Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Creating a Concept Based Inquiry Lesson - Part 2

The following lesson has been taken once again from the work of Lynn Erickson. Her work has perhaps been the biggest help to me as I prepared for my new role as PYP coordinator.

Marianne Kroll, a master teacher featured in the ASCD video Designing Integrated Units: A Concept-Based Approach, shares a lesson she used for helping third grade students see how facts provide a "pattern of evidence". This evidence can be used to develop timeless, transferrable big ideas (generalisations). Marianne explains, "The teacher keeps the generalization in mind as the lesson is planned, and constructs a chart using the concepts from the generalization as column headings" (See Figure 1).

 Grade 3: Lesson on Natural Disasters

Enduring understanding: "Natural disasters affect daily lives and the economy of a community."

Guiding Question:
  • "What is a natural disaster?"
Teacher Note: After discussing the idea of a natural disaster and having students name some different kinds of natural disasters, provide them with internet or other appropriate reading material on Hurricane Kartina. Ask them to use sticky notes as they read, to mark places that tell about the impact of the hurricane on the daily lives or economy. Then use the following questions and fill out the Hurricane Katrina example on the chart with student responses. Leave the "Big Idea" column until each row has been filled in.

Figure 1               Natural Disaster Graphic Organiser
Natural Disaster
Daily Living
Big Idea
Hurricane Katrina (2005 southern U.S.)
The tsunami in Southeast Asia (2004)
Forest Fires that threaten a community
Source: Marianne Kroll, Curriculum Consultant, Eleva, Wisconsin
  • How did Hurricane Katrina change the daily lives of people in communities like New Orleans?
  • How did Hurricane Katrina affect the business and economy in New Orleans and other involved communities?
After taking students through the Hurricane Katrina example, provide them with resources to compete the same process (in cooperative groups) of filling out the chart  related to the 2005 tsunami and forest fires. You could either specify a particular geographic location where forest fires threaten communities, such as southern California, or you could have them generalize how forest fires would threaten the daily lives and economy of a community based on their work with the disaster just studied. It is important for the teacher to keep the relationship between the concepts in mind when constructing the chart.

Erikson H. L., 2007, Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom, Corwin, CA., p. 103-104.

Creating a Concept Based Inquiry Lesson - Part 1

What is inquiry and what is an inquiry lesson? I hope to begin to address these questions in this blog post.  The following paragraph has been taken from Page 29 of Making the PYP Happen and is the definition of inquiry that I have heard used on the different IB courses I have taken. It is a good start at defining inquiry, now lets figure out how to make the PYP happen!

Inquiry, interpreted in the broadest sense, is the process initiated by the students or the teacher that moves the students from their current level of understanding to a new and deeper level of understanding. This can mean: exploring, wondering and questioning, experimenting and playing with possibilities, making connections between previous learning and current learning, making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens, collecting data and reporting findings, clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events, deepening understanding through the application of a concept, making and testing theories, researching and seeking information, taking and defending a position, solving problems in a variety of ways.

The work of Lynn Erickson helped me further understand how to plan quality lessons and deepen my understanding of the inquiry way of teaching. In her book Concept Based Curriculum  and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom she does a great job of unpacking what a concept based education should look like. The following is taken from Chapter 4 of her book, the chapter is on lesson planning. 

Quality lesson plans meet certain criteria. They are:
  • coherent - There is a clear link between what students must know (factually), understand (conceptually), and be able to do (skillfully).
  • interesting - The lesson is motivating to students. They want to participate. 
  • time-worthy - The lesson is worth time spent.
  • standards aligned - The lesson supports the deeper intent of academic standards (the often-implied conceptual intent) as well as the factual and skill-based expectations. 
  • differentiated - The lesson meets the learning needs of different kinds of learners to maximise successful learning. 
On the final point of differentation the work of Tomlinson and Edison (2003b, p.3) is quoted. I will again use it here as a reminder to myself and others of the classroom elements that can be differentiated or modified.
  • Content - The subject matter and skills
  • Process - How students create a personal connection to what they must know, understand, and be able to do
  • Products - The evidence for what students know, understand, and are able to do
  • Affect - The synergy between thought and emotions
  • Learning environment - The classroom "climate" and operating procedures
I hope this helps you as much as it has helped me understanding how to develop an inquiry lesson. If you would like to have a closer look at the PYP curriculum documents they can be easily found by doing a Google search. I found them here.


Erikson H. L., 2007, Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom, Corwin, CA.

International Baccalaureate Organisation, (2009), Making the PYP happen:  A curriculum framework for international primary education, (2009) International Baccalaureate, Cardiff, Wales.

Tomlinson, C.A., & Eidson, C. A. (2003b). Differentation in practice: A resource guide for differentiating curriculum, grades 5-9. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.