Thursday, January 19, 2017

Maximizing Google Search Part 4 - Find Information Faster

This is Part 4 of a blog series on the Google Powersearching course, a free online course that is self-paced. (feel free to skip to the first topic)

This lesson helps us to find factual information more efficiently. There are so many useful search options such as Google Flights, "time now in [city name]", translation, etc, that it's difficult to keep up. Here is a small list of approaches to refining your searches from Google support. 

The point of the series is to give short summaries of the course with useful links and links to the videos Google provides. If you want to jump ahead and get go directly to many of the Search features you can access this work-in-progress Google Slides deck, entitled “Google Search: Foster Independent Learners & Search Like a Ninja”. It is based on Google Search workshops I have facilitated and continues to evolve. The goal is to learn how to use Google Search with maximum efficiency. As Google states, you will “Hone your searching skills by solving complex search challenges alongside peers from around the world in this online class.” The skills you will learn here will give educators the tools needed to foster your students’ independent research skills.

Search by Image 
This section teaches us how to search by dragging and dropping images into the Google search bar. This is great for any class. You can find out what something is, where someplace is, and the sources of similar images. It doesn’t have to be the full image, but the more “full” the image is, the “fuller” result you’ll get. The text in the search result will indicate the best options. 

  • Go to the Image search tab
  • Click on the camera icon in the search bar
  • Drag and drop an image into the search bar, which processes the image
  • The best possible description will appear

Search Features 
By doing a search called [Google Search Features] you’ll get the search features master list. This is great! You can find detailed information on so many topics: population, unemployment, medicines, weather, time in a specific city, conversions, spell check, earthquakes (nice while in Japan), and more. When searching you’ll be able to find things like flight details, exact time, weather, details about a specific illness or related names. These are great little shortcuts.

Conversions and Calculator 
Google as we know converts for us and calculates weights and measures. It also calculates. Here are some straightforward conversion scenario examples:

  • 35C in F
  • 23 bushels in liters
  • 3 km in miles
  • dollars to yen (this will also allow you to convert again; there is a disclaimer)
  • % of a number
  • recipe conversion

World Development Index: population calculations, for example, gives you a data page in which you can compare nations (I’m not certain how accurate this is as I compared Canada and Japan in “primary children out of school” and had an odd spike in different years on the graph for each; still, worth looking into)

Right Hand Panel and Date Range Limiting 
This feature allows us to customize the range of time we want to seek information, such as when a book was published, or articles from a specific period of time (weeks, days, years). You can narrow this with operators such as “intext:”, “filetype:”, and the “OR” synonym finder.

  • Do a search with keywords
  • Choose the time in the time filter (click “more search tools first)
  • Click on another filter, such as “News” or “Books”

Translation and Search
This feature allows you to search foreign pages, in their original language, to get perspectives from other cultures. You can grab a news article and mouseover (or rollover) to get the original text as well. Using the translation features allows you to select the language or languages you desire. I think in teaching history, and especially using sources, I’d be somewhat careful of the translations at the moment, but would definitely give this search option a try. The example used in the video is with dolphin temple in Greek culture, but from the perspectives of the Greeks.

  • You can narrow the search to news, as well as use the time range feature
  • The more option allows you to shift from one language to another
  • There is a pronunciation feature with the speaker icon, but it’s very much like a computer voice
  • I find the translations I’ve “played with” are not great

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Google Forms (Surveys) for Understanding Learning Processes and Teaching Practices in Your Classroom & School with Visible Learning

Visible Learning Surveys: Putting John Hattie’s Research into Practice
*There are three forms in this post that can be copied and used in your own classroom or school.

John Hattie’s Visible Learning approach to teaching helps teachers use evidence to create innovative learning environments. The surveys presented here are based on Biggs’ Learning Process Questionnaire (John Biggs) and John Hattie’s reflective surveys on teacher and school environments that influence learning. (which he entitles “To what extent are teachers developing skill, will and thrill in the school?”) Access the Google Forms following each explanation.

Biggs’ Learning Process Questionnaire
The modified Biggs survey focuses on students’ attitudes towards learning, and is intended for older students. (teachers can determine what age is appropriate) The questions have been deliberately developed to cover most aspects of schoolwork, recognizing that learning depends heavily on subject interest and learning styles. I recommend teachers instruct students to apply it only to the class / subject in which it is used.

