Structured Inquiry: Not a Bad Way to Begin the Semester

I learned so much more about inquiry thanks to my students in first semester; their willingness to push their skills as well as their limits kept me on my toes while I admired their independence and tried to support them in any way I could.  I wanted to provide free inquiry for my students, but I’ll admit that my organizational skills needed to be refreshed as I attempted to create a foundational structure on which we could build our new knowledge.  Now that a new semester has begun, it’s time to take a step back and keep it simple for a while.

In Trevor Mackenzie’s book, Dive Into Inquiry, he recommends a scaffolded approach.  “…we begin the year in a Structured Inquiry model, transition to a Controlled Inquiry, move on to a Guided Inquiry, and if all goes well, conclude with a Free Inquiry.” 

Ok, so I didn’t begin last semester with Structured Inquiry, but this semester I did!

Before curriculum, outlines or procedures, I knew I needed to focus on relationships.  One of Trevor’s recommendations is to build an atmosphere of trust on which we can rely in the coming months.  Since our school board is emphasizing the need to support students through their learning environment, I wanted to use circles as a way to let my students know that they are welcome, their voice is important, and that I am listening.

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Every voice matters. #SGDSB #onted

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Deliberately designing structured inquiry tasks was another method I used to provide support for my students as they transitioned from one semester to another.  My grade 10 students were challenged to design an automaton, my grade 11 students designed a cardboard arcade game, and my grade 12 students were given a #mugchallenge.  There were very specific parameters but you would be surprised by the freedom found in such rigid limitations.

Please take a moment to read about the exciting story related to this tweet:

I’ve never had someone from the Canadian Space Agency give one of my students advice before!  #socool

We celebrated our learning by inviting a group of grade 7 & 8 students to view and assess our automatons:

My Educational Assistant and I often found ourselves fascinated when we watched these students throughout the design process; they really had to push their thinking as they addressed problems that needed to be solved!


Grade 11 students jumped right in to their first task, and enjoyed sharing their cardboard arcade games with our young friends from Red Rock Public School!

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Arcade #game fun!!

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More #fun!

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The games were fun to design and construct, but it was so rewarding to share our games with young students.  They were excited to play and their willingness to have fun was contagious!

This was one of the sweetest thank-you notes we’ve ever received. ❤  Their teacher also let us know about one young gentleman who was so inspired by our class that he built his very own cardboard arcade game!  Wow!


I don’t know if the beginning of a semester has ever been so memorable.  As of today, we’re just beginning our third week.  The grade 12 #mugchallenge is almost complete, and my grade 9 students are beginning to explore the Elements of Design by creating stop motion videos.

As we progress through the semester, our model of inquiry will evolve to provide students with more control over topics, resources and solutions.  It sure helps to have some very positive first steps to help us on our way!

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