School Name: Archibald Blair Elementary
School District: SD#38 Richmond
Inquiry Team Members: Karen Choo: firstname.lastname@example.org, Rick Beetstra: email@example.com, Colin Chan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Applied Design, skills & Technology, Arts Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Mathematics / Numeracy, Science, Social Studies
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Indigenous pedagogy, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, STEM / STEAM, Other: Environmental Education
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? To explore a material (ex. wool/wood) in order to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for natural resources and land-based materials.
Scanning: During the initial scanning phase, we brought out materials for the children to use for a specific purpose. The grade 3/4 class was sanding wood to create name tokens and the grade 5/6 class was balling yarn in preparation for knitting and/or weaving on looms. We observed the children for their overall comfort and experience with using the materials, as well as their overall attitude towards the activity. We completed a collective reflection afterwards to capture their initial observations, wonders, connections, feelings and thoughts about the experience. We also asked them what they knew about the material and how it might connect to their learning in different curricular areas.
The grade 3/4 class was excited to try something new and something that they hadn’t done before. They didn’t have a lot of knowledge about sand paper and how things are made. The teacher noted that in previous experiences over the years, the children were overall very enthusiastic and curious about using authentic wood working tools, such as hammers and saws.
The grade 5/6 class showed excitement over using yarn, and a sizeable number of the students had previous experience with knitting and creating with yarn. Most expressed joy and noticed how using the yarn was calming. Many had connections, but few had knowledge about yarn as a material and how this might relate to other areas of learning. Many wonders emerged around what yarn was made of, how it was coloured, and what else we could create with it.
Focus: What jumped out at us during the initial scanning phase was the lack of knowledge about where the materials came from and the overall curiosity around it. The grade 5/6 teacher also noticed that although the children expressed joy and gratitude for the opportunity to use the material, many were not treating the materials themselves with care and appreciation. We found this consistent with the use of materials in the classroom and around the school, such as paper and pencils. What we think might make the biggest difference for our learners, is to develop a deeper understanding of the materials that we use on a daily basis (both natural and human-made), such as where they come from and what is required to make them.
Hunch: We have a hunch that using natural materials will provoke a deep learning experience about the origins of materials and the environmental impact they have. We also have a hunch that this might change how some of the children interact with materials at school, at home and around the community. We wonder if this may inspire them to make changes and take actions to make a difference to the natural world that their materials came from.
New Professional Learning: One of the teachers attended district study groups where the use of textiles and materials has been a focus (“Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry” and “Studio Series: The Language of Wool” led by teacher consultants Janice Novakowski, Jessica Eguia and Brianna Adams). As a part of school wide professional development, all teachers attended sessions focused on creativity, Maker Spaces, ADST and the Arts. These were workshops facilitated by Art Starts, the Contemporary Art Gallery, and district consultants Dave Henderson and Dave Track.
Taking Action: Our first strategy was to allow the children to work with and explore a specific type of material as much as possible. We wanted the children to get to know the material on a sensory and tactile basis to elicit some thinking about it. This meant an open exploration with the material, as well as working with it, to create something (ex. knitting a scarf). This worked out well in getting their beginning thoughts (ex. observations, connections and wonders), and we furthered their thinking by using a digital microscope to examine and get to know the material on a scientific level. This was a great springboard for research and experimentation with the material. The children were highly engaged in designing experiments to get to know the material better, and compare it with another material (ex. plastic), as part of a district wide science fair called “Science Jam”.
Another strategy was to reach out to a district consultant (Jessica Eguia) for collaboration. This was an important step, as Jessica was able to guide us in anchoring our work with the children with an inquiry question (“What is our relationship with materials?”), as well as she referred us to many relevant and helpful resources. She also helped us plan our next steps.
Furthermore, a strategy was to be explicit about the inquiry question and journey with the children. We did this by creating a mind map centered around the inquiry question, to document our activities and what we learned. This map of our learning was visible and on display throughout the school year on a white board, and we continually added to it. It was helpful in reminding the children what we were focused on, where we were coming from, and where we were going next in our learning.
