Inquiry in the Elementary Classroom

Jennifer Roberson and Becky Goddard

What is "Inquiry Based Learning"?

Inquiry Based Learning covers a many approaches to teaching and learning. Some of the most common forms of Inquiry Based Learning includes Problem Based Learning, Project Based Learning, and Design Based Learning. Let's look at each of these first.


Problem Based Learning gives students a real world problem and challenges them to work as teams to create a solution. These require understanding of the the problem at hand, the ability to research possible causes and solutions, and good communication skills to present solid solutions to others. Problem Based Learning approaches push students to think past their research for new ideas.

Project Based Learning gives students the desired objectives and allows them to demonstrate their understanding in a project or presentation. Students must find a way to convey content understanding through creativity.
Design Based Learning allows students to investigate problems and design solutions. These often require hands on materials that allow for construction of the students' ideas and trial/error scenarios.


Inquiry doesn't have to be as involved as these ideas mentioned above. Inquiry can be as easy as one of the options below:

✦talking about real world problems and brainstorming solutions
✦developing skills for research and good questioning
✦collaborating with peers and community to gain knowledge
✦learning to communicate questions and solutions with others
✦finding ways to publish and share problems and solutions


Basically, Inquiry should be incorporated regularly to develop deeper understanding of content. Teaching younger students to be Inquirers develops those skills for critical thinking.

Lesson Mini Library

All Grades

Reliable Resources:

Discovery Education

NC WiseOwl


3 Facts and 1 Question:

  • We use this technique with all research to get younger students to inquire about what they are reading.

  • Students can read anything and come up with three facts.

  • Students are then required to come up with one question that is not answered within the given text.

  • We share those questions in various forms and challenge students to find the answers.

  • There really are endless possibilities for this form of inquiry.


Pre-Research Meeting:

  • Prior to beginning any research, bring students together to answer the obvious questions and record those answers. This takes away the common and obvious research questions that become monotonous.

  • After covering the “basics”, have students accumulate a list of questions that could, but isn’t required, to guide their research.


Discovery Education SOS Strategies:


  • There are dozens of great ideas for implementing Inquiry and media into any lesson.
  • Do not have to be DE subscriber to view the SOS strategies.
  • SOS Strategies are available from the DEN Blogs website.


What's the Question? (SOS strategy):


  • Instead of providing students with the questions, give them the answer and let them figure out which questions go along with it. For example, write the names of several U.S. presidents on large sheets of paper displayed around the room. Students research each president, finding an interesting fact which they write in the form of a question to add to the paper.


Interest Questionnaires


  • Students work hardest when they are interested in what they are learning. Interest questionnaires are great ways to find out what students know and want to know.
  • Link to an example Interest Questionnaire by Denise Murphy and Beth Ann Potter.


Graffiti Tables


  • A fun way to read, talk, and write about text.


Gallery Walks for Inquiry:


  • Many of our students have shared their work through Gallery Walks where students rotate around the room to observe the products of their peers but let's put a different spin on the Gallery Walk to increase inquiry.
  • Example: Post 10 math problems around the room. You can put up 6 correct and 4 incorrect. (Or any combination of correct vs incorrect.)
  • Have students rotate around the room and work each problem. If the answer was correct, they can move on. If the answer is incorrect, they must work the problem to give the correct answer.
  • This would be great in a blended learning classroom as an independent center activity.


Discussion Forums


  • Discussion Forums in Schoology are a great way to promote inquiry. Open a discussion forum and give students the opportunities to post their questions. If students share the same question, let them collaborate.
  • Discussion Forums can also be used for classroom management. Open a discussion forum while working in centers. If a student has a question or needs help, they can post it in the discussion rather than interrupting your teacher led center. Perhaps another student would have the answer or you can multi-task and answer during a pause in instruction.


Aurasma Booktalks


  • Students record video booktalks and create auras for them in the Aurasma app. Using the cover of the book as a trigger image, any student may then scan the book cover in the Aurasma app to watch the booktalk.


Kindergarten


Comparing Animals/Twitter Dogs

K.L.1.1 Compare different types of the same animal (i.e. different types of dogs, different types of cats, etc.) to determine individual differences within a particular type of animal.

K.TT.1.3 Use technology tools to present data and information (multimedia, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

  • Create a fun collaboration between staff and K students by asking staff members to tweet photos of their dogs with a designated hashtag. (We used #BESdogs.)

