Archive for May, 2010

To write this week’s reflection, I’ve stepped a way outside normal boundaries of a Wilkes assignment to imagine what it would be like to blend the power of inquiry based learning with the networking capability of a virtual environment and apply it to the most authentic problem-solving situation of all — real life. These thoughts were prompted by the conjunction of the ideas of two educators: Sahsa Barab who is convinced of the potential of  immersive learning to give meaning back to education and Tony O’Driscoll who used his blog, Learning Matters, to issue a challenge “to get the world involved” in finding a remedy for the daunting problem portrayed in this video.

I suspect from his title that this was the seed of O’Driscoll’s vision.

Here’s what Sasha Barab has to say.

For Barab, to play a game is to be “positioned with a purpose  ….  to help transform some situation that’s in a problematic state. …  [and to ask] what are the rules of this world? What are the laws that affect it? When I do this, what happens?” He adds: “In a game I’m considered someone who has a really powerful role to do something significant with my time … and that requires that I learn a bunch of things [so I can ] do that thing even better. … Failure is motivating. It’s not something to be avoided. … [This kind of learning] allows me to be something I couldn’t normally be.” This sure sounds inquiry based learning to me.

As many of us (even educators) do, O’Driscoll underestimated young people and left them out of his call to become part of his solution. Barab’s ideas hold promise, but he may not have been thinking ‘big enough’ either. I’m wondering if there’s a way to involve educators all over the world in mobilizing the untapped resources of today’s youth to solve not only an authentic but an actual problem such as the oil spill in the Gulf?

We try to raise children’s level of  concern when we show video clips of  disasters unfolding and talk about how terrible they are in class, but perhaps what we’re really doing is role modeling passive response.  Without also engaging kids in working towards a solution,  we may be adding to their sense of helplessness. They may come away thinking that if such problems are too big for corporations and governments to solve, they as individuals are powerless to do anything that will count.

Here are my questions.

Is it possible to use evolving global networking capabilities to involve the world’s youth in a collaborative effort of inquiry learning and problem-solving and thereby give them the chance to ‘play’ what might be the largest and potentially the most impactful ‘game’ of their lives? Can they handle this level of independent inquiry?

If, as O’Driscoll wrote in his blog, what’s going on in the Gulf  “is not a technology problem,” then we truly need people to “think differently  …  to help frame the problem differently to see if there are transferable concepts that can help stop this leak.”  Imagine if every student we could connect globally in Second Life dedicated seventy-two hours to this inquiry? What if we then mashed the kids up in that virtual environment with adult scientists, designers, architects, educators, and engineers — harnessing both the energy and unbounded enthusiasm of youth who believe in their ability to change the world now and also the experience and learning of trained thinkers and problem-solvers — and infused the forum with the urgency of the Apollo 13 mission team?

Could they solve this problem?

Is it at least worth a try?

Can they do any worse than BP?



Edutopia. (4 November, 2009). Big thinkers: Sasha Barab. [Video]. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from YouTube at

EnergyBoom. (12 May, 2010). New underwater footage of BP oil leak at the sources. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from YouTube at

“hychum”. (4 June, 2007). Decision Making [Video excerpt from Apollo 13]. Edutopia. (4 November, 2009). Big thinkers: Sasha Barab. [Video]. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from YouTube at

O’Driscoll, T. (15 May, 2010). 2 Hour “Moon Shot” like Stop the Spill Challenge. [Web log post]. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from Learning Matters at

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I have been looking back over this week’s attachments and thinking about what made the difference between the ones that stood out for me as strong exemplars of inquiry based activities and those that didn’t. What it comes down to is that with my three favourites I can see the lesson in operation. The application, strengthening, and augmenting of prior skills and information was embedded in these explorations.

Reading each of these plans set off  a ‘mind movie’ in my head. I could see the whole thing playing out: the kids working their way from the introduction and prior build up of needed skills/knowledge through the questioning, exploring, and refining and on to the finalizing of conclusions. I could see them balancing alternatives, revising their ideas as new information came in, and comparing what they found at the end with what they expected to find when they began. With the rest of the lessons, I read and understood the procedure, but did not see it unfold in my mind. I held off being overly prescriptive about the Abilities and Understandings in my own plan because I didn’t want to run the risk of infusing my own agenda into the experience as it might  skew the results. Now, however, as I reread my piece it is obvious that although I can see the experience in my mind’s eye, it is unlikely that many others could.

My first ojbective is for participants is to have time to play with the tools and then select one to explore more deeply. That is covered in the workshop I already offer. What I need to add is the part where they reconvene and work together as a group to think about how to measure gains and the effectiveness of their changes.  I understand now from reading the examples that this kind of activity does not have to be like a medical study which may or may not get the desired results. It can start from a perspective that the outcomes will be positive and involve participants in deciding what to look for and refining their own work so that they achieve the desired result (whether it be to solve a crime, define poetry, learn how to assess sources for authenticity). Belief based on evidence will help my target group elevate their use of Web 2.0 tools and resources from the level of toys and fun to that of resources they can employ to deliberately improve learning.

I’ve left the first workshop mostly unstructured so that attendees will experience it in their own ways, but I can now see that I will have to give a lot more shape to the inquiry based part. They will need to be introduced to this process in such a way that it seems as exciting as the original workshop. The inquiry process should strengthen their desire to share and collaborate in order to develop their belief in the power of what they are doing to make positive changes in kids’ learning and help them meet standards at the same time. I would hate for the energetic and creative teachers I met in Australia to feel they have to abandon all they hold dear in education as the pressure to engage in nation- wide high stakes testing mounts.