Moreover, we provided a variety of cross-curricular experiences and activities to further the students’ learning. The learning opportunities included open explorations of materials, ADST and Visual Arts-based projects, research, scientific experiments, reading for information, storybook read alouds, current event articles, individual and collective reflections, and discussions. We looked at materials through the lenses of Science, Math, ADST, Visual Arts, Indigenous Education, Environmental Education and Social Studies, including the current socio-political context of using resources and the stakeholders involved. This helped to provide a deeper learning experience and made visible the interconnectivity of everything.
Finally, we broadened the learning by moving beyond the material that the students initially worked with (ex. wool). We studied about other local Earth materials in British Columbia, and as a part of remote online learning, dove deep into an inquiry about the stories of rocks and how they are formed, how they are examined, and what they are used for in different fields of study (ex. Science, Geology, Geography, Art, Architecture). This broadening of our study helped to generalize some of the big ideas that we initially learned.
Checking: As a baseline, we observed the students as they used a material, and explicitly asked the students to respond to the inquiry question: “What is our relationship with materials?”. Initially, some children identified materials that they used in their daily life, while others told personal stories about special objects, and some even offered an appreciation for the fact that materials come from nature. However, many were not able to articulate the connection between materials and the land in depth.
Throughout the school year, we did not observe any behavioural differences in how the children interacted with and used materials in the classroom or around the school; however, some of the children were able to answer the original inquiry question at a much deeper and varied level by the end of the school year. When we revisited the question, some of the responses included an understanding that there is a “story” behind each object that they interact with, and an appreciation for how much we depend on these materials for our needs and wants. Many expressed that we should not take materials for granted and that our use of materials could harm the Earth. Some marvelled at how materials could be used in so many different innovative ways, and that people’s use of land-based materials have changed over time and is culturally relevant. Interestingly, one student acknowledged that despite her learning of all of the aforementioned things, she herself has noticed that she hasn’t changed her behaviour with how she uses materials wastefully at times. Finally, another student was able to identify the relationship between materials and our capitalist economic system.
At this time, we are somewhat satisfied with the growth that has occurred with regards to their understanding of the idea that the materials we use come from the land, and that there is significant effort and use of resources involved in their creation. We feel that the children are developing a sense of the interconnectedness of things. We believe that further learning and knowledge needs to happen in the areas of Environmental Education and the impact of the use of certain materials. That being said, overall, we believe that we’ve made a good first step in developing some awareness around land-based materials and an appreciation for resources.
Reflections/Advice: From this inquiry, we’ve learned that it is important to provide time, space and varied opportunities, to develop a deeper understanding of concepts. We feel that it was meaningful for the children to work with the materials in their hands and experiment with it in order to develop a deeper connection with the material before inquiring about it. It was also important to make the inquiry explicit, so that the children could see a map of their learning and reflect on their own meaning-making at the end. Finally, we learned that it was impactful to provide the children with opportunities to examine the material in different contexts and through different lenses, in order to see the interconnectivity of it all and to have a foundation of domain specific knowledge and skills.
Next, we would like to provide more opportunities to learn about how we can use materials more resourcefully. We originally planned to introduce up-cycling and have the children practice this skill by working on projects in which they would up-cycle items. We feel that this would allow them to practice looking at objects in a different way – through a lens where an object can be creatively viewed for multiple and different uses and reimagined, in order to deepen an appreciation for it as well as to lengthen its life time before it is disposed of. Unfortunately, our time with the children was shortened due to the cancellation of onsite instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advice to other schools would be to keep in mind that this is a long journey and would require more than a year to make a significant difference, in order to make learning meaningful and to create shifts in thinking and behaviour. We need to take the time to give children balanced opportunities between working with materials, as well as learning about the material through other means and lenses.