Reflections from The Curious Classroom

These are my reflections after reading The Curious Classroom by Havey “Smokey” Daniels.

Why

In full disclosure, I selected this book because Caitlin told me to! There are many other reasons this book was good for me. It is right up my alley. This book is all about embedding inquiry into your everyday classroom. Inquiry-based learning and instruction: “I will implement inquiry-based learning in my classroom through the use of a PBL unit at least once per quarter.” Included in my actions and resources were active research into Project Based Learning and professional development. I selected this book and brought it to the rest of my first-grade team as a possible book study for us all to read and discuss together. My first-grade team along with Caitlin and one other member began reading and learning about inquiry classrooms together.

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Major takeaways

The biggest overarching idea that impacted me while reading is that inquiry doesn’t need to be this giant thing every time. There are small things you can do regularly or routines you can implement that don’t take a lot of time or resources. Some of the small inquiry shifts that I have made are soft starts, collecting questions, modeling my curiosity, and allowing for mini-inquiries.

Beginning my day with soft starts has been the biggest shift I made this school year after reading this book. Chapter 4 is all about soft starts. I stopped giving morning work every day. My students now have the opportunity to make a choice for how they spend their morning. Some students are engaged in open-ended STREAM centers while others may just sit in a quiet spot to gather themselves. I made this decision because play is a very important learning experience for students. I also saw this as an opportunity to level the playing field for each of my students and allow them to begin their day in an equitable way. I noticed that students who come right before the tardy bell would stress about not completing their morning work. They were starting their day already behind. That is not a great way to enter into a busy day of learning.

Chapter 3 is about capturing kids inquiries. We have a wonder wall in our classroom on which students post questions on sticky notes. These questions might come from their fleeting thoughts, a book, or a lesson I’m teaching. Kids are allowed to post a question to the wall at any time during the day. Students use the wall to inspire their genius hour work and in mini inquiries. Next year we will keep a wonder notebook to collect questions too.

Because of chapter 1, Demonstrating Your Own Curiosity, I began sharing my interests and curiosities with my students. I modeled writing and posting questions to the wonder wall and my own research process through looking for answers to my questions. Showing them how I use different resources and synthesize the information into my own understanding and then creating something to share my learning has helped them use that process as well as become more critical of the information they are taking in. I have modeled for my students how to choose a question, looking for similar questions and grouping them into a topic.

One of my goals this year was to try and include inquiry into my curriculum. Chapter 8 was all about ways to do that through mini-inquiries. I have included a few mini-inquiry days into my units. Some have worked and some did not. I have tried mini-inquiries to launch a unit, within, a unit, and after a unit to allow students to find their interests within the curriculum. I found mini-inquiries to be most effective in science units.

Making it accessible for Littles

This book, like a lot of education books, was not written specifically for teachers of littles. Any teacher can pick up this book and use the elements in their classroom. That said, it can be tricky to make things accessible for littles and developmentally appropriate. This book being about curiosity is great for kids because they are so naturally curious. When littles post curiosities to a wonder wall, they can write a sentence, phrase, words, or draw a picture. Allowing a student to communicate in a way they feel successful can make this accessible to them. When modeling inquiries, model ways in which they can access the question and research. I have chosen to write my questions in pictures and labels so my students know this is available for them. We also use a lot of kid-friendly inquiry tools. Modeling through individual steps also makes inquiry learning accessible for littles. Seeing the process in action and then copying it allows students to access information and share their learning.

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The book study PLN

I read this book with my first-grade team, a second-grade teacher, and our instructional resource teacher.  It was so great to meet weekly and discuss each chapter. I loved seeing others’ perspectives as they read through the chapter and shared their major takeaways. We were able to make plans for how we will incorporate our new learning into our everyday classrooms. We had some amazing conversations to step up our inquiry-based learning.

If you’ve read the book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Learning through Genius Hour

Full Disclosure:

I tried Genius Hour in an effort to prove it couldn’t be done in kindergarten. That was 2 and a half years ago. I was wrong.

