Redesigning Marvellous Micro-
Description – overview
Marvellous micro-organisms is an inquiry unit for students in years 5-6 in a school using Primary Connections. The original unit of work is interpreted by myself as a structured inquiry program where the teacher offers opportunities for questions with predetermined answers. I will be focusing on redesigning this unit with the same age group in mind and will endeavour to create an environment that is fun, imaginative and provides many opportunities for questioning. My intention is to scaffold the students to become independent inquirers in an open inquiry environment, which includes analysing students own data and questioning their own results. The underlying concept of an inquiry unit is considering a question or problem which provides many opportunities for investigation for students (Kuhlthau, 2010). The essential question that underlies this unit and frames the inquiry is
Micro-organisms affect everyone. Some are helpful, while others are harmful.
The current Marvellous micro-organisms unit restricts students curiosity that leads to posing questions outside the scope of the lessons. When inquiry learning is taking place students learn the basic skills of literacy, reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing and presenting (Kuhlthau, 2010). It is a way of learning new skills and knowledge and it is a way of learning to work with the rapid changes of technology (Kuhlthau, 2010). Therefore, it is important for lessons to be open to further learning such as the transformative or expressive windows of the GeSTE literacy model (Lupton & Bruce, 2010). The current unit does not offer the opportunity for students to explore avenues of creativity as the lesson evaluation ends with a summative assessment of a presentation. There should be further opportunities offered in the unit of work such as sorting out stage in Kath Murdoch (2010) phases of inquiry framework or the Expressive window in the GeSTE framework (Lupton & Bruce, 2010). Although these inquiry frameworks have various other stages that may be applied to this unit of work, I have chosen to redesign the unit using the original framework of the 5E’s and focus on higher level thinking skills by applying Blooms revised Taxonomy.
All Primary Connections units use a modified version of the 5E’s Instructional Model. Students go through the five stages of engage, explore, explain, evaluate and elaborate during activities within the unit. I will continue to use this framework but also consider how it is implemented and the type of questioning that is used rather than changing the model. I would encourage further questioning from students and structure the lessons to allow for students to answer their own questions. The predetermined answers of the unit would not be used but rather a scaffolding procedure that the students can create their own questions and play a more active role in the inquiry process. The critical and creative thinking F-10 Australian Curriculum, and the 5E model currently cross paths as they are aligned to be used by Primary Connections.
The activities will be designed to promote student curiosity and questioning. They will be structured, fun and hands-on with the teacher encouraging students to use technology that will allow for questioning and research. The Australian curriculum for reporting and assessing (ACARA, 2013) states that students should locate, retrieve or generate information using search engines and simple search functions and then classify information in meaningful ways. Primary Connections Marvellous micro-organisms does not offer enough opportunities for questioning outside the scope of the lesson and the activities have predetermined answers. Details of the unit are the same as the analysis and recommendations with expected outcomes listed below and revised assessment as listed below.
Intended Outcomes from Australian Science Syllabus:
ST3-11LW – Describes some physical conditions of the environment and how these affect the growth and survival of living things
ST3-4WS – develops knowledge, understanding of and skills in applying the processes of Working Scientifically.
ACSSU094 – The growth and survival of living things are affected by physical conditions of their environment.
Intended assessment – The NSW Board of Studies (2012) states that the purpose of assessment is to gather valid, reliable and useful information about student learning in order to:
- monitor student achievement in relation to outcomes
- guide future teaching and learning opportunities
- Provide ongoing feedback to students to improve learning.
In this unit formative assessment will take place by the teacher with a summative assessment task at the end of the unit. The formative assessment will be used throughout the unit, using blooms taxonomy, to question and scaffold students to higher order thinking skills. Summative assessment will be used at the end of the unit to assess students learning through a range of options such as drama, experiments, presentations or movies. Students will be given the option to engage in creative practices of their choice that expresses knowledge gained from the unit of work. These assessment principles will be used as a basis of meeting outcomes at the end of the unit of work.
I will be referring to the GeSTE windows framework (Lupton & Bruce, 2010) in particular the expressive window and to the General descriptors for science in the Australian Curriculum Critical and creative thinking (ACARA) for the ICT component for assessment of this unit. Although the components of Generic and Situated are embedded I will be focusing on incorporating the transformative but focusing on expressive.
