Inquiry in Junior High: Finding Curiosity

My daughter turned 16 this week. On her birthday, I created a picture collage to post on Facebook and included pictures of her from infancy to now. My favorites are the ones where she’s 4 or 5 years old. I think this was my favorite age because she was constantly asking questions. Why can’t dogs talk? How can planes fly? Why did papa get sick? Why is my hair white? Why are your eyes green? Why are my eyes blue? Whyquestion-mark-2153533_640 (2) does grass itch? Why are girls mean?  Why is Grammy old? How do penguins walk? Why is D’Arcy [the dog] doing THAT? Why? Why? Why? How? How? How? I loved her curiosity.

I was so hopeful that when I introduced the culminating activity for our nonfiction
unit, my students would sound just like Morgan did at. After I explained what an inquiry project is and that they got to choose their own topic – anything at all they wanted to learn about – I expected a cacophony of topics and questions to come flowing from their mouths. Like an avalanche.

I stood there, big goofy smile on my face, excitedly anticipating their excitement…



Nope. Nothing. Silence.



I could continue this post with my soap box message on WHY I think this happened – WHY these students seemed to have zero curiosity. WHY there wasn’t even one student in one of my 6th or 7th grade classes who excitedly shouted, “YAY! Finally! I get to learn what I WANT TO LEARN! Woo Hoo! I’ve always wanted to know more about ________________ and _______________ and __________________. How am I going to CHOOSE!?”

But, I won’t. I’m sure you have all read or heard or even delivered that message before.

Instead, I’m going to continue with what happened next.

I stood there staring out at expectant faces, like baby birds in nests, beaks open, screaming for mama to feed them. They were all waiting for me to tell them what they were going to learn.

So I did. “You are going to learn to be curious again.”

Curiosity, even when lost, is really not that hard to find. I started with a few guiding questions: What do you love? Who do you admire? Where would you like to visit? What topics have you learned about in science or history that you might want to know more about? What do you wonder about sometimes?

Some sticky notes, a piece of chart paper, a group of three or four kids per table, a little extra time (and patience), a laptop – and, Viola’! inquiryanchorchart

I got my avalanche.

Were there spies in WWI?  What happened to Malaysia flight 370? What kinds of animals live in the Marina Trench? Why are their stories about mermaids? Is the Bermuda Triangle real?  Why do some people choose suicide? How can people handle anger? How can I start my own business? Why did Hitler do what he did? What if WWI had never happened? Why don’t we learn cursive writing anymore? Why do some people believe in aliens? What can we use for fuel instead of gasoline or oil?


That’s the beautiful thing about inquiry, isn’t it? The learners ask the questions, not me. The learners find the answers, not me. The learners determine importance, not me.  The learners are reading, evaluating, synthesizing, sharing their learning – not me.

It is fantastic.

My big, goofy smile is back.
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As a junior high teacher, I struggle often with fostering this curiosity in my students. I’d love to hear your successes. How do you help your students find their curiosity in your class?










Tip of the Windmill

A Reflection on the True Distance of Student Progress

My husband and I love road trips. If we have the time, we opt to drive rather than fly. Always.

Why? Often, the journey provides as much joy as the destination. And, it’s a great opportunity to reflect and learn.

Last week, driving back from our camping and hiking trip to Colorado, provided such an opportunity.

If you have ever had the pleasure of driving through the panhandle of Texas, you have seen these amazing fields of wind farms dotted with enormous wind turbines.



While passing an expansive group of these massive windmills, I stated, “You know, those things look like they are turning too slowly to produce any energy.”

My husband had a very insightful reply.

“You’re looking at it wrong. It’s all about perspective. You don’t see a lot of speed or progress when you only look at the center. But if you open up and look at the whole thing – all the way to the tips, you can see they are moving very fast while progressing much further. The tips have a long way to travel. They are, actually, moving very fast.”


The same can be said for student progress, yes? It IS all about perspective.

Objective measures, such as state standardized tests, are often the focus, the center of the wind turbine, if you will. If the perspective is too narrow, and only the “center” is observed, it can look like little to no progress was made in one year – like some students didn’t travel very far or move very fast.

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But the distance students actually travel is far. The blades of those turbines are extensive, as are the skills students need to be a successful learner. Not all of those skills can be measured by the assessments with which students are evaluated in one year, and the results of those assessments are not a reflection of all the progress they actually make.

My daughter did not meet the standard on the state assessments every year from 3rd through 6th grade. For four years, it seemed, she made little to no progress. But, in reality, she traveled far in those four years. By 7th grade, because of the guidance of all those teachers, she had learned what her specific learning needs were and how to advocate for those needs in the classroom. She knew what questions to ask and how to tell a teacher she needed something different.