My approach to this survey is to have students complete it at the beginning of the year, when there is little or no influence of my teaching on them. (though I think it can be used at any time of year and a good reflective practice for discussion) After I consider the responses I go over a few questions at a time every week for several weeks. This serves as a continuous discussion about how we learn, our attitudes, and strategies towards learning. It also reduces the tendency to use surveys such as this as a checkbox.

Make a copy of the survey here:

Answer choices can be explained as:
5. This item is always or almost always true of me.
4. This item is frequently true of me.
3. This item is true of me about half the time.
2. This item is sometimes true of me.
1. This item is never or only rarely true of me.

Developing Skill, Will and Thrill in the Classroom and the School
Hattie uses his research to identify key messages about what teachers need to think about in relation to their practice. He makes reference to effect size of each, which can be explained in detail in his book, Visible Learning for Teachers. “Skill” identifies prior achievement. This is more of an influence on learning as a child grows older. Working memory is another skill. Students can only move so much information from short-term memory to long-term memory, actively processing material to consolidate it.

The “will” includes learning dispositions, which are capabilities or the “toolkit” of a learner. However, there must be a willingness along with the abilities. Research shows that students will think at higher levels if they are disposed to. (and likely won’t happen all the time) Another element of the “will” is confidence. There is evidence that students perform better when they have confidence that they have the knowledge, skills and understanding prior to attempting a task. Self-belief apparently does matter. Hattie suggests there’s an implication that activities to building confidence are useful.

Hattie also considers what creates the “thrill” of learning. Surprisingly, he tells us that feelings such boredom have less impact than we might think. When it comes to motivation Hattie brings us back to Biggs, who suggests there are deep, surface, and achieving approaches to learning. Essentially, he says low or surface motivation comes with performance based tasks, such as passing a test. This is merely reproducing information. A deep approach leads to the desire to develop understanding, makes sense of what is being learned, and create new ideas of their own. (the highest level of SOLO taxonomy)

Make copies of the surveys here:
Reflective survey for teachers:
Reflective survey for school leaders:

Some further thoughts from Hattie that apply to the above surveys as you try to identify influences of teaching practices on learning…

Knowing Success
Knowing what success looks like involves showing students what successful achievement looks like before attempting a task. This includes knowing what criteria teachers will use to judge student achievement, so teachers must be clear on the criteria that will be judged.

Teachers that use advance organizers help students connect old ideas to new ones being introduced. (an introduction of the new information or skill being addressed in a lesson) Students learn better when key points of a lesson are identified. This provision of structure has proven to help students learn.

The teacher’s impact on progress must be carefully addressed by school leaders, to ensure that students get “a year of progress”. (or more if a student comes into a year behind in knowledge and skill)

Hattie also makes an argument for concept mapping as a tool for summarizing main ideas graphically, helping students make connections. He suggests students be involved in the process, and notes it has a bigger impact when students have some prior surface knowledge.

Managing the Learning Environment
The learning environment is the space in which students and teachers learn. It includes a consideration of distractions, lighting, use of space, and the resources in that space. (this could be applied to school spaces such as the classroom and home) *Read The Space: A Guide for Educators by Rebecca Louise Hare and Dr. Robert Dillon. The learning environment includes student agency. Choice and some control over learning does have an impact on motivation, but research shows these actually do not have a great impact on learning and achievement.

Works Cited
Hattie, John. Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. London New York:
Routledge, 2012. Print.

Hattie, John. "Visible Learning Plus." "How Students Learn: Improving how students approach
learning." Handout. Professional Development Workshop. Japan ASCD. Seisen International
School. Mar. 2016. Print.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Maximizing Google Search Part 3 - Using Advanced Search Techniques

Google Search uses functions what called “operators”, which basically means terms that help you to narrow down your search to specific files, or reduce the irrelevant “noise” in your search. Operators help you narrow your focus more specifically. Access videos from the links below. The ideas in this post come from the free, self-paced course Power Searching. (there is also Advanced Power Searching) 

