The Nest of Inquiry.

nestIt was a Saturday, this summer,  and I just came into the house and saw my son Connor (11) sitting at the kitchen table with a laptop, a notebook, pencil, and a bird’s nest in the middle of the table.  He was leaning into the computer, his hand furiously writing notes in his notebook, that he didn’t even notice me enter.   I walked over to him and did what any mother would do, I asked him with a flare of incredulousness and loud emphasis, “Connor, what are you doing?  Why is there a bird’s nest in the middle of my kitchen table?”

What happened next has stayed with me since.  He looked up at me and replied in a matter-of-fact tone,  “The nest fell off the vines we took off the side of the house and there were no birds, so don’t worry Mom.  I brought it in here, so I can study it.  I wanted to learn more about it, so I’m researching how bird’s make a nest and trying to find out what kind of birds might have made this.”  What followed was a long conversation where Connor eagerly shared what he learned about the nest, along with his hypothesis based on the materials, and a notebook of lengthy notes of information he found.

Let’s contrast this with another conversation I had with Connor a month later.

“Hi fine2Connor, how was school today? What did you learn?”  Connor’s response, “Oh, it was good.”  I was thrilled with a strong “good” response and inquired further with a little excitement, “Good, that’s great! What was so good about it?  What did you learn? Something new?  Did you do anything fun?”  Connor, gave me a funny look, a roll of the eyes, and said with a tone that only a 6th-grader could master, “It was FINE, Mom.  You know, it is just school. It is always the same.”

Now don’t get me wrong, Connor does like going to school and he does well, and learns a lot.  His teachers have been great, and they work extremely hard to create the best learning environments they know how to.  That’s what we all do, right?  As educators we all work hard every day for our students and always have their best interest in our hearts and minds; however, I keep coming back to that nest.

The image of the nest was still with me when Will Richardson, in his keynote speech in our district, asked us to really take a look at what we know and believe about learning and whether our practices in school reflect those beliefs.   I wondered, what conditions in school would foster the same eager excitement, inquisitiveness, passion, initiative, research, and self-directed learning that I found at my kitchen table in the middle of a hot Saturday afternoon?

What if we created similar learning experiences where:

  • Inquiry and discovery is alive
  • Student voice and choice play a role in what we are learning
  • Learning is grounded in real-life application and problems
  • Learning is messy and non-linear and as one learns, new doors of learning open in the process


and where…

  • Students have the tools and skills to be able to learn how to learn


Therefore, one day when  a nest falls into their lap….learning will be more than fine; it will be exquisite.







iPads for inquiry

As we move to further integrate iPads into the hands of our students, it allows us to have an opportunity to shift our instructional practices from teacher-directed to student-directed.  The following apps are ways to provide students with access to information, such as YouTube or Brainpop.  It allows students to synthesize information through the use of Evernote.  They can create their own personal learning networks through Twitter.  Once the iPads are in the hands of students, it is up to the teachers to start to think about instruction differently and ask themselves “how can this lesson be improved and more student-centered now that students have access to the resources of iPads.”


Curriculum Mapping for Quality and for the 21st Century

When talking about Curriculum Mapping, Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ name usually comes up as the curriculum mapping guru.   Heidi Hayes Jacobs has a lot to offer us for advice on how to work through the process effectively.

The following are some coaching questions to review when looking at our own guides offered from her book Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping (p. 43).

Essential Questions:

  • What overarching question(s) will serve to guide instruction and to push students to higher levels of thinking?
  • What overarching questions might help students to link or connect a “big Idea” or topic to other concepts?
  • What is the Big Idea or broad topic you will be covering?
  • What are the major underlying concepts for your Big Idea?
  • What are the enabling skills or processes that will ensure mastery of the big Idea?
  • On what skills do you spend a significant amount of time?
Assessments (Culminating):
  • What would you accept as evidence that students understand the Big Idea?
  • What product or performance will the students produce?
  • Do the assessments allow students to demonstrate their learning or understanding in multiple ways?
  • As you consider skills, what practice activities would you use to help students learn the concept?
  • What specific support materials, books, field trips, videos, or Web sites do you use or incorporate in your teaching?


Constantly keep in mind as you curriculum map…. “We need to prepare students for THEIR future not OUR past.”
— Ian Jukes, Educator and Futuris


Please view this excellent Ted Talk by Heidi Hayes Jacobs—

Preparing our Students for 1982 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs

Question to think about:  What have you done to change your own instructional practices to meet the future needs of our students?