In Ontario we are working with a new Social Studies curriculum. During the transition, some students have developed foundation knowledge in First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities. Others missed that course of study because of the transition. I have decided to engage in a very quick inquiry so that students have at least some foundation in FNMI origins in Canada before we begin our larger inquiry for the term. This is also an opportunity to teach the skills and processes of knowledge building, inquiry and use of a new tool that supports inquiry: Knowledge Forum.
We began by activating schema: what do students know about North America?
Next we examined North America on google earth. We are learning to carefully examine the details. Students noticed, among other things, that NA is attached to South America, that it is surrounded by water and that it is actually quite close to Russia/Asia.
I then provoked them with the idea that NA was at one time uninhabited by humans. We took a few minutes to consider what that must have been like. We also quickly searched for the current population of NA – which we learned will surpass 1/2 billion this year. How did it grow from 0 to that?
I then asked students to consider 4 questions.
1. How did people first come to NA? 2. Why did people first come to NA? 3. When did people first come to NA? and 4. Who first came to North America?
This was difficult for many. They are not used to risking responses when they don’t have information. Proposing a theory is uncomfortable. “… but I don’t know anything about this!” was a common response. None-the-less, I asked them to use their System 2 Thinking and persist. Other students already had schema and were quick to write down their theories. We then posted theories for all to see.
Students then worked in small groups to analyze the theories. Were there patterns? common themes? how might the theories be grouped? Once they had grouped the theories, students were asked to label the groups. It is during this discussion that the learning happens. Students become aware that there are other possibilities, that people think differently. They also discuss the merits of various ideas and which seem to have more value than others. Because no names are written on the ideas, no one has to worry about who the idea belongs to as it is considered.
Today, students were asked to discuss the theories in small groups using the following guidelines:
Observe: What did you notice about the ideas in our class?
Idea Diversity: Pick one idea that was different from your own and explain why you found it interesting.
Idea Improvement: How have your initial ideas been improved by reading the ideas of others? (At first I thought … but now I think …)
It is early in the year. This is a new approach to learning for most of my students. It will be interesting to see how the dynamics in the room change as they begin to grasp the significance of our process. Other than guiding them through the process, there was no direct instruction. The students were challenged to formulate their own ideas and consider the ideas of others. We will use this as a starting point for building knowledge.
What this activity reveals to me is current understanding. We make enormous assumptions about our students’ knowledge and about the world. The difference between one child suggesting people came one billion years ago vs another suggesting around 800 BC to another concluding that it happened during the early 1800s because a war happened in 1812 which means Canada was occupied by then, reveals the staggering differences between learners in one room.
You can learn more about the principles, techniques and impact of knowledge building classrooms here.