This operator allows you to narrow your search to something within a specific web site. For example, [ Genghis Khan] will take you to all the links in the History Channel that have Genghis Khan. This can be done for sites such as [.gov] [.edu] Be certain to keep these things in mind:

  • No space between the colon and site
  • You can use country codes to narrow your search, such as [.jp] or [.ca] for Japanese and Canadian sites, respectively. 
  • You don’t actually need the dot “.” For Top Level Domains, such as [edu], [gov], [], []
  • You can do this with images as well

This is used to narrow your search to specific kinds of documents. Extensions such as PDF, PPT, TXT, DOC, DOCX are common, but there are many, many other extensions recognized. Try [ancient Greece document based question filetype:pdf] to get sample DBQs on Ancient Greece, but in PDF format. Use this for finding info in KML files, which bring you to Google Earth images; seek resource boundaries, watersheds, famous expeditions in history, etc. 

Removing Invasive Results (the minus sign) -term 
By simply putting a minus sign (no space) in front of a term and you’ll narrow your search. For example, if you want Napoleonic history but nothing about his life on Corsica you can use [Napoleon –Corsica] You can use double minuses to narrow your search further [Napoleon –Corsica –St.Helena]

Using Double Quotes “ “
You can seek exact phrases if you sandwich the words in quotations.

  • When searching for synonyms you can do “term” OR “term”
  • Use capital letters for OR

When seeking a specific word or words (ie) a person, a place, a food, try the intext: feature.
After starting a search, click on the gear to the top right. It will bring you to all of these options to help you narrow your search. Be certain of the vocabulary you want to use. Words are important! For example, the query intext:ancient Rome restricts results to documents containing "ancient Rome: in the text. 

Learn more here.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Universal Design in the Classroom

I recently finished reading and writing a (future) blog post on the book “The Space: A Guide for Educators”. It’s a book about reimagining our learning spaces in schools. At the end of the book the authors Rebecca Louise Hare and Dr. Robert Dillon apply universal design to their advice on how to reinvent classroom space. In what ways can we apply Universal Design in reimagining our learning spaces? How do we ensure that our classrooms foster opportunities for equal participation, and discourage exclusion. *Universal design is also referred to as “universal design in education (UDE)”. I recommend giving this article from DO-IT: Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology a careful read - there are some great explanations and examples here. Admittedly, I don’t think I really put a lot of thought into this for a long time. I’ve taught in shared spaces for the last 9 years of my (nearly) 20 years in teaching, so with everyone moving around few rooms are “dedicated” spaces.

This is a framework for educational environments that are accessible to all people, including the tools and (software) programs that are used. Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D, says these include (but I would suggest not limited to): “computer and science labs, curriculum, educational software, instruction, libraries, professional organizations, registration options, student housing and residential life, websites, [and] other student services.”

According to Anne Meyer, the “three key components of universal design for learning are: multiple representations of information, alternative means of expression, and varied options for engagement.” (Edutopia 1998) Some areas that foster inclusion include using materials that have subtitles, apps that read text for students, and visuals that foster understanding of ideas and concepts. Do visuals have audio accompaniment? Are there translation tools available? (admittedly, these still have some development needed) Do we allow students varied approaches to express their ideas and research? (such as orally, visually, drama) Do we give students modified text so that the key ideas are clear, and their focus and understanding is maximized? I think a key component is the inclusion - these concepts are for all community stakeholders.

Let’s look at each of the 7 principles in isolation, and (mostly) in the form of questions, a format I have seen a number of times. Perhaps reflect on your own classroom or learning environment, how it stands up to the principles of universal design, and what may help or hinder making your learning spaces more "universal".

Principle 1: Equitable Use
Do all students have access to all materials? Can they navigate the space without difficulty? Ultimately, can all students learn?

Principle 2 : Flexibility in Use
Does the space offer choice to students? This isn’t only about what they can learn, how they can approach learning, and how they can demonstrate learning, but also where in the room they can learn.

Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use
Is the space designed intuitively? Does the space allow for all to use it intuitively? Can a new student join the class and adapt quickly, regardless of experience, language or knowledge? Materials and resources should be quickly accessible to all.

Principle 4: Perceptible Information
Is necessary information easily understood? (the use of visuals) This such as images, colour coding and text help all students understand the space around them.

