Sunday, 10 November 2013

Who are we: Lindsay Swan and Joy Nugent 

Welcome to our Think Tank blog! We are two grade 4/5 teachers at James Bay Community School excited to share our journey of implementing the Think Tank inquiry lab process. We would like to acknowledge the amazing resource: nine thousand straws:teaching inquiry through open-inquiry learning (Knodt, 2008) which is our primary resource for this project.

We wish to capture our thinking on this blog as we engage in our year-long teacher inquiry project on  the development of our students' awareness of, and growth in, the "Habits of Mind" (as identified by Knodt, 2008).

Lindsay Swan
Joy Nugent
(Classroom teachers)

With support from:
Laura Dempsey (teacher librarian)
Petra Eggert school district learning mentor).

We decided to create a blog for three reasons:
1) share with colleagues this project we think is SO COOL
2) engage with technology
3) create a context for accountability (if people follow our blog, we will be consistent about recording our reflections)

What is Think Tank?
In the Think Tank lab, students go through an extended process of inquiry which strengthens their learning from content areas and develops certain thinking dispositions (identified as "habits of mind"). Through well-designed inquiry projects based on key academic content, children are guided and coached to engage their natural impulses to ask about and explore their world. With the inquiry projects setting the stage for the program, the focus is on building children's critical and creative thinking skills and dispositions.

21st century learners require more than just content-area knowledge. The Think Tank provides a platform for children to develop 21st century skills. Trilling and Fadel (2009) identified the following  thinking dispositions as essential for 21st century learners: critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration and creativity and innovation. The content sets the stage, but the focus in Think Tank is on these thinking dispositions, or habits of mind. Each Think Tank session begins with a focus lesson on a habit of mind. Students refer and reflect on their own development of these dispositions throughout the year. The goal is to transfer these thinking dispositions and skills beyond the work in the Think Tank to other domains and essentially develop lifelong habits. One of the stated missions of Think Tank is to "develop thinking skills and dispositions that can be applied to the success of any endeavour" (p. 3).

Think Tank is driven by student choice. With the instructional focus on thinking, children are poised to be part of the conversation and eagerly engage in Think Tank projects, as Knodt (2008) said: "young people appear instinctively geared to develop and put into practice what ,any adults also try to cultivate for themselves: finding and meeting challenges with competent, prepared and inspired minds" (p. 2). Think Tank personalized learning because students decide themselves what they want to work on during the lab time.

Students' inquiries in Think Tank are driven by their own driving questions. The teacher is the coach and the project is the medium for students to engage in in-depth inquiry into a big question or problem. Students are coached to question and inquire, with teachers asking: "what questions do you find yourself asking as you explore?" and "what are some other ideas you could pursue with this inquiry?"  In addition to coaching for inquiry, students are also coached for metacognition: "what habits of mind do you have in action?", and "how do you keep working when things get tough? What helps you persevere?" are all possible questions to ask the learner during the Think Tank lab time.

What are Habits of Mind?
There are 15 thinking dispositions that are the instructional focus in Think Tank. Children are coached to reflect on and make revisions or changes in their thinking as needed. Feedback is given to students through coaching questions and opportunities for self reflection.

The Habits of Mind are:
1) Be Adventurous and Open Minded
2) Wonder, Explore, Ask Questions
3) Contribute Positively to the Group and Inspire Teamwork
4) Imagine Possibilities and Outcomes
5) Set Goals and Make Plans
6) Think Independently
7) Use What You Know, TransferLearning
8) Step Back and Look at the Whole Picture
9) Strive To Be Accurate and Precise
10) Look Carefully
11) Listen Actively
12) Support Ideas With Reasons Why
13) Persevere
14) Communicate Clearly
15) Understand Others

Teacher Inquiry
Our Think Tank inquiry project is guided by the overarching question:
How will students' "habits of mind" develop and improve during the process of open-inquiry learning in the Think Tank lab?

The question is shared with students to direct their own inquiry:
How will my "habits of mind" develop and change during the Think Tank lab this year? 

This inquiry project affords the opportunity to investigate and learn about ourselves as educators. The following are our personal goals and questions within this inquiry:

Joy's Questions and Goals:
-What will the level of transfer of learning to other domains be? How will we measure that??
- How will we effectively guide the process of (students) asking questions within the inquiry?
- Goal: improve my ability to apply coaching and guiding questions to facilitate student inquiry (throughout the learning process, but specifically during learning)
- Goal: see growth in my own thinking dispositions
- Goal: enhance and develop my relationships with my students and colleagues

Lindsay's Questions and Goals:
Question: What will students' level of engagement be like throughout the Think Tank process?
Question: How will our most vulnerable students respond to the Think Tank process?
Question: How will students' 'metacognition' change throughout the process? Will the students become more reflective and self aware?
Goal: Increase my awareness of the inquiry learning process.
Goal: Increase student engagement.
Goal: Have fun while being engaged in an exciting project with students and colleges!

Using these questions as our umbrella we are poised to begin our inquiry!! We are both pretty jazzed up about this project, as we see the potential for huge growth in our students as well as in ourselves as educators! We hope you will follow us in our journey!

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