Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green? There are so many questions we come up with every single day, yet we rarely have the time to answer them. After spending a week at a project-based learning (PBL) workshop at Mid-Pacific Institute on Oahu, I decided a mini-inquiry project would be a great way to launch the PBL we will be doing this year. Mini-inquiry projects introduce students to the tools they need to do independent research, but also validate and honor their questions, their pursuits and their findings. The biggest challenge with this project is that we only have 5 days to complete the entire process!
We kicked off the unit simply by sharing the things we wonder about, honing in on the students’ natural curiosity. After a lively discussion, we wondered and researched together on one question that I have always wondered about: How and when was cheese invented? We were shocked to discover that there are murals of ancient Egypt that show people making cheese from 2000 B.C.!
The rest of the week, we used Time for Kids to do some more focused wondering. Eventually, we got into inquiry groups, where each group had to select 1 question to research. There were post-it notes everywhere with all of our wonderings and questions all over them! We anticipated that many students might feel strongly about researching their own question, so a quick class discussion reminded us of the importance of self-sacrifice and compromise. Students took their questions to the Computer Lab, where Mr. Hazlet reviewed how to evaluate websites. Then, students were on their own to do as much research as they could in an attempt to answer their big question! The inquiry groups chose to present their findings with either a PowerPoint or a poster for a visual and oral presentation at the end of the week. Lastly, we celebrated our completion of the project by reflecting on our learning. Here are some quotes from the students:
“I learned that horseshoe crabs can become as big as manta rays when they are full grown and they are as small as krill when they are born.”
“One celebration/challenge in working with my group was our question had no real answer; we found a compromise at the end and we were all happy.”
“One thing I learned about the inquiry process is that you have to ask a lot of questions about your topic.”
Next up for the 5th grade: we will become experts on different human body systems and will be working to write and publish a book on our findings.