Spencer Middle School SD#62 Sooke

School Name: Spencer Middle School

School District: SD#62 Sooke

Inquiry Team Members:Amanda Black: ablack@sd62.bc.ca
Jessica Crockett: jcrockett@sd62.bc.ca
Brianna DeGirolamo: bdegirolamo@sd62.bc.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: ablack@sd62.bc.ca

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Area(s): Social Studies

Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Inquiry-based learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Engaging students in critical thinking and problem-solving through inquiry-based learning in Social Studies.

Scanning: When we asked our students about what they are learning and why it is important, our students can articulate what they are learning but not why it is important. They are not seeing relevance in what they are learning, and how they will use it in their lives. Thus, they are not engaging in their learning as much as we would hope. We also noticed they are quick to ask for help in what to do and how to do it, so we are learning that their critical thinking and problem-solving skills need developing.

Focus: Based on our scanning, we decided to choose curricular area(s) that we though would interest the students and connect to issues relevant in their lives so they would see the relevance in their learning, and be able to answer why what they are learning is important. We also chose to focus on inquiry-based learning and believe it will lend itself to lots of opportunities for critical thinking based on the topic and the method of learning.

Hunch: We think our expectations of the students to be able to manage less structured learning is perhaps too ambitious. Our hunch is that our students require more scaffolding-more modelling, explicit teaching, and gradual release of responsibility so they can be successful in the inquiry-based learning model. We also think our relevance on verbal instructions is not reliable, and leads to them asking us what to do. We also wonder if the opportunities we are giving them in how they learn is leading to them not being comfortable with uncertainty, and having to persevere.

New Professional Learning: We need to learn more about the thinking concepts (curricular competencies) in Social Studies, so we plan to use the BIG SIX HISTORICAL THINKING CONCEPTS as a professional resource to support this learning. We also need to educate ourselves more around digital literacy so we can better facilitate the Social Studies Big Idea of media sources and how they affect our understanding of important events and issues. We are going to spend some time on our professional development days on this topic.

Taking Action: We started the unit by introducing our big question “How does the media influence our perception of events?” and reviewed this regularly to see how student’s perceptions changed. For example, we used different coloured markers (dating each colour entry) to track how our thinking has changed over time through what we have learned.

We organized instructional strategies around the Big Six, for example our vocabulary (e.g., media, bias, perspective, etc.) was split into the each Big Six category to support student learning.

We used teaching strategies to model and scaffold learning. We selected current examples for modelling and scaffolding based on students current interests as well as what was currently happening in the world.

We had check-ins before and after introducing new content to gauge student learning. For example, for our vocabularly rating scale, students would assess their initial level of understanding prior to instruction. We followed up with explicit teaching of each word through various instructional methods and had the students re-assess their understanding following instruction and exposure and play of the world.

We explored a wide variety of instructional techniques such as: videos, partnered activities, class discussions, mind maps (that were regularly reviewed and added to), interviewing of adults within the school, tracking media usage on personal time, and reviewing news clips (articles, broadcasts, etc.).

We frequently checked in and asked the students “why is what you’re learning important?”. We also discussed as a class (at the beginning of our unit) if students felt they were influenced by media and as we learned more about media and how it impacts us; we continued to check in to see if students perception of being influenced had changed, which drastically did.

Prior to the completion of our final project (media deconstruction), we scaffolded the final assignment by breaking it apart into sections of instruction and then by combining all the components of how to deconstruct an article together and completing one as a class.

Checking: Students were engaged with their learning. We noticed steady flow of relevant and meaningful conversations. Students were able to connect to and break apart current events to build a better understanding and determine if they needed to dig deeper and discover more as the coverage did/didn’t provide enough information to build an adequate perception of said event.

The techniques used (scaffolding, modelling, used multiple methods to introduce and play with what we were learning) helped to build a stronger understanding of the concepts being covered. Students, again, were engaged and had thoughtful contributions (both written and orally).

Students knew where we were going with their learning as we pre-faced the unit with our big question “How does media influence our perception of events?”; we also provided students with the vocabulary being covered and had them assess their learning prior to the unit starting and following instruction for each vocabulary word.

Great examples of our baseline – and change – were our mind map, vocabulary rating scale, and podcast because students had the opportunity to state their initial thinking and their change in thinking (several times) both orally and in writing (integrating differentiation for all students to be supported and have a voice).

We found what we did provided a strong gauge of how the students absorbed and applied what we were learning. We were extremely happy with the results of this inquiry and found students to be extremely engaged with what we were learning. The students felt more confident viewing media and identifying how it was influencing their perceptions.

Reflections/Advice: We all found the Big Six Historical Thinking Concepts helped frame a unit that encompassed critical thinking; going forward we would like to structure our Social Studies curriculum around these concepts to create a more cohesive model and delve deeper into the concepts over the course of the year.

We really appreciated the scanning phase, focusing on asking what our learners need, what we noticed about them, and how we can better teach in order to meet our current student’s needs.

We learned how powerful the techniques we incorporated were because they provided opportunity for our students to delve deeper into the material. We also learned the value in teaching in a way that ensures the learners understand the “why” what you’re learning is important in real life.

For teachers exploring media literacy, we strongly encourage them to focus on topics that are prevalent in the lives of the students.

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