  • Share these photos to the camera rolls on student devices.

  • Students spend time viewing and discussing the similarities and differences between the various dogs.

  • Students determine which dogs have many differences and choose two of these to compare.

  • Using Educreations, they’ll drop in the photos and record themselves comparing the two dogs.

  • Save these to teacher’s Educreations account.


Gingerbread Baby’s House

K.G.B.4 Analyze and compare two- and three-dimensional shapes, in different sizes and orientations, using informal language to describe their similarities, differences, parts (e.g., number of sides and vertices/"corners") and other attributes (e.g., having sides of equal length).

K.G.B.5 Model shapes in the world by building shapes from components (e.g., sticks and clay balls) and drawing shapes.

1.TT.1.13 Use technology tools to present data and information (multimedia, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

  • Students had the challenge to build Gingerbread Baby a new home.

  • Students collected 3D shapes from home and used those to construct a home for Gingerbread Baby.

  • Students then created a summary of their project and played it over the morning news show.


First Grade


Past and Present

  • Students study and compare actual items from the past and present.

  • Students take a scavenger hunt around the school for things like sinks, teddy bear, shoe, etc.

  • Students are then given pictures of those same items from the past.

  • Students use Educreations or Doceri to compare those two objects. They put both items on a page and voice over the comparison. How are they alike? How are they different?

  • Students products are then shared with others.


Toys Past and Present

1.H.1.1 Explain how and why neighborhoods and communities change over time.

  • What kinds of toys were available in the past? How did children create things to play with when there were few supplies?

  • Using the following materials that would have been available to a child in the past, work with a partner to create their own unique toy or game.

Materials: twine, yarn, wooden beads, clothespins, cloth, buttons, cotton, or other items that would have been available to children in the past


What Would a Recyclable Item Say?

1.L.1.3 Summarize the ways humans protect their environment and/or improve conditions for the growth of plants and animals that live there.

1.TT.1.13 Use technology tools to present data and information (multimedia, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

  • Students apply what they’ve learned about caring for the environment by creating a ChatterKid (app) video of an item that could be reduced in usage, reused or recycled (plastic bottles, cans, paper, etc.). Using these key vocabulary words, students record themselves speaking as the item and how it should be handled instead of being thrown into a landfill.

  • Students take a gallery walk to view each others’ ChatterKid videos.


Animal Research PBL

1.L.2.2 Summarize the basic needs of a variety of different animals (including air, water, and food) for energy and growth.

1.TT.1.1 Use a variety of technology tools to gather data and information (e.g., Web-based resources, e-books, online communication tools, etc.).

1.TT.1.2 Use a variety of technology tools to organize data and information (e.g., word processor, graphic organizer, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

1.TT.1.13 Use technology tools to present data and information (multimedia, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

1.RP.1 Remember the steps of a simple (or simplified) research process.

1.RP.1.1 Recognize the steps of a simple (or simplified) research process.

  • Goal: Create a virtual habitat for a wild animal

  • Students formulate the questions they need to ask and find answers to in order to create an appropriate habitat

  • Using the Grolier Amazing Animals database, research to find answers to the questions.

  • Draw and describe the habitat using a digital tool such as Educreations.

  • Twitter Pic


Me On the Map

1.G.1.2 Give examples showing location of places (home, classroom, school and community).

1.G.1.3 Understand the basic elements of geographic representations using maps (cardinal directions and map symbols).

  • After reading the story, Me on the Map, students use Google Earth and Educreations (or iMovie, Doceri, etc.) to explore their location in relation to their city, state, country, and world.

  • Students entered their home address into Google Earth (the reason we cannot publish an example).

  • Students took a screenshot and made notes of what they saw around their house.

  • Students then zoomed out to show their school, city, state, country and world. After each zoom, a screen shot was taken.

  • Screen shots were dropped into Educreations and students identified certain landforms such as local mountain ranges, lakes, etc. and labeled them.

  • Students then recorded audio to explain their location in relation to the rest of the world.


Fact Families

1.OA.3 Apply properties of operations as strategies to

add and subtract.

1.TT.1.2 Use a variety of technology tools to organize data and information (e.g., word processor, graphic organizer, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

1.TT.1.2 Use technology tools to present data and information (multimedia, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

  • To introduce Fact Families, students participated in a math center that gave them the freedom to create their own fact families.