She’s a 10th grader now, and she has met the standard on the state assessment each year since then. What is of much greater significance, though, is the valuable knowledge and lifelong learning skills she now utilizes that cannot be measured. She knows how she learns and how to elicit the guidance she needs from her teachers to be successful.

Teachers don’t always know the long term effects of their guidance and instruction. We can’t always see how far students travel. The real progress cannot be observed if the perspective is too narrow – if we only look at the center of the turbine.


Don’t lose sight of the greater impact you, as an educator, are making. Widen your perspective, and keep yourself open to the possibility, that although you can’t always see the impact immediately, the impact you make will help students travel great distances.

An Invitation to Connect

An invitation: 

Who: A classroom of junior high or high school students in another part of the world.

What: To work collaboratively on a globally networked project and address a global issue: BULLYING

Why: Students are more engaged, learn more, and are more motivated when they are given opportunities to work with their peers and have an authentic audience for their work.


This year, I hope to connect my students globally and allow them to practice 21st century skills. Click here  or see below to view a presentation that details my ideas for this project. If you have a classroom of junior high or high school students, and you would like to be partners in giving our students this opportunity, please contact me.






Change the Ending


I read a blog the other day that, literally, made me yell, “YES!” If you haven’t read “7 Ways Technology can Transform Learning” by David Geurin, go read it. Now. You will be so glad you did.

One of the ways he suggests to better us technology is to allow students to share their work with an authentic audience rather than just the teacher or peers in class. He writes, “It’s really sad that most work students do in school ultimately ends up in a trash can…Say goodbye to the trashcan finish.”


Visions of my child’s projects from last year flash before my eyes: poster boards, manila folders, construction paper, glue.

She’s a sophomore in high school.

And guess where all those projects ended up? Yep….

It is sad.

I am guilty of this, too. In my own reading classroom, I have students keep a reader’s response journal. Within the pages of that journal are, often, great thoughts and questions and evidence of new learning. My students do share their work, but, the audience for it is small. Just me and the other students in class.

David Guerin made me think a lot about those reader response journals.  With all the digital tools available, the learning opportunities are endless. The audience for their ideas no longer has to be just me or the students in the classroom – the audience can now be global, authentic. The feedback they receive would be extensive, relevant and not just a grade in a grade book. Best of all, their work and all that great thinking will not end up in the trashcan, forgotten.

How fantastic.

Last year, I dipped my toe in the waters of authentic audience by having students publish some of their ANIMOTO and iMovie projects on YouTube. This year, though, I want to dive in, head first, all the way.

I have decided – No more trashcan finishes here. I’m changing the ending. This year, I want my kids to share those thoughts with others and move the discussions beyond my classroom walls. I learn so much on Twitter and reading blogs from experts who are so willing to share their ideas. My daddy used to tell me, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” Absolutely! So, this year, my students and I will blog and share our ideas with a global audience.

I would love to hear from you. How have you changed the ending by, as David Guerin so brilliantly stated, saying goodbye to the trashcan finish in your classroom?


Weighing the Lambs: Reflections on Education Food Choice

BlogPost1goat-lamb-459463_960_720When I was a little girl, I once overheard my daddy tell a client, “You can’t make the lamb fatter by weighing it all the time. You have to FEED it, too!”

Huh? He worked in the produce industry. We didn’t have any lambs.

Later, when I was in high school “studying” for my SATs by taking practice tests over and over, he said the same thing to me. I was a bit of a smart aleck, and I replied, “Uh, okay. Good to know,” while (silently, of course) thinking he was bit obsessed with that skinny lamb.

I didn’t have any idea what he meant…until I had been teaching for a couple of years.

Yes. We test too much. We weigh the lambs over and over again expecting growth. Instead, we need to feed the lambs.

There’s more to it, though, isn’t there?

We have all heard, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

In the contemporary digital arena, there is today no longer a centralized, ‘ivory tower’ of knowledge that teachers can feed their students to ensure academic success in the 21st century. That is the old way – 20th century food. No one wants old food.

We must teach students how to feed themselves using 21st century resources, skills, and opportunities. Fresh food is always better.

There will always be “scales” with which to measure student achievement. What we teach students, however, will determine how much – and in what direction – that needle on the scale moves.

This blog is devoted to learning with authentic outcomes, global destinations, and pathways that encourage connected social interactions.  This is as important for my own learning as it is for my students’ growth.

When we feed ourselves well, we can better feed our lambs.