“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” -John F. Kennedy
“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” -Ignacio Estrada
In our lives there are moments of shared learning and experience that society as a whole remembers. These are those great, famous and sometimes infamous events that shape the course of collective history. Events like the shooting of JFK, Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, and 9/11 are those events that we remember where we were and what we were doing when they happened.
These great events provide amazing opportunities for authentic learning in school. When Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, school children around the world watched in amazement and when 9/11 happened even children in elementary school had class conversations to help understand and put things into perspective.
School is a place where children come to not only learn the elements of the curriculum but also become citizens of our world. They have great difficulty making sense of things they do not understand as the world of grown-ups moves around them at a pace they cannot fully comprehend.
One of the things that we are finding this year with the pandemic is that everyone, especially children, are craving connection. At school, we come together in assemblies and ceremony to build community and foster connection as this is incredibly important for building empathy, understanding and care for each other. 2020– 2021 has presented challenges due to the distance the pandemic has created between us all.
On February 18, 2021 one of these important historical moments happened when the Mars Lander Perseverance came to rest on the Martian surface. Although this is not the first Mars rover and it will not be the last, it was a massive feat of science and engineering. As well, it provided an incredible opportunity for society to stop, take a breath and be together in a moment of joy and possibility.
You may have noticed your children coming home this past week talking about the mission. Many of our classes jumped at the opportunity to watch the landing. This was deep, authentic in real life learning that students did all over the school. It sparked their curiosity about the world and beyond and gave everyone in the building something to talk about, ask questions about and delve into.
Over the past few years, we have been working towards building more authentic and inquiry-based tasks and learning experiences for students. There is nothing more authentic than what happened the Panorama Hills on Thursday. There was an electricity in the air and students and staff alike were buzzing with excitement and talk about science. Although space in flight do not enter that the curriculum until Grade 6, most of the classes became rocket scientists, Aerospace engineers and astrophysicists for a day. And there is no greater learning than that.
Inquiry is a philosophy of teaching and learning that has long been established as one of the best ways to spark learning. At its base is the idea that learning comes from curiosity, context and questioning the world around us. Inquiry, as a mode of teaching and learning, is not “discovery learning.”
The term “discovery learning” has been in the news often lately and refers to a style of teaching in which students learn completely on their own with little or no input from the teacher. This is highly inefficient and ineffective, and leads to students having large gaps and misunderstandings.
When we engage in Inquiry, however the teacher leads students through investigations based on their own questions as derived from what Jerome Bruner referred to a “hook” or provocation. As a class, individually and in small collaborative groups, students are lead through research, projects and effective tasks that lead them to their answers.
The power of Inquiry is in the depth of understanding students construct as they grapple with the big ideas of the curriculum rather than focusing on the minutiae of the “bullet points.” Of course, they do learn the breadth of the whole curriculum, however they just go more deeply into the bigger ideas, which provides the authenticity, context and more indelible understandings. They become “experts” in these important areas, and they give purpose and meaning to the work and learning.
The landing of the Mars rover is a prime example of big ideas and authentic learning through Inquiry. It gave students a hook for learning about a variety of things, from the usefulness of STEM, to what understanding what humanity can achieve when many nations of the world work together.
And if, on one level, the classes, students, and staff that engaged with the landing got a little bit of happy, scientific distraction then it truly was a wonderful day. And we never know... It may just have sparked more than one child in the school to pursue a career in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math.
If you and your children are interested in learning more about the amazing Mars Mission, the Rover, it’s super-cool laser gun or the helicopter it is carrying, please check out the following websites:
Note: the following videos give a good overview of Inquiry, however they are a bit long.