Principle 5: Tolerance for Error
Are the materials safe? Is the furniture safe? Are the rules in the space clear so that mistakes may be limited?

Principle 6: Low Physical Effort
Can things be moved around with little difficulty? Are things easily accessible to all?

Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use
Are wall posters or written instructions at the eye level of the students, or the teachers? Is it appropriate for the age group? (if you’re a high school teacher and have done PD in an elementary classroom, you’ll quickly understand this one)

Works Cited
Anne Meyer. "Universal Design in the Classroom: Do it Once, Do it Right." Edutopia. 1 May 1998.
Web. 31 Dec. 2016. <>

Hare, Rebecca L., and Robert Dillon. The space: a guide for educators. Irvine, California:
EdTechTeam Press, 2016. Print. 22 Jan. 2010. Web. 31 Dec. 2016.

"Universal Design in Education: Principles and Applications | DO-IT." n.d. Web. 6
Jan. 2017. <

Monday, January 2, 2017

Maximizing Google Search Part 2 - Understanding What You Read

This is the second of five posts on the Google Powersearching course (basics), a free online course that is self-paced. This post (lesson in the course) discusses the kinds of information that at your disposal in a search result, and the variety of ways to search and media to search through. The key idea is how to do a better search and get better results.

*Note: the videos feature the old view of Google Search, but the skills still apply.

The point of this series to give short summaries of the course with useful links and links to the videos Google provides. If you want to jump ahead and get go directly to many of the Search features you can access this work-in-progress Google Slides deck, entitled “Google Search: Foster Independent Learners & Search Like a Ninja”. It is based on Google Search workshops I have facilitated and continues to evolve. The goal is to learn how to use Google Search with maximum efficiency. As Google states, you will “Hone your searching skills by solving complex search challenges alongside peers from around the world in this online class.” The skills you will learn here will give educators the tools needed to foster your students’ independent research skills.

Part 2: Understanding What You Read

When Search Results Suggest Something New (video) One way Google gives extra information is a summary panel to the right. (not all pages have this, but you’ll get it for famous people, places, events, sports teams, countries, etc) The problem I had with it, personally, is that Wikipedia is one of the top pages, which I have reservations when it comes to researching history for academic purposes. The suggestions you are given are common queries; this “rapid recognition” narrows down the results.
  • Use the pronunciation feature (it usually appears – great for History vocabulary)
  • Use the “Related Searches” at the bottom; it gives you more ideas of what to search
  • Use the right side panel to see what related links there may be (an activity I chose ended up connecting these words: Tokyo Tower - Burj Khalifa – Adrian Smith – Chicago – Art Institute of Chicago – American Gothic
Understand What You’re Reading (video)
  • Use the [define ‘term’] feature to understand vocabulary you don’t know. See the example image below.
  • Use the pronunciation feature (it usually appears – great for History vocabulary)
  • Click on “More Info” to deepen the search
  • Use the translate feature
  • Look at the word origins feature
Options for Searching with Different Media Forms (video) There are image, video, maps, and news links that appear in a search result. (and the More link that gives books, shopping, and flights) Related searches are based on the results that have helped other people (who’ve gone on to use found links). When searching for “How To”, the result will often begin with a video; Google takes the query and makes the result within the most relevant media (I typed “play C chord” and the first result was indeed a video for a guitar C chord). Switch the media type using the options on the left hand side.

Reading the Search Results Page (video) There are a lot of interesting features from this lesson. Use the rollover feature (>>) on the right side to get an image of the page. Often you can read or skim over pages to seek relevance; it’s a preview. (good for seeking website sources quickly)

*Warning: if you see an ellipsis (…) it means the summary/ abstract/ snippet is a combination of statements in the page; the same statement is NOT in the web page. There are often links to sub pages when the site is large. These links take you deeper into the web site. Big sites sometimes will have search box that funnels your query within that web site. Pay attention to the URL. Addresses like “.gov” may have the official information you want.

Different Kinds of Content (video) We know videos, blogs, images, etc, are in most search results, but there is much more. Click on the MORE link in the top bar. Other features:

Friday, December 30, 2016

Maximizing Google Search Part 1 - The Basics

I’ve decided to blog on the Google Powersearching course, a free online course that is self-paced. This post begins with the basics.