GeSTE windows framework obtained from https://inquirylearningblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/critical-evaluation-of-information-generic-window/
Development of Inquiry
In this re-designed unit of work I will start with a teacher and student directed inquiry where the teacher poses the question but the lesson is encouraged to be student led and gradually progresses from guided into open inquiry (National Research Council, 2000; Marti-Hansen(2002); Bell, Smetana & Binns, 2005). A guided inquiry activity can involve students gathering data or being given the data and analysing it (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005). Authentic enquiry is not necessarily student led but a considerable amount of scaffolding is needed for them to learn how to pose their own scientific questions and therefore teacher led inquiry is required (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005). In order for this to occur it is imperative that the teacher learns and poses the inquiry questions carefully as the teacher is seen as the leader of the inquiry and the one who models the conversation which leads the inquiry, as it is the teachers words who open or shut down the conversation or questioning (Brunner, 1990). ACARA (2010) states that, students develop the ability of critical and creative thinking skills as they learn to generate and evaluate knowledge. Students learn to think broadly and deeply using these skills, behaviours and dispositions such as reason, logic, resourcefulness, imagination and innovation in all learning areas at school and in their lives beyond school.
This unit will use Blooms taxonomy to assist in questioning and to scaffold to a higher level of thinking. Essential questions are questions that are important and what is needed at the core of an inquiry (Wiggins, 2007). Constructing meaning with students by sharing a compelling question starts the investigation and activates prior knowledge before further investigation (Murdoch, 2008). In order for students to meet the intended outcomes it is important to use the correct language and actions that enable students to think of questions for themselves and to collect data. Blooms revised taxonomy offers questions and activities that enable students to remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate and create. By allowing students to create and showcase their understanding students are encouraged to evaluate their understanding with the use of the expressive window in the GeSTE framework (Lupton & Bruce, 2010).
Table 1 outlines the assessment outcomes for both Critical thinking skills and ICT capability found in the Australian curriculum in grade 6 for science, against Blooms revised taxonomy opportunities provided by the unit of work. Blooms revised taxonomy was added at each stage of the curriculum outcomes.
Table created by author
Evaluating information is focused on reflecting and recording information about what has been learned across the lessons and then applying that knowledge to an activity where students collaboratively create questions and answers to a selected expressive form. It is important to develop student’s evaluative skills as they have a natural tendency to believe what they see and what they are told by what they perceive as an authority figure (Fitzgerald, 1999). Evaluation skills are essential in life as there is an ever increasing online environment. Research shows that many students are not equipped with the tools to critically evaluate information and sources which makes this an important part of inquiry learning that needs to be dealt with at all stages and levels within the school. It is paramount that some sort of framework be implemented at the school level if not at the classroom level for critically evaluating information that students are exposed to. Ideally the teacher librarian could include this in the lessons and instruction in partnership with the classroom teacher. An option that I would introduce into the classroom level at the very least would be the CRAP test or the SMELL test. These tests include tools that can be adapted to evaluate information or a website. With teacher scaffolding children will be exposed to evaluative questioning that will guide them in the critical evaluation of the information and its source. Evaluation is closely associated with critical thinking (Fitzgerald, 1999), therefore it is an important skill for students to learn.
Students will be required to rate and comment an online log of activities and reflections on lessons/sessions. Students will be given a selection of activities extending from responses that they will need to complete prior to commencing the next lesson. This will include questions such as how would you improve, what would happen if, would it be better if. With the assessment tasks, students will be given the opportunity to express what they have learnt by recalling and expressing facts through various elaborations such as writing role plays, conducting experiments or explaining what is a microorganism. Lupton & Bruce (2010) refer to this stage as the expressive window of the GeSTE framework. This is designed to encourage Blooms higher order thinking skills. The students will share knowledge with the class via a presentation, or a visual display. This is in line with the GeSTE expressive window (Lupton & Bruce, 2010) where students are encouraged to use their creativity to express the knowledge gained creatively. There will also be activities based on allowing students to show their understanding of the unit by creating comic strips, conducting an investigation to produce information to support a view or by making a booklet with 5 facts about microorganisms that are important and present to the class members.