  • Student Challenge: Given numbers and symbols, can you create four number sentences?

  • Students journaled about their fact families on Educreations.


https://www.educreations.com/lesson/view/tanner-alyssa-fact-family/27038381/?ref=link&s=TuGfPx


First/Second Grades


Holiday Traditions Around the World

1.H.1.2 Explain the importance of folklore and celebrations and their impact on local communities.

1.TT.1 Use technology tools and skills to reinforce classroom concepts and activities.

1.TT.1.1Use a variety of technology tools to gather data and information (e.g., Web-based resources, e-books, online communication tools, etc.).

1.TT.1.2 Use a variety of technology tools to organize data and information (e.g., word processor, graphic organizer, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

1.TT.1.3 Use technology tools to present data and information (multimedia, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

1.RP.1 Remember the steps of a simple (or simplified) research process.

1.RP.1.1 Recognize the steps of a simple (or simplified) research process.

1.SE.1 Understand safety and ethical issues related to the responsible use of information and technology resources.

1.SE.1.1 Use technology hardware and software responsibly.

1.SE.1.2 Explain why safety is important when using the Internet.

1.SE.1.3 Recognize the need to obtain permission or give credit when using intellectual property of others.

  • Students were learning basic research skills through our created Smore sites. https://www.smore.com/faeu

  • Students used the 3 Facts 1 Question technique in Doodlebuddy.

  • We compiled the list of questions for discussions.


Second Grade


The Science of Sound

2.P.1.1Illustrate how sound is produced by vibrating objects and columns of air.

2.P.1.2 Summarize the relationship between sound and objects of the body that vibrate – eardrum and vocal cords.

2.TT.1 Use technology tools and skills to reinforce classroom concepts and activities.

2.TT.1.1 Use a variety of technology tools to gather data and information (e.g., Web-based resources, e-books, online communication tools, etc.).

2.TT.1.2 Use a variety of technology tools to organize data and information (e.g., word processor, graphic organizer, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

2.TT.1.3 Use technology tools to present data and information (multimedia, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

  • Students were introduced to the basic vocabulary for their sound unit.

  • Students watched a video with no sound and constructed a transcript for the video based on their vocabulary and prior knowledge. Students were allowed to watch the video as many times as necessary. YouTube http://youtu.be/2KTc6sSKqGU

  • Students were given the original transcript and allowed to watch the video with sound.

  • Students compared their transcript to the real transcript using Venn Diagrams.

  • Students created their own videos using Doodlebuddy to draw pictures and iMovie to record. Example:


Presidential Timelines

2.H.1.1 Use timelines to show sequencing of events.

2.H.1.2 Identify contributions of historical figures (community, state, nation and world) through various genres.

2.TT.1 Use technology tools and skills to reinforce classroom concepts and activities.

2.TT.1.1 Use a variety of technology tools to gather data and information (e.g., Web-based resources, e-books, online communication tools, etc.).

2.TT.1.2 Use a variety of technology tools to organize data and information (e.g., word processor, graphic organizer, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

2.TT.1.3 Use technology tools to present data and information (multimedia, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

2.RP.1 Apply the research process by participating in whole-class research.

2.RP.1.1 Execute the steps of a simple research process (three to four steps).

  • Students discuss and formulate a list of events that are important milestones in people’s lives (birth, education, marriage, children, career, etc.).

  • Using these events as a guide, students research the lives of American presidents and choose six important events/dates to write down. We’ve used PebbleGo Biographies and Discovery Education for info. sources.

  • Students create a timeline of the events using Kidspiration or build a timeline board in Discovery Education. Add additional interesting facts and photos to the timeline.


Create Interactive Maps with ThingLink

2.G.1.1 Interpret maps of the school and community that contain symbols, legends, and cardinal directions.

2.G.1.2 Interpret the meaning of symbols and the location of physical and human features on a map.

2.TT.1.2 Use a variety of technology tools to organize data and information (e.g., word processor, graphic organizer, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

2.TT.1.3 Use technology tools to present data and information (multimedia, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

  • Students learned to use symbols on a map.

  • Students open the ThingLink app and choose one map each from a variety of maps shared to their camera rolls by the teacher/media coordinator/tech facilitator.

  • Students label the parts of a map (title, key, symbols, scale, cardinal rose) from a local attraction with words and/or video.

  • These are saved to one ThingLink account on which students and teacher may view them all.