The point is to give short summaries of the course with useful links and links to the videos Google provides. If you want to jump ahead and get go directly to many of the Search features you can access this work-in-progress Google Slides deck, entitled “Google Search: Foster Independent Learners & Search Like a Ninja”. It is based on Google Search workshops I have facilitated and continues to evolve. The goal is to learn how to use Google Search with maximum efficiency. As Google states, you will “Hone your searching skills by solving complex search challenges alongside peers from around the world in this online class.” The skills you will learn here will give educators the tools needed to foster your students’ independent research skills.

These are search strategies to help the “searcher” zero in on the information they are seeking. They allow us to navigate the web much faster and more efficiently. On a non-US Google search page you can get “back to” by clicking a link in the bottom left corner, or by typing I’m starting with 1.2, the first “lesson” following the introduction.

Part 1: Starting with the Basics

Basically, when we do a search on Google, the engine gives us the results of the Google index, not the web. Google “fetches” the pages with software programs called “spiders” and follows the links connected to those pages. The importance of a page is rated by the number of pages linked to it. Essentially, the software asks questions about your search using your keywords.

Choosing the best words will give you the best results.

  • Use effective keywords
  • Put yourself in the mindset of the author
  • Think about what words you want to SEE in your search results
  • Use appropriate word choice (don’t use slang unless you’re looking for slang-related answers)
  • You’ll notice that the narrower you search, the fewer results you have

Word Order (video)
What are the factors that impact an efficient search? The words and the order count. Capitalization, spelling and special characters USUALLY don’t matter. Some do. Here is the “nutshell”.

  • A % sign at the front will be disregarded
  • Articles such as “a”, “the” will impact a search (the course video uses the samples “a who”, “the who” and “who”, which will give you “Horton Hears a Who”, the band “The Who”, and “The World Health Organization”, respectively
  • Some symbols / characters that will be recognized are ones such as “C#” in music, and “#hashtag”
  • Symbols for currencies aren’t usually recognized

This is a neat feature, which I think will be useful in seeking History images to reinforce teaching. In the bottom left of an image search there are colours that we can use to help find the context of the image. This set of colour boxes is called the “paint chip selector”.

If I’m searching for a WW1 period photo I may choose the black and white search function; I may choose “white” to get a white background.   
  • Colours carry an implied context, such as an old photo, or desert sand, or blue skies
  • Colour filtering is an effective tool to find the images you want, and get a wider variety
  • When choosing diagrams, graphs from a search query, use the white background to narrow down the options
  • Choose the “visually similar” link to narrow
  • Choose “similar link” to get similar-looking images

This feature isn’t new to a computer, but it is brilliant. I can see its use when searching through lengthy, archived historical sources that are online. The feature allows you to narrow your search of a page to a single word, jumping down to the word. Safari, Firefox and Chrome all have different “formats” but essentially they offer similar features to make your search faster.

  • Mac: Command + F
  • Windows: Control + F

Monday, December 26, 2016

Dive Into Inquiry: Book Overview (Trevor MacKenzie, 2016)

Dive Into Inquiry (2016)
by Trevor MacKenzie (purchase from the EdTechTeam Press)

dive-into-inquiry.jpg*As I’ve explored this book and written this post, I noticed that this post has the appearance of a summary, which is not the intention. I’ve noted pages of the book to get a deeper understanding of the author’s message and in particular online spaces to go in order to see his detailed (and useful) examples. I encourage teachers keen to “dive” into inquiry more deeply to purchase the book and look at the many, many, many authentic examples provided by the author.

Trevor MacKenzie brings teachers a straightforward, well structured book that offers strategies to bring inquiry based learning to your classroom. It’s a no-nonsense guide that doesn’t pretend that teachers and students aren’t challenged to create authentic, personal learning in schools. MacKenzie is a teacher writing for teachers, and is sharing a fundamental core of his own teaching practice, littering the book with wonderful real-life examples to support his ideas. (have a QR code reader app on your device to access some of the samples) The author also recognizes that we all have curriculum expectations we need to cover, and that knowledge that must be attained. How do we create this environment and meet expectations? This book gives us a powerful example. MacKenzie gives explanations of inquiry and inquiry based learning, discusses his “three big goals”, and gets into the model for the year. He explains the Types of Student Inquiry: Structured, Controlled, Guided, and Free Inquiry. He also discusses the Understanding by Design framework. I like the creative quality of the graphics MacKenzie designed for this, a departure from the often text-heavy, table-style graphic organizers we see. (yes, a couple are table-like, but visually appealing) This review is a synopsis of the book, with my personal thoughts in italics.

