School Name: Goldstone Park Elementary
School District: SD#36 Surrey
Inquiry Team Members: Charlene Penich: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brittany Roosen: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3)
Curricular Area(s): Arts Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Writing, Mathematics / Numeracy, Science, Social Studies
Focus Addressed: Community-based learning, Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Social and emotional learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? By taking time to explore, wonder and investigate at our community’s pond, we hoped to increase students’ interest in the pond, thereby deepening their connection to place, their sense of responsibility and feelings of belonging.
Scanning: Our scanning process involved taking our kindergarten students to the pond and observing their reactions, their responses and their level of engagement. In doing so, we noticed that our students seemed very disinterested. They didn’t seem to notice their surroundings — the birds, bugs, plants, trees that surrounded the pond largely went unnoticed. When we announced that we were going to visit the pond for a second, many students protested, groaned and asked “do we have to?” We noted all of these observations and responses as our starting point for our inquiry.
Focus: At Goldstone Park Elementary, we are fortunate to have a pond beside our school. Although they live close, go to school nearby and pass the pond often in their daily lives, we were surprised by how many of our kindergarten students had not only never been to the pond, but also by the lack of interest they initially showed in it. By taking time to explore, wonder and investigate, we believed we would increase students’ interest in the pond, thereby deepening not only their connection to place, but also their sense of responsibility and belonging.
Hunch: As our students were Kindergarten learners who were new to the school, we were aware that the practices at the school had not contributed to the experience of our learners. Instead we believed that a lack of family and community connection to the pond was contributing to our students’ lack of interest. When initially asked if they had been to the pond, the majority of our students said no or that could not remember having been there before.
New Professional Learning: My colleague and I used “The Spiral Playbook” to help guide our inquiry process. We also used the First Peoples Principles of Learning, A Walking Curriculum by Gillian Judson, Cognitive Tools for Ecological Education and various pond and outdoor education resources. We met frequently to discuss the interests of our students and the questions and ideas that were being generated during our visits to the pond. We were flexible and responsive to what our students noticed and wondered. As teachers, we were cognizant of trying to push ourselves to try new things, to look for alternatives to ways we have previously taught, and to intentionally and repeatedly step outside our own comfort zones.
Taking Action: We began by visiting the pond at least once each week. We focused on 2 of our senses, our “deer ears” and our “owl eyes.” Through visiting frequently and actively engaging these senses, students became more curious about the pond and its surroundings. We spent time on activities devoted to “looking closely.” We used binoculars, sketched what we saw, took pictures, mixed our own colours to replicate the natural ones we noticed, painted pictures of our observations, created clay ponds and did a collaborative math project using patterns we observed at the pond. We also used our new experiences and curiosities about the pond to inspire our stories during story workshop activities.
As student interest turned to the ducks, we created a counting project that had us visiting the pond every day for 10 days to count and observe them. By connecting to the ducks, the pond became more than a place that was just important to us, it also became a home for animals. Students became interested in the ducks, they wanted to know all about them. They began referring to the pond as “our pond” and “our ducks.” When it snowed, they wanted to go to the pond and check on the ducks; they felt a sense of responsibility to take care of them.
We showed kindness by doing a clean-up at the pond. Students were upset about how much garbage there was. They wondered where the garbage came from, why people littered, and if it was affecting the ducks; will they get sick, die, fly away? They also began discussing how they could help. They felt a call to action and were empowered to contribute to bettering the pond. We sent a letter of concern to an engineering technician in the city of Surrey’s Stewardship department. Students considered other ways they could help. They suggested that we ask people to stop throwing garbage, that we write more letters, make posters, and tell our families and the students at the nearby high school about the garbage. They wanted to teach others how to respect the pond and thereby, care for the ducks. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 school closures, we did not return to school after Spring Break and students were not able to put these plans into action.
Checking: We were very excited with the increased interest and connection to the pond students showed throughout the course of the year. As a result of the experiences we had in this inquiry process, our kindergarten students were engaged and curious. They took ownership over the pond and an interest in what is there. Their concern over the amount of garbage at the pond led them to consider how they could help. They were naturally and organically drawn to finding a solution, to helping, not because their teachers led them to it but because they are kind, concerned citizens who have a connection to place. The pond is important to them, they want to take care of it and the ducks that live there.
Reflections/Advice: We learned how rich learning can be when it is driven by students. We were frequently amazed and inspired by the depth of thinking, problem solving and compassion demonstrated by our little learners. We are enthusiastic about working with next year’s group of students at the pond as well. We are curious how these students will react to the pond. We are also interested to see how our students who will be in grade one next year maintain their connection to and their interest in the pond. The best advice I can offer is listen to your students. Let their learning guide the next step.