  • http://www.thinglink.com/scene/590943547025260545


Augmented Graphing

2.MD.D.10 Draw a picture graph and a bar graph (with single-unit scale) to represent a data set with up to four categories. Solve simple put-together, take-apart, and compare problems1 using information presented in a bar graph.

2.TT.1.3 Use technology tools to present data and information (multimedia, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

  • Students choose a topic they’re interested in, formulate questions for a poll, conduct a poll of their classmates and use the data to create graphs.

  • Students video themselves describing their graphs and create auras using the Aurasma app.

  • Students scan one anothers’ graphs using the app.


Lego Tower Challenge

2.MD.1 Measure the length of an object by selecting and using appropriate tools such as rulers, yardsticks, meter sticks, and measuring tapes.

2.MD.2 Measure the length of an object twice, using length units of different lengths for the two measurements; describe how the two measurements relate to the size of the unit chosen.

2.MD.3 Estimate lengths using units of inches, feet, centimeters, and meters.

2.MD.4 Measure to determine how much longer one object is than another, expressing the length difference in terms of a standard length unit.


  • Students work in teams to estimate and record the height of a Lego tower they'll build in inches, feet, centimeters and meters.
  • Each team will build a Lego tower with a time limit between 10-15 minutes.
  • Teams measure their towers using inches, feet, centimeters, and meters and then compare the actual measurements to their estimates.
  • Graph the height of all the finished towers on a bar graph. Determine the differences in height between them.


Second/Third/Fourth Grade:


Shark Sightings!

RI.3.5 Know and use various text features (e.g., captions, bold print, subheadings, glossaries, indexes, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text efficiently.

RI.4.7 Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.

This lesson also covers most of the standards in the Measurement and Data Standard.


  • Students listened to various "shark" stories. As a group, students brainstormed shark "myths".
  • Students are then asked to estimate the size of a shark.
  • Students were given about 20 minutes to explore the www.ocearch.org . Students used small note cards to note various shark names, weights, lengths, and locations.
  • The group came back together and discussed the sharks they had found. Together, we looked at the map and students asked questions about shark patterns. We also created a chart to map out shark weight and length and made connections to real world objects that might be of similar size.
  • Students were then released back to their groups and instructed to pick one of their favorite sharks. Students created paper sharks that were the length of the shark they chose. We used bulletin board paper for length. Lengths were recorded in various units both metric and customary.
  • Students wrote their shark facts inside their sharks and took pictures to show size relations.


Third Grade


Guess Who

RL.3.3 Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.

3.TT.1.2 Use a variety of technology tools to organize data and information (e.g., word processor, graphic organizer, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

3.TT.1.3 Use technology tools to present data and information (multimedia, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).

  • Students choose a character they’re very familiar with and write five sentences describing him or her without naming the character

  • Draw a picture of the character with the five traits on another sheet of paper. Use a black marker to outline the character.

  • Create a video of yourself reading the five traits. This will be used to create an aura using the Aurasma app. Your drawing will be the trigger image.

  • Display your trigger image with the name of the character hidden. Other students will scan your character aura, watch your video, and guess your character!


Research and Digital Literacy

3.H.2.1 Explain change over time through historical narratives. (events, people and places)

3.SI.1.2 Classify resources as reliable or not reliable.

  • A combination lesson to learn about a president and utilize digital literacy skills.

  • Students will use three websites to prove facts. The goal is to research for information and evaluate websites using media literacy skills.

  • Two websites are reputable and one was created by me to include some false information.


Fourth Grade


Change Over Time

4.RP.1.1 Implement a research process by collaborating effectively with other students.

4.G.1.3 Exemplify the interactions of various peoples, places and cultures in terms of adaptation and modification of the environment.

4.G.1.4 Explain the impact of technology (communication, transportation and inventions) on North Carolina’s citizens, past and present.

Change Over Time

  • Students were given a list of “old time” conveniences (listen to music, telephones, saving data, etc.) and asked what we would use today.

  • Students then inquired about how today’s conveniences came.

  • Students researched and create any version of a timeline to tell about the evolution of today’s iPod, iPhone, Blu Rays, etc.


Fifth Grade


Wonder Wednesdays (Genius Hour)

5.SI.1.1 Use various types of resources to gather information (including print and online media).

5.SI.1.2 Use relevant sources of information for an assigned task.

5.SI.1.3 Use reliable sources of information.

