Recently our Science team has had a focus on how we position Inquiry in our classrooms. We have been working towards planning activities that encourage students to explore concepts prior to delivering an explanation. Following this explanation we will plan for students to apply this understanding to further experiments, group activities and more analytical questions.
When studying Scientific Concepts there are a lot of different Inquiry models that are designed for the construction of understanding. One of the keys principles of most models is that ‘Explore’ comes before ‘Explain’, then followed by some application or Higher Order Thinking. An early model of this was presented as Exploration, Invention, and Application (Karplus) also as Explore, Explain, Apply. Many will be familiar with an adaptation of it in the 5E Instructional model (Bybee) – Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.
In recent years our team has increasingly used short snippets of online video to engage students and to offer a version of the explanation. In some classes we have been working towards a flipped classroom where there has been a clear focus on using the video to create a more effective use of class and homework time. I have been inspired by the work of Ramsey Musallam who has adapted the ‘Explore-Flip-Apply’ Model as he has fit Inquiry into a blended learning environment (a flipped class).
This need of fitting Inquiry into a blended learning environment (1:1 netbooks) led our team to eagerly trial the Veso App over the last month. The principles of its design are in alignment with exactly what we are trying to achieve pedagogically during the ‘Explore’ phase. At Verso describe this as ‘provocations’ (read an extract from their site below):
Deliberate and thoughtful challenges created by the teacher with the intention of initiating thinking, extending ideas and exposing individual learning needs in order to inform practice.
Effective provocations cultivate curiosity through a combination of carefully selected stimulus and high quality prompts or questioning.
Provocations motivate students to think creatively; to discuss, question, predict and hypothesize. They challenge learner s to engage in big ideas, encouraging further inquiry whilst supporting students to take control of their own learning pathways.
An example of a provocation
The Trial with Verso
Verso is a web based app (works well on everything) that creates opportunity for student collaboration/discussion around a stimulus question. This includes the ability to add stimulus material – YouTube, Dropbox, links, photos, video……… Students are then required to post before they read and comment on others answers. For us this really met our need as we sought opportunities for students to ‘Explore’ a concept.
Similar to when we have used Blogs and Discussion Boards in the past, we see more students having a voice compared to a traditional class discussion. As also commonly seen with online discussions we see students who were normally quiet in class now having a voice. However, a significant difference was that Verso was set so students were anonymous and that students were required to post themselves prior to reading the posts of others. This really encouraged student confidence to generating original ideas and to use original wording in their explanations.
Following the students writing their own posts, it was equally important for them to confidently comment on the posts of others (also anonymous). This requires them to use their current understanding to analyse someone else’s post and write feedback. Such a task involves Higher Order Thinking and really exposes current knowledge and misconceptions. This is what it is all about – expose what’s there and have students construct their own understanding of the concept. The engagement in this peer collaboration is also encouraged as students can ‘Like’ comments and they can reward someone for a ‘Helpful’ comment.
The sign of a great student centred activity is that all students are actively discussing the concept in their own words – Verso definitely hit the mark here. As a teacher being able to see each student’s original post and comments also offers a visibility of their learning – you can almost watch it happen!
Verso also enabled levels of differentiation for our students. In its collaborative nature this sort of activity allows students at all levels to be able to participate and improve their understanding. Students with a limited understanding can build their understanding with the support of their peers; students with a higher level of understanding can test the limitations of their understanding by analysing and discussing the posts of others. Additionally, as a teacher one of the great features is that you are able to group student responses together. The creation of groups of students with similar responses or similar misconceptions can then allow responsive instruction where you might focus particular instruction on specific student groups. This offers another level of differentiation as your enter the ‘Explain’ phase in the Learning Cycle.
It is this sort of match, where Technology is enabling the Pedagogy that working as a teacher is really exciting. We are looking forward to ‘Exploring’ Verso as we purposefully ‘Explore’ with our students.
If you are interested in having a look, check out the Verso site.