I. Setting Up Your Class for Success
The first several chapters touch on introducing your students to the inquiry approach and empowering them to have a say in the curriculum. But it starts with the teacher’s goals:

  • Flipping the control of classroom learning to the student
  • Developing a trusting environment early on
  • Unpacking the inquiry model with students

A key point is that “relationships (come) first”, making that connection with all students. Needless to say, this builds the trust necessary to take risks and dig deeper.

II. Student Agency
In the early days of the school year MacKenzie works with his students to develop the curriculum for the course. I don’t think the suggestion is to have students build the course, but be more empowered to choose approaches to learning (ie) activities, and content, such as readings or videos that might be used. Some curriculums offer far more flexibility than others.
I like the idea of giving students some measure of ownership over the course outline. I will try this in our second semester this year, as we get into the Japanese History section of the course. I’ll modify it to ensure they take skills and historical investigation terms and concepts into account. This is how he does it:

  • A student survey (Google Form, perhaps?) similar to a learning survey that you would connect to visible learning models. See p.14-15.
  • Students present their course design and explain the what and why behind their thinking.
  • Discussion leads to a public document or poster for reference.

The teacher takes on several roles - teacher, coach, facilitator and more. Modelling these roles shows students the kind of teacher they can expect for the year. MacKenzie actively asks students to explain what good teaching looks like. This is good modeling of risk-taking, and he provides a long list of very telling student comments (p.18-19), such as,

  • Be passionate about the subject, students, and the school
  • Friendly but not a pushover
  • Connect with all students
  • Understand student learning and how different students learn in different ways
  • Provide many ways for students to demonstrate understanding

He adds this list to the course syllabus, and shares their thoughts with faculty in an effort to get their collective voice “out there” to an authentic audience.

MacKenzie follows this with an activity in which students watch a video on a real-life project in which students use the inquiry model. In pairs, they critique the benefits and drawbacks to the approach -  a great collaborative, critical thinking activity. The ideas are referenced as he unpacks the Types of Student Inquiry. (P.24-26 has some sample comments of student thinking)

III. Types of Student Inquiry (overview)
The graphic designed by MacKenzie explains it all, but here is a synopsis, which is also chronological. It makes sense to me that this order would foster greatest success. Students who have experience with IBL can be a valuable resource in helping others understand the process and strategies.

  • Structured inquiry - The teacher provides the essential question, the resources and activities. Students deepen their understanding of how to create an essential question, choose good resources, conduct research, create learning evidence, and create a learning artefact. But the teacher has control and does a lot of leading.

  • Controlled inquiry - Several essential questions are provided for students to tackle. There is a greater variety of resources, but students complete a common task. More choice is given, but the teacher still has greater control over the learning.

  • Guided inquiry - The teacher provides the essential question, or a small set of questions, and students seek their own resources to complete research and choose their own method of demonstrating learning. You can see this gives the learner a greater amount of autonomy.

  • Free inquiry - This is the deepest level, where the student is free to construct the essential question (or questions?), determine what resources will satisfy quality task completion, “customize” evidence of learning through a performance task they determine. This would clearly take a lot of conference time, as students need to be supported in their learning.


Makenzie acknowledges that there is “must-know” content before the free inquiry is attempted. I would add that there are skills that have to be at a certain level of competency as well. I also liked that he brings Understanding by Design into the conversation, explaining why he feels it supports the inquiry model by seeking the end results (and performance task) and evidence of learning. He then gives series of examples for teachers to follow and basic structure to plan an inquiry unit. (see p.35-40)

IV. The Inquiry Process
MacKenzie looks at free inquiry more closely, acknowledging the process that gets them there. (explained above) This stage requires a lot of planning and front loading by the teacher to ensure that there is some guidance so that students can be successful. He lays out a 7-step process he’s developed (and uses; see the graphic on p.42). We’ve seen a variety of iterations of the inquiry process. The rest of the book outlines this 7-step process, which I’ll very briefly summarize below.

