When I was a child, my parents kept a ‘theme box’ where the family collected magazine pictures, newspaper articles and pamphlets, so that my brothers and I had resources at our fingertips for school projects.
I remember I once had to research a country in Europe for a geography project and I chose France, because there was appropriate material in the ‘theme box’! On every page of my ‘theme book’ I traced an outline of the map of France, inside which I wrote information about the population, sights, climate and industry. While I loved how my pages looked, I don’t recall caring about the content or wondering about its relevance. I certainly wouldn’t have thought to question the value of this supposed learning experience but I assume my teacher could tick some curriculum boxes.
These are memories that spring to mind, as I work with Year 6 teachers, planning their current unit of inquiry.
In its first incarnation, a few years back, the focus of the unit was on understanding more about our geographical neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region. Students inquired into a country of their choice, then shared and compared their findings with their class mates. Unlike the ‘theme box’ of my days, it was exciting to have the opportunity to connect via Skype to find out about other people and other places via primary sources.
In its current version the unit is based on our understanding of geo-literacy…
The central idea is: Understanding the interconnectedness of the world empowers people to make informed decisions for now and the future.
We’re not sure if it’s perfect, but it’s a sound starting point. As with all good inquiry units, the teachers are not entirely sure where the learning will go or how it will get there. They have, however, articulated some desired conceptual understandings for students to reach, as they explore the big idea through the lenses of connection and reflection…
- A wide range of factors shape the way people live.
- Individuals and countries are interconnected in many ways.
- Engaging with and learning from people in other places helps us understand our interconnectedness.
- Decisions made today have an impact on other places and times.
We still need to focus on the Asia-Pacific, due to the requirements of the Australian curriculum, but we have come a long way since we first planned this unit.
- Learning principles. Our articulated beliefs about learning are becoming more and more embedded in our planning.
- Concept driven learning. The desired conceptual understandings are articulated in advance.
- Intention. We start from the ‘why’. No learning experience is planned without sound reasoning as to its purpose.
- Evidence. We know what evidence we will look for to assess the learners’ understanding, to inform further teaching and learning.
- Direction. We consider what the unit is not about. We decide on one (conceptual) word that sums up the essence of the unit. In this case, the unit is about ‘interconnectedness’ not about ‘Asia’.
- Inquiry. We understand that true inquiry is more than ‘doing a project’ on something in which you are interested…
- Differentiation. The planner no longer contains a series of pre-planned activities, but rather a bank of potential provocations from which teachers might select, depending on how the learning unfolds in each class.
- Technology. The use of technology is an integral part of planning and learning.
- 21st century skills (as they used to be called) Creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking are integrated naturally into the way we plan for learning.
If you or your class (or an expert you know), in the Asia-Pacific region, would like to engage with our Year 6 students, via their blogs, Twitter or Skype to help them explore the ways we are interconnected, ranging from individual to international level, please let us know.