Soooo … the results of the inquiry should evolve into a set of beliefs which the initial participants can articulate clearly and with passion. These results must be valid and demonstrate the usefulness of what they are doing. What follows are some quotes I recorded and thoughts I had this morning while viewing the video below in “Sail Wozniak’s” blog (May, 2010) .  Although I wrote about the teacher/student bond, I also feel this applies to the teacher/teacher relationship as well.


People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.

The goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have.
The goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe

Do you know what you believe as a teacher?
Do you communicate your dream to others around you?
Do you tell your kids what you “have for them” or what you believe?

Simon Sinek in TED Talks: How great leaders inspire action

The early majority will not try something until someone else has tried it first.” We can be the early adopters in kids’ lives by telling them what we believe so they can take our vision and make it their own. Then they won’t be showing up for us or their parents or because society says they must, but for themselves!

Martin Luther King gave the ‘I have a dream speech’, not the I have a plan speech.

So … set aside 15 minutes of planning time every day to work out what you believe.Transform yourself from being “the leader” in your class into being a someone others want to follow.




BoyertownScienceInquiry. (2010). [Wiki]. Retrieved May 20, 2010, from

Sinek, Simon: How great leaders inspire action. (May, 2010) [Video]. Retrieved May 20, 2010, from Sails’ Pedagogy at

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I’ve been looking for a way to begin this week’s reflection and found a graphic that illustrates the process I’ve been going through.


Wondering about the similarities and differences between  inquiry- and project-based learning, I started the week with some research. After reading Thomas, I formulated an initial hypothesis that seemed to make sense: i.e. that project-based learning (PBL) was the larger structure and within that inquiry based learning (IBL) was one way for students to build knowledge.

Then I progressed to Step 2 above, but the more information I gathered, the more confused I became. All the writers I looked at said the distinctions were simple and clear, but when I put their descriptions side by side, it became apparent that there is little agreement as to what the common and distinguishing characteristics of PBL and IBL are. One source (EdHouse) said the key difference lies in the way the students’ work should be marked. In IBL, the students are “marked on research and writing;” whereas with PBL, their “work effort, ethics, and communication skills” are taken into account as well. Savery distinguished IBL from problem-based learning by the level of teacher (or “tutor”) intervention. For him the difference had to do with whether the teacher both facilitates the learning and provides information (IBL) or develops the expectations but does not provide any information (p. 16). Several writers (Savery, the Inquiry Group, NIU inquiry module) either stated directly or implied that IBL is always learner-centered, while Colley in Radical Pedagogy made it very clear that inquiry may also be entirely teacher-directed.

The only points of agreement that I could find were that: (a) these approaches share the goal that students will generate knowledge, (b) the teacher sets some expectations which the students strive to meet, and (c) both PBL and IBL involve the creation of a product and some reflection.

I am no clearer to understanding where PBL leaves off and IBL begins, but I have been convinced by all of this that I personally prefer a broad view of what constitutes IBL. It seems to open successful participation to the greatest number of students by giving the teacher the greatest flexibility in intervening with traditional instruction (or not), in designing questions (or not), and in the extent to which we can guide students as they grapple with the process. Interestingly, as I read the contributions of the other classmates’ classification tables in this week’s assignment, it became apparent that as a group we seem no closer to agreement about what does and does not fall into the category of IBL than the other writers I read.

George Abbott #218

[Note to Matthew: so … the question about which I’d like another perspective is where you personally feel inquiry based learning leaves off and PBL begins. I now suspect that there’s no definitive answer, but I’d appreciate knowing your view, not so that I can adopt it, but so I can add it to the mix. Also, if you’d give me some feedback on my use of APA style below, that would be helpful.  I’d like to know if my references have any style errors. Unfortunately there is a formatting problem with this blog and when I try to get italics, they show up as boldface in Firefox. That’s beyond my control. Thanks.]



Abbott, G. (2005-6). Cartoon #218. Retrieved May 12, 2010 from Wisconsin Educational Council at

Colley, K. (2005). Project-based science instruction: Teaching science for understanding. Retrieved May 12, 2010 from Radical Pedagogy at

Inquiry-based learning visual concept diagram. (nd). Retrieved May 12, 2010 from WorksheetLibrary at

Northeastern Illinois University. (n.d.). Introduction. Retrieved May 12, 2010 from

Project-based learning. (July, 2009). Retrieved May 12, 2010 from EdHouse wiki at

Savery, J. (Spring, 2006). Overview of problem-based learning: Definitions and distinctions. In The Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, Vol. 1, No. 1. Retrieved May 10, 2010 from

Thomas, J. (March, 2000). A review of research on project-based learning. Retrieved May 10, 2010

The Inquiry Group. (1998-2010). Our definition of inquiry. Retrieved May 10, 2010 from Inquiry Page at

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NOTE: this tour begins in Ottawa, Ontario, on the butterfly icon. Within that placemark you will find:

  • the purposes of the assignment
  • personal login information which may be required to make all the links work. (I have supplied this because the Discovery Education streaming Canada website is a stand alone account, and I built the assignment there to test drive the product.)
  • the link to the Assignment Builder part of the project.

There is one final glitch. It seems that the video I embedded into that starter slide will not display in the gadget embedded below , so I have reposted it here.

To view the original file with all media displaying correctly, go to — 508-canadian-cultural-mosaic-sample-tour2 and open with Google Earth.  Enjoy!

This activity was created to illