Student Inquiry: Illustrated

I hope to move this site more towards education and social studies more generally, and inquiry-based learning more specifically (more on this in future posts). For now, I’d like to share a great visual by Trevor MacKenzie (twitter: @trev_mackenzie), an educator from Victoria, who has summarized the four types of inquiry activities students engage in during learning.


As you can see, there is a dichotomy between the role of the teacher and student, which changes from one category to another. First, the teacher can lead whole group discovery by immersing herself in the activity and serving as a leader and model in that discovery. Second, the teacher may create a less structured inquiry by providing some choice among specific content pieces to be used, but students do the bulk of exploration themselves. Third, the teacher provides inquiry guidance, but allows for greater student control of the task by opening up the options for task product, question formulation, and even the scope and focus of the inquiry. Finally, free inquiry gives students the greatest freedom in their choice of learning by removing restrictions around topic, task, and stated knowledge outcomes. In a sense, they learn based on their own interests and abilities, employing their strengths and developing competencies.

Such a model for learning is powerful in how it can engage students of a range of backgrounds and academic levels, but these four categories should not be considered a ranking system. There are times when each type can be beneficial – students new to inquiry may not benefit fully from guided or free inquiry if skills and understanding of what is involved have not been learned. It is important for the teacher to know her students and what will work best in their education. I view these as strategies the teacher can use to structure learning depending on the background of her students and the learning outcomes being taught. What teacher doesn’t want more options available when teaching students?

I believe Trevor is planning a larger publication on inquiry-based learning in the near future, so I’d recommend a follow on twitter. You can also check out his blog.

Liberals Make Cuts to Libraries

The recent provincial budget has caused quite a bit of concern for the province’s population. With cuts to the public sector and the controversial Deficit Reduction Levy, the ire of many citizen’s has been sparked. Recently there has been an announcement that NL will become the only province that has a “book tax”, but beyond this the latest details discussed in the media relate to access to books and libraries.

Earlier today, Dale Kirby, the province’s Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, stated that changes to the public library system is needed to remedy what is seen as an ineffective service. VOCM posted an article that explains the government’s rationale for closing more than half of all the province’s public libraries over the next two years:

Education Minister Dale Kirby says high adult illiteracy rates in this province are a reason to make changes to the library system, not maintain the status quo.

Some 57 per cent of people in this province have below a level three literacy level, meaning they’d struggle with most jobs due to a lower literacy. Minister Kirby says that’s exactly the point of the move to close libraries. He says if the system we have isn’t working, something has to happen to fix it. He says today’s announcement is a step towards a regionalized service model for libraries.

As an educator, author and book lover, I support initiatives that improve literacy and education for all people in Newfoundland and Labrador, but I do not understand how closing 54 libraries will improve the province’s literacy rate. Libraries provide books, magazines, internet access and other benefits that encourage and help enable reading for young and old alike; their absence can’t possibly encourage the opposite. It’s hard to see how these cuts are anything other than counter-productive in improving quality of life for the citizens of the province.

If, indeed, there is a plan in place to improve literacy, then should the government not present that plan alongside the cuts to libraries? This would give some context for the decision and allow people to understand what other measures are being put in place to improve the situation, otherwise people are left in the dark and questioning the government’s actions. I’m in support of responsible government spending and effective use of tax dollars, but such decisions must be accompanied by a reasoned, considered plan to improve upon the status quo that is available to the public eye.

BC Forests: A Positive Effect of Climate Change?

The CBC has an article up today highlighting a predicted positive outcome of increasing global temperatures. We often assume that increased temperatures will create drier conditions and, therefore, negatively affect vegetation, but this isn’t always the case. Some areas are expected to experience greater amounts of rainfall as temperatures rise and one such location includes parts of British Columbia.

In the late 1990s, a mountain pine beetle outbreak in the forests of BC resulted in great destruction to the local ecosystem. As a result of trees being left to rot as the infestation took hold, the forest lost its capacity as a carbon sink – the trees of healthy forests take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen as a process of carbon sequestration via photosynthesis. Essentially, forests become carbon sources rather than carbon sinks if their photosynthetic capacity is lost, which is just what happened in areas affected by the mountain pine beetle.

Scientists now suggest that as temperatures rise, the area will experience greater levels of rainfall as a result of warmer temperatures near coastal regions. This is because warm air has a greater moisture carrying capacity than colder air and when this is combined with orographic rainfall, precipitation levels can be expected to increase. Warmer temperatures and more rain can actually have a beneficial effect on forest ecosystems, which should help the forests recover from the devastating effects of the mountain pine beetle, thus regaining its function as a carbon sink. Pretty interesting stuff!

Note: this does not in any way suggest that increased global warming is desirable, but it is certainly useful to know how forests and ecosystems react to such changes.

Source: Carbon sequestration from Wikipedia