1. The Four Pillars of Inquiry.

(i) At the heart of the “Exploring a Passion” pillar is acknowledging that students have talents and interests outside of the class. (that we don’t often see in the class) These are areas (at differing levels based on age) in which students likely have background knowledge and have fostered an interest in. They are set for success because of this. Page 50 has a long list of question prompts of identifying your passion, such as “What motivates you?”, “What engages you?” and “What makes you feel awesome about yourself?”

He furthers this by showing videos of young people explaining their passions in some way, such as Caine’s Arcade.

MacKenzie acknowledges that we must teach certain curriculum that he refers to as “must-know information”, determined by government curriculums. He also points out that inquiry only will lead to an unbalance. I agree. Another important point is that passions are discovered. I myself developed a passion for soccer because my parents forced me into something after quitting Boys Scouts. I think we have to create opportunities for children to explore and not be concerned if it doesn’t become a burning passion. I never expect that all of my students will enjoy my social studies classes, though I do hope that they will come to appreciate the subject and understand its relevance to their lives. (speaking of goals)

(ii) “Aim for a Goal.” In this pilar students have to think about their future. What is it they aspire to be, or in the least, learn more about? The have to think about how to do this, such as read through resources, conduct interviews, or job shadow. The teacher interviews students. MacKenzie gives a list of questions he asks (p.55-56). The interviews help inform how the Free Inquiry unit is approached. (see Eli from p.56) In my current situation this would be quite difficult - not a cop-out, but a reality. Easily done for an elementary teacher, but even finding time in the first month outside of class to meet each of my 80 students would be tough due to their schedules and bus times. An online Google Form would work, but be impersonal and not allow for the one-to-one contact and asking the inevitable questions that arise. I’m thinking to start with only my Grade 8s - 46 students, and in SEM 2.  

(iii) The “Delve Into Your Curiosities” pillar gives students an opportunity to jump into a topic they are curious about but may not have had the opportunity to explore. As we follow curriculum there may be areas that students want to learn more about, or perhaps there is something not in the curriculum that they hope to explore more. MacKenzie has used curiosity journal and provides students with prompts to help them identify what they may be curious about. He discusses they kinds of questions one can ask. (questioning techniques and asking good questions is another area of my own teaching practice I’m making efforts to improve) You can see his examples p.60-61. Like many teachers, he uses TED and YouTube videos, or newspaper articles, etc, to assist understanding, but in this case to demonstrate other people’s curiosity. He follows these with class discussions on why these people were curious and where their curiosities led them. (see p.63)

(iv) And finally, the pillar “Take On a New Challenge” is all about a personal challenge. It can be local or global in nature. It can have an end-goal of self-improvement or one for the community. MacKenzie begins with group challenges. He facilities small-group challenges with a variety of activities based on his passion for educational technology, such as Breakout EDU, makerspace challenges, or 3-D design. (check out Tinkercad) Realizing that students want to do good deeds and have an impact on others, he also provides long term group challenges. (see p.67 for a description of a literacy project his students undertook) Another example can be seen by a student Ethan, who really dug deep for his Free Inquiry, a challenging project he continued into post-graduation. An important key to this example is how the teacher was flexible in the students learning, and how he leveraged technology to see that the student, Ethan, could succeed in his project. Very cool indeed.


2. Creating an Essential Question. This follows the introduction to the Four Pillars of Inquiry. It begins with a broad topic that after some exploration and refining becomes an essential question on a more focused topic. Keep in mind that this has to be cultivated over the course of the school year. I recommend reading a couple of books about helping students develop good questions. One I am using this year is “Questioning for Classroom Discussion: Purposeful Speaking, Engaged Listening, Deep Thinking” by ASCD, and another I intend to pick up soon, “Now That's a Good Question! How to Promote Cognitive Rigor Through Classroom Questioning”. Perhaps the strategies in either of these books may help. When students define their topic they begin exploring resources, again with the assistance of a media / library specialist. The teacher and specialist collaborate to pull up resources after students have defined their topic choices. (MacKenzie suggests three resources ready per student, but by this time in the year students should have a good understanding of the library databases as well and have some measure of independence - it really depends on the topic) Have a look at some suggested reading on p.75. These could help a teacher guide students to narrowing their question. He suggests that strong essential questions have certain elements. One is to see that students develop an open-ended essential question. It has to be broad. This allows for deeper analysis. (which we also do in historical inquiries - I’m a Social Studies teacher) The question should reflect the level of the course (or higher) - a student in Grade 9 will have a different kind of question than a senior. Finally, in the course of interviewing students MacKenzie asks students why their question is meaningful to them. This makes total sense, considering it is free inquiry! He begins by helping students develop their question with some strategies for developing a question. (see p.77-79)