  • Over the first two-three sessions, choose a topic you’re passionate about.

  • Develop a guiding question that will be the focus of your research over several weeks. This question should not be one that can be easily answered by a quick Google search. Dig deeper!

Good Genius Hour topic/questions:

How can I help animals in need in my community?

How do you start a business?

What was life like on the American frontier?

  • Research your question and gather information.

  • Keep in mind that your research will be presented to the group, school, or community in a final project of your choosing.


PBL: Design Your Ideal Learning Space:

http://youtu.be/YUsbO4FwhEM


Galileo's Discovery

5.P.1 Understand force, motion and the relationship between them.

5.P.1.1 Explain how factors such as gravity, friction, and change in mass affect the motion of objects.

5.P.1.2 Infer the motion of objects in terms of how far they travel in a certain amount of time and the direction in which they travel.


  • Ask students to consider what will happen when they drop two objects with different masses from the same height. Discuss and record their predictions.
  • Give students a variety of objects to drop from the various heights and then the same height.
  • Discuss what they discovered (Objects with different masses will land at the same time when dropped from the same height as long as wind resistance isn't a factor.)
  • Share the story Galileo's Leaning Tower Experiment by Wendy Macdonald. Ask students to relate their own experiments with Galileo's.
  • Expand on the tower theme by challenging teams of students to build towers using the same number of large and small marshmallows and toothpicks. Allow about 20 minutes for them to work on the towers before measuring them to see which tower was tallest and was able to stand without them touching it.
  • Discuss the process they used in building, what worked, and what they'd do differently.


The Most Magnificent Thing

5.P.1.3 Illustrate the motion of an object using a graph to show a change in position over a period of time.


  • Read The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
  • Students explore pieces available in the Lego Simple Machines kit and plan their own magnificent things.
  • Students create their own movable magnificent things and present how they work.


The Truth About Explorers

5.H.1.1 Evaluate the relationships between European explorers (French, Spanish and English) and American Indian groups, based on accuracy of historical information (beliefs, fears and leadership).

5.IN.1 Analyze appropriate strategies when reading for enjoyment and for information.

5.IN.1.1 Differentiate strategies when reading informational text in a variety of formats (e.g., print, online, audio, etc.) to complete assigned tasks.

5.IN.1.2 Differentiate strategies when reading various genres.

5.TT.1 Use technology tools and skills to reinforce and extend classroom concepts and activities.

5.TT.1.1 Use a variety of technology tools to gather data and information (e.g., Web-based resources, e-books, online communication tools, etc.).

5.RP.1 Apply a research process as part of collaborative research.

5.RP.1.1 Implement a research process by collaborating effectively with other students.

5.SE.1.3 Understand internet safety precautions (e.g., personal information, passwords, etc.).

  • This lesson is designed to help students discover the facts about explorers by comparing two or three different online sources, one of them a fake fact site..

  • Provide a list of explorers to students and allow pairs to choose one to research.

  • Introduce the lesson with the Big 6 research strategy. Focus on where to find information by asking students to suggest various sources to learn about explorers. When Google is mentioned as an option, do a quick search for “explorers”. They’ll discover one of the top sites is www.allaboutexplorers.com. Be sure this is one of the sites students use to research because it is FAKE and full of misinformation (but don’t tell them that!). They should also research using other reliable sources such as Britannica Online or Discovery Education.

  • Partners record 5 interesting facts about an explorer.

  • Share out and compare the facts recorded by different pairs. Why do some have different birthplaces, etc?

  • As a group, discuss how comparing information from different sources can uncover unreliable sources.

Summarization Ideas

Often we want to find new and fun ways for our students to present their knowledge. The linked document is a list of some of our favorite Summarization Ideas. Please share any new ideas you have so we can keep the list growing!

Reflection

One of the best parts of Inquiry is that it is open and can be molded to fit any lesson. As professionals, we like to reflect on whether our lessons promoted inquiry for our students and how we can improve our inquiries for the next students. There is an excellent reflection rubric at Galileo.org that allows for educators to evaluate how effective their activity was in increasing inquiry. We may not use it with every lesson, but it is useful feedback when trying to change and adjust instruction for better learning.

Jennifer Roberson

Media Coordinator

Bostian Elementary

Rowan Salisbury Schools

Becky Goddard

Technology Facilitator

Bostian Elementary

Rowan Salisbury Schools