The generic aspects of this inquiry, or for that matter any inquiry, includes six frames in the GeSTE framework. These include such things as prior knowledge, skills, way of learning, situated and contextual practices, different ways of interacting with information and social responsibility (Lupton & Bruce, 2010). Information is available but it is the processes of how this is found that is identified in the framework of the GeSTE model. In this re-designed unit of work the use of devices is paramount to the learning and assessment. Children use devices to access information and respond to it. Students utilise their skills to complete their online journal and assess the unit. They will also need to respond to questions by using search engines and evaluating information that answers their questions. It is the information literacy skills that students develop which allows them to search, evaluate information and fact find. Students use ICT’s in this unit of work to record findings, search for information and evaluate websites and information. With the correct assistance and questioning skills, students are able to choose information and images that do not breach copyright and that displays the information required. Students in this unit are asked to use their senses to make bread, testing water temperature and handling a microscope, which enables questioning outcomes from the process. Meaning is constructed by engaging with this process which includes the generic and transformative window of the GeSTE framework (Lupton & Bruce, 2010) detailed above. New knowledge is constructed posing questions and solving problems (Lupton, 2016). Additionally, with the use of Blooms Revised taxonomy the students can be scaffolded to progress to the transformative stage of the GeSTE framework which is examining power and agency and questioning and challenging the status quo.
This re-designed unit of work encourages group work where students collaborate and challenge the existing information. The teacher encourages students to make assumptions and uses questioning such as, who is providing the information, who is it published for and what assumptions are made. This allows for students to set up a questioning environment of critiquing information and knowledge (Lupton, 2016). At any point in time students are encouraged to showcase their knowledge and information by engaging in creative practices in response to information. Although this will be used for assessment purposes they are always encouraged to engage in creative practices and respond to information. Students will also have the opportunity to use information to build identity and display self expression to the class to show understanding of information learned. They will be challenged and asked to investigate how many ways microorganisms can be used and to show findings by expressing themselves in different creative methods.
This redesigned unit of work is structured around the ICT component of the Australian Curriculum for Creative thinking. Year 6 students are required by the end of the year to meet outcomes that prepare them to use technological tools that have become part of everyday life for persons across the world (Kuhlthau, 2010). Assessed outcomes include
- Pose questions to clarify and interpret information and probe for causes and consequences
- Consider alternatives – identifying situations where current approaches do not work, challenge existing ideas and generate alternative solutions
- Reflect on processes – identifying and justify the thinking behind choices they have made
- Apply logic and reasoning – assess whether there is adequate reasoning and evidence to justify a claim, conclusion or outcome.
The Australian curriculum general capabilities for science also states that students should gain knowledge whilst applying the seven capabilities. These are
- Critical and creative thinking
- Personal and social capability
- Ethical understanding
- Intercultural understanding
- ICT capability
Links are also made to the American Association of School librarians Standards for 21st Century Learners. Students are encouraged to;
- Inquire, think critically and gain knowledge.
- Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create knowledge.
- Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.
Students of all ages should have the opportunity to learn and use scientific inquiry and develop skills associated with thinking, asking questions, planning, conducting investigations and develop critical and logical thinking skills (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005). This unit allows for the development of all these important 21st century learning skills to take place.
Inquiry is at its best when students are answering research questions from analysis of data (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005). One might argue that inquiry is not authentic unless students are answering their own questions through data that they collected themselves (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005), although students need to be scaffolded and taught how to arrive at this level of inquiry. This redesigned unit of work uses Blooms Revised Taxonomy to assist students and scaffold them in achieving this inquiry goal. In order for this process to happen the students need to progress gradually of thinking and working, ideally over a period of a year (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005). The current Primary connections unit limits opportunities for children to question and collect data to analyse as it offers predetermined answers as opposed to my redesigned unit of work which offers questioning that allows for students to research their own answers which in turn creates more questions. Bloom’s revised taxonomy provides questioning and activities to scaffold students from the lower stage of remembering and understanding to creating and evaluating.
Students will also be encouraged to use the KWHLAQ framework (Barell, 2008) throughout the redesigned unit of work, which allows them to reflect on what they already know and what further needs to be learned.
Lessons will be created using careful questioning from Blooms revised taxonomy. They will be open questioning from low level thinking to obtain knowledge and gradually allow for further questioning. With the assistance of the teacher students will be lead to higher order thinking skills that will allow them to evaluate their judgements and validate their ideas and quality of work.
This unit is specifically designed to develop higher-order thinking among students. Lessons will focus primarily on lower levels of questioning at the beginning for recalling and understanding, while opportunities for high level thinking skills will be used with informal questioning, formative assessment and opportunities to showcase their knowledge.
Blooms Revised Taxonomy
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