3. Create Your Free Inquiry Proposal. The idea here is to use backward design to guide students in the next stages of the process, with another kid-friendly (and teacher-friendly) graphic on p.81. It begins with a close connection to the last section, creating an essential question. (i) The student sells the idea to the teacher, demonstrating why it is intrinsically motivating. In my experience, not only the question but the resources also change as the inquiry goes on - this is natural. (ii) The student determines what method they will use to demonstrate their learning - the “authentic piece”. MacKenzie points out that a digital element doesn’t disappear easily. I’ll add that digital material is easy to share with the world, making the audience wider and truly authentic. (iii) Students identify the resources they will use for success, and (iv) identify goals for the inquiry. (v) Students identify how they will document the learning process - the evidence, and (vi) create a plan. (see p.87-88 for a sample plan with modifications) All of the above leads into a consideration for time frame and a meeting with the teacher - the “pitch”. See the example on p.90.

Another crucial point made is that the Free Inquiry must meet course requirements, and include proof that they have. MacKenzie gives examples of the “authentic piece” on p.92, basically presentation styles students may choose to attempt. Students must also plan to publicly display their work in some form - read more below.

4. Begin to Explore and Research & Collect Learning Evidence. This is a straightforward step in the Free Inquiry process, but MacKenzie brings a reminder of methods to reduce student anxiety. (let’s face it - it’s a big project) See what his students’ experiences are with using an inquiry journal and periodic check-ins, from p.97. He also clearly appreciates the value of our school media-library specialists.

5. Create Your Authentic Piece. This should be a piece that demonstrates understanding of the essential question, what the student has learned, and ideally inspire and interest others. Using backwards design to plan the piece will help students with the process, and include a connection to course objectives. (again, a critical part of the process) Something that strengthens the process is self-assessment. MacKenzie goes through the steps the teacher and student can follow together in developing a self-assessment rubric that satisfies course requirements and maintains student motivation. This includes a consideration of consultation with professionals outside the school. (p.105-107) The following section gives ideas for refining the piece and developing it in a way that is engaging for the audience AND the student. See the examples on P.110-111.  

6. Public Display of Understanding. The is the culmination of the course and the Free Inquiry project. MacKenzie gives suggestions for how students (and the teacher) can display their work in such a way that it reaches the school community, and potentially beyond. In general, he refers to an Inquiry Open House, with “inquiry stations”, and the forms it can take. (p.114-117) It includes students taking viewers along their learning journey from the start of the essential question to an inquiry statement - why they chose their topic. They create a reflection that goes on a class YouTube channel with a QR code in the gallery - a great idea. Moreover, MacKenzie also has a strategy for having extremely shy students to publicly display in comfortable setting.

The “Public Display of Understanding” is a critical piece of the puzzle for myself. I have suggested holding a “Social Studies Fair” in the past, but to no avail. School calendars are packed, though I truly believe such a project can be flexible and not disrupt a school calendar, and Trevor MacKenzie reinforces this with the suggestions made in “Dive Into Inquiry”. Perhaps I have to work on my own sales pitch.

Works Cited
MacKenzie, Trevor. Dive Into Inquiry: amplify learning and empower student voice. Irvine,
California: EdTechTeam Press, 2016. Print.

Other publications referenced in this post:
Walsh, Jackie A., and Beth D. Sattes. Questioning for Classroom Discussion: purposeful
speaking, engaged listening, deep thinking. Alexandria, Virginia, USA: ASCD, 2015.

Francis, Erik M. Now that's a good question! How to promote cognitive rigor through classroom
questioning. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD, 2016. Print.