How I got into Genius Hour

I first heard about Genius Hour from my former principal, Dr. Sandy Chambers. She encouraged teachers to be innovative and to try Genius Hour in their classrooms. No strings attached. No expectations. No pressure. No risk. No reward. I did very little research on Genius Hour prior to my first attempt. All I knew is what Sandy told us – students choose their topics, they spend time researching their topic, they create something to share what they learned. So, I went with it so I could prove that it couldn’t be done in kindergarten.

My First Genius Hour

My first Genius Hour was chaotic. It was loud. It was confusing. The kids froze. I froze. But we didn’t stop. It was such a mess that I really don’t remember details. I just remember how excited they were each week and how proud they were of their final project. I couldn’t even tell you what their topics of choice were and I can guarantee that multiple kids changed topics every week. The process was there. The kids picked a topic. I taught them how to use Wonderopolis and Brain Pop Jr. to research. I got books from the library on their topics. The students spent some time with each resource and then they had the option to share their learning through a video on Seesaw or making a poster to share. Then they shared with the class. Start to finish the whole thing took about 3 weeks and we spent a few days each week working. Some days we worked for a half hour and somedays we worked for nearly 2 hours. As messy as it was, it was fun. I felt energized. But, I knew there had to be a better way. I also knew I was wrong. Genius Hour CAN be done in kindergarten.

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The following year, we did 2 rounds of Genius Hour. One during the third quarter and one during the fourth quarter of the school year. I was more intentional about planning some mini-lessons prior to Genius Hour sessions. We had Genius Hour about once every 6 days because of our rotating schedule. I launched each round of Genius Hour with a mini-lesson about asking and writing questions. We identified the difference between right there questions and questions that lead to learning. Then students wrote a question on a sticky note and posted it on our wonder wall. The next session, we revisited those questions and students selected their topics and got into groups based on their topic. For the next few sessions, students used library books, Wonderopolis, Brain Pop Jr., Pebble Go, and Youtube Kids to complete their research. Then they made a video or poster to share their learning.

I was not intentional about taking notes as I worked with students. I did not teach them how to document their learning through research. And, I did not give them many choices for sharing. I did do more research on Genius Hour. I read blog posts, I participated in Twitter Chats, and I attended EdCamps. I spent time connecting with other teachers who used Genius Hour in their classroom. I also knew I had a lot of room for growth and could make this even better for my students.

First Grade Genius Hour

This is my third year exploring Genius Hour. I’m not an expert and I don’t think I’ll ever be. Each round of Genius Hour, I pick 1 think I want to improve on for myself as a facilitator and I focus my own research and work with students on that. The first round of Genius Hour this year, I was intentional about my mini-lessons and the order in which I taught tools, documenting, and sharing. The second round of Genius Hour, I focused on my own note-taking. I wrote anecdotal notes as I worked with students and groups. I looked for evidence of growth, standards they were hitting, and misunderstandings I could address. I’m in my third round of Genius Hour right now and I’m working on clearly connecting my students’ work and research to the curriculum and telling them how this big work is important to the work they must do at school. My next round of Genius Hour this year, I plan to focus on better ways for my students to share their work with the world and not just our classmates.

Why I’ll Always Set Aside Time for Student Interest Inquiries

I’m pretty sure the joy on their faces is all I need to remind me why I need to always have interest based inquiry in my classroom. These girls researched different slime recipes and created their own. It didn’t work, but one of them took it home and figured out how to fix it so it wasn’t so sticky. She’s my chemist.

I will always have interest based inquiry because it helps me build relationships with my students. I get to know them for more than their academic data. We have fun working together. I learn new things as I guide them through their own work. I get to model lifelong learning and curiosity for them and we get to practice learning and curiosity together.

And to throw some teacher jargon in the mix, I’ll always have interest based inquiry because:

  • 4Cs
  • 21st-century learning
  • blended learning
  • life skills
  • problem-solving
  • digital citizenship
  • student voice and choice
  • passion