way outside of the box.

We began our discussion with student voice. What are the interests, strengths and passions of our students? From there we moved to the notion of critical questions. How might we create opportunities for students to ask complex questions that they really want to explore…..deeply!

Once students have the opportunity to name their questions, the role of educators is to figure out how to offer learning opportunities where students may earn credits in creative ways.

This concept is foreign to us as educators because for more than a century the “Carnegie Unit” had dictated how high school credits are offered in secondary schools…… Back in 1909, a group of professors at Carnegie discussed why it was important for secondary schools to mirror the university. What this meant was that high schools needed to prepare students for university by offering courses in very distinct ways. In other words, students would study each subject in an isolated fashion without any understanding of how these subject areas were actually related. Students are scheduled to take so many courses a semester, and each course consists of a certain number of hours, and for the most part, connections are not being made between any of the courses that students are studying.

In Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, we would like to provide opportunities for students that do not mirror the “Carnegie Unit”…..We would like to provide opportunities where groups of students engage in discussion with educators and have the opportunity to ask critical questions, identify what they really want to learn, and then educators determine how they might support students in their learning. This may mean that students are able to earn multiple credits because their questions span multiple disciplines, and educators who possess the expertise to support students in their inquiry, work collaboratively with one another to engage students in an interdisciplinary approach to learning.

The group of educators I met with yesterday were excited to create possibilities for students……..they also named some of the barriers that exist in our culture and practice that mitigate against this type of learning……

I am inspired by these educators and I know that many educators in our system reflect this passion to engage our students. We are on a very important journey in HWDSB to be sure that each of our schools is a great school; that students have expanded opportunities as well as voice in terms of how they learn. We are exploring how digital resources might expand the learning environment. We understand that learning happens in the physical world called the classroom, the experiential world called the community and the virtual world that extends to every corner of the globe.

This group of 40 secondary educators has made a commitment to take a few steps forward in terms of student voice, student questions, collaborative inquiry and a multi-disciplinary approach to credit delivery.

This is one step closer to “all students achieving their full potential”, our board’s mission!

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3 Responses to An Exciting Collaborative Inquiry Project

  1. Erin Kennedy says:

    Some questions re the tablets-in-schools pilot project:

    I know that you are advocating a “pilot” where kids in grade 4 and up are given tablets, and the statement has been made that resources ($$) for this initiative are not an issue. Right now, my son’s kindergarten class has 32 students. Are tablets really a more pressing priority than alleviating the overcrowding issue in kindergarten classrooms in the HWDSB? If money is available why is not being put towards the class size issue?

    Secondly, I would appreciate a blog post where you address this CBC report, particularly the finding that constant access to technology leads to kids who can multi-task, but do not have the ability to think deeply.

    Thirdly, I would also appreciate a blog post about the evaluation plan for the pilot tablet project. I assume that the evaluation criteria have already been decided. If no evaluation plan is in place, as a person who works in health services research, I would highly recommend that one be completed before the pilot commences.


  2. John Malloy says:

    Hello Erin! Thank you for your comments……we are planning to re-purpose funds that need to be used for textbooks, paper-based supplies, and technology. We are planning to support our students to live in the physical and digital world… that they can think deeply and multi-task……and we will study the pilots very closely. Thank you again for your comments….


  3. Jo-Ann C-H says:

    I am happy to hear that our secondary teachers are willing and eager to invite student voice and inquiry into their classrooms. It can be somewhat frustrating developing a classroom climate where voice and choice and choice is the key factor in the room and then they go off to high school and everyone is reading the same novel and no voice is encouraged. More and more universities are starting to embrace inquiry learning and we really need to bridge the gap.


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