Last week ASH hosted author and award-winning Educator Trevor MacKenzie who talked with our community about inquiry-based learning by delving deeper into the characteristics of the inquiry classroom. During a series of rich and engaging professional development sessions, Trevor explored nurturing student passions and talents; empowering student voice and honoring student choice; increasing student motivation and engagement; fostering curiosity and a love for learning; developing strong research skills; deepening understanding; asking good questions; problem-solving; and self-directed learning.
Adopting an inquiry-based learning approach in the classroom helps deepen the learning and supports students with making authentic connections to the world around them. The inquiry model being most successful when strongly scaffolded, Trevor took his audience on a tour through the 4 types of inquiry in support of the learning journey: from structured, controlled and then guided inquiry toward free inquiry.
Trevor also participated in a facilitated conversation alongside another visiting speaker, Harvard Graduate School of Education Senior Research Associate Ron Ritchhart
. They shared their thoughts on some of the burning questions from our staff in regards to the future of education. We also had the chance to sit down with Trevor towards the end of his visit to talk about his inquiry-based approach to learning, technology’s role in education and teaching, and how we can all play a role in preparing our students and children for success in their lives.
Trevor has traveled the world and we were curious to know if he was identifying common themes in the schools he visits and the teaching and learning he observes. An increased focus on the physical spaces in school stands out to Trevor, who noted that this has been in response to learner needs and making sure different needs can be adapted to.
A second recurring theme is that more and more schools are moving away from standards-focused teaching to student-needs learning and personalization. At the start of a school year, Trevor spoke of how he “gets to know my students first and then I plan out my lessons or experiences”, as opposed to going in year after year with the same plan. The aim here is to engage students further and work with them not to just put them into neat, tidy boxes of standards.
Regarding best practices for student engagement, Trevor identified how important it is to be mindful of the number of transitions our learners experience over the course of a day. Something that he makes a part of his daily teaching practice is to greet his students at the door as they walk in and really focus the first 15 minutes of a lesson on settling them into the class and identifying where they are at in their day. Students today have a lot of noise and activity surrounding them, in large part due to technology and so it is important in these transitions to take moments of calm and be able to switch focus.
Speaking of technology, Trevor is a strong advocate for using it in education and believes it provides amazing tools for furthering inquiry-based learning - “technology is a powerful tool in teaching and it is our chance to educate students on how to be a good digital citizen”. He believes that this use of technology needs to be balanced with other modes of teaching and learning and as educators, and parents, having open discussions about what it takes to be a good digital citizen is increasingly important. “Students need to know that the decisions they make online have consequences.” These discussions are critical for our learners' well-being and their success and fulfillment in the future - whatever form that may take.
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