Throughout the preceding three chapters, video exemplars have been used to not only illustrate various key features of discipline-based inquiry, but also to provide a glimpse into the living character of inquiry within the classroom. This section highlights the ways in which the designs teachers create are enacted within a classroom. The classroom is the place where teachers actively create the conditions for learning weaving together knowledge of the discipline or field of knowledge; ways of working in that discipline or field; their knowledge of how to make the various concepts, content and procedures in that discipline or field learnable by students; and their knowledge of the learner. Teachers who engage students in deep, meaningful learning know how to situate what is to be learned within an interconnected field of knowledge. That is there is no breakdown between a field and the ways in which it is practiced in the world. These ways in which knowledge is working in the world are constitutive, multiple, diverse, and all of them involve specific applications of knowledge to issues in the real world.
Different disciplines are organized differently and have different ways of knowing, doing and being. While the key features of inquiry design are the same, the pedagogical approaches to inquiry are different depending on the discipline or field of knowledge. This means that the activities and assignments that teachers would need to design to ensure students work in the ways of the discipline would be different, discipline-to-discipline. For example, “bringing forward evidence needed to support a set of historical claims is different from the type of proof required to resolve the truth or falsify a mathematical conjecture, and both of these differ from the evidence needed to test a scientific theory. Lee Shulman (1987) introduced the term pedagogical content knowledge (knowledge about how to teach in particular disciplines) rather than only knowledge of a particular subject matter” (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000, p.155). Teachers require pedagogical content knowledge in order to teach effectively for inquiry.
Pedagogical content knowledge is different from knowledge of general teaching methods. Teachers who engage students in inquiry know the structure of their disciplines, this knowledge provides them with cognitive roadmaps that guide the assignments they give students and the assessments they use to gauge students’ progress. In short, their knowledge of the discipline and their knowledge of pedagogy interact. However, it is important to highlight that knowledge of the discipline structure, in and of itself, is not sufficient (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000, p.155).
As you watch the following videos observe the ways teachers in these videos actively create the conditions for learning weaving together:
- Knowledge of the discipline or field of knowledge with the ways it is practiced;
- Knowledge of how to make the various concepts, content and procedures in that discipline or field learnable by students;
- Knowledge of each learner;
- Assessment and instruction; and
- Student-centered and direct pedagogies to ensure students are learning what they need to learn to deepen knowledge and understanding.
An Engineering Inquiry into Building Sleds
A Science topic in the Grade Two Alberta Education Program of Studies took on life when it was mapped onto engineering design to create a strong, robust discipline-based inquiry.
An Inquiry Into Decomposition
Amy and Deirdre designed an inquiry into decomposition. They wanted their students to understand the biological cycles of decomposition in deep and meaningful ways. Students learned to take careful measurements of the fruit and vegetables as they decomposed.
The students created digital lab reports to document the scientific process. Amy and Deirdre ensured that their students worked in ways that were recognizable to those whose work and research is in the sciences.
A Botanical Inquiry into Growing Tomatoes
The students took their learnings from the inquiry into decomposition (see Science Inquiries) into this next inquiry on growth cycles of plants. Through this inquiry, students learned to identify and manipulate variables. Observe as students learn to set up their experiments on the growth cycle of a tomato plant. Pay close attention to the ways in which the teaching weaves together scientific concepts, content, pedagogical content knowledge and assessment.
An Applied Physics Inquiry Into Simple Machines
What began as a science topic in the Alberta Program of Studies for Dave Bennett quickly became something more than just one more topic as he started to examine the topic in some depth. Dave designed an inquiry into the ways in which bicycles work and the ways in which they can be modified to various purposes. Students worked through the design process of engineering: defining the problem, researching and designing, creating a prototype, modifying the bicycle, testing the modification and evaluating the modification.
An Inquiry into Energy Flow in Global Systems
Climatic factors largely determine the flora and fauna found in each of the world’s major biomes. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that the balance of evidence suggests a human influence on global climate. Scientists from various fields are studying this relationship to determine the potential impact on biomes. This study was designed so that students uncover relationships between biomes, energy and climate. Their question was: “Knowing that going up 300 meters is like going 950 Kilometers north, can we learn anything about northern biomes by making observations as we walk up a slope?”
A Glimpse Into A Teaching Moment
Kenzie teaches chemistry to high school students. He wanted to make the learning more visible in his classroom to ensure that students were grasping the concept he needed them to understand.
Planting Tomatoes: Mathematics Within the Sciences
It is one thing to work through scientific inquiry to design and carry out a lab using scientific processes and procedures; it is another to extend the learning into the next inquiry. Amy and Deirdre wanted to ensure that students had the opportunity to plant the surviving tomato plants into the community garden in the school yard. They also wanted their students to understand how and why mathematics is essential within the sciences.
An Inquiry into Trigonometric Functions Using Real-World Models
Kathy designed a study in mathematics in which students inquired into the features of trigonometric functions by working through a series of labs. She designed ten labs that highlighted the key concepts of trigonometry within different applied contexts. In the following video observe the ways Kathy’s knowledge of the subject matter interact with her pedagogy and knowledge of the students as learners of mathematics.
A Glimpse Into Teaching Moments
Margaret realized that the students in her class had memorized a formula for determining perimeter. As she provided them with various shapes to measure she noticed that they were either confusing the formula for area and perimeter or unable to use the formula appropriately or accurately when the shape was not a rectangle or a square. She had the students work on geoboards to manipulate their shapes each time calculating the perimeter of the shape. Watch how she intervenes with the students when she notices that they have formulated a false conjecture.
In order for the students in this class to accurately analyze and compare various 2D and 3D shapes, the teacher needed to ensure the students were measuring, calculating and reporting accurately. Observe the ways in which assessment and instruction weave together in this teaching episode.
INSIDE A HISTORY CLASSROOM
An Inquiry Into Canada’s Past
Neil invited the students in his class to work with primary sources as historical evidence. The students examined historical artifacts and re-mixed images and designs from historical documents to produce fresh interpretations of the stories that helped to shape Canada’s past and our current national identity.
Observe how the teaching mirrors the ways in which historians work with primary sources.
After students had created new historical panels they engaged the expertise of Sheldon Posen, a historian and curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, to provide feedback on their work. Listen to the way he takes the students’ work working with the evidence on their panels and providing them with expert feedback.
Developing historical imagination is important within the discipline of history. It is important for students to determine why people acted the way they did or why they might have acted the way they did. Neil had the students create videos, written and told in first person. Having the students use evidence from primary sources to discern the stories of each of the explorers was an important component of this inquiry.
The full study can be found here.
An Inquiry Into The Millarville Community: What Stories Do Artifacts Tell?
As part of an inquiry into their local community teachers, Loretta and Patti had students undertake an archaeological dig in their schoolyard. The students had noticed that forks and spoons and other types of objects made their way to the surface every year after the winter snow thawed. An archeologist from the University of Calgary worked with the teachers and students because in Alberta an archeological dig can only be done with a permit and under the supervision of an archeologist.
Observe the ways in which students were taught to survey the site and begin the process of excavation.
Observe the ways that students learned to record their artifacts and begin the process of analysis of the artifacts they found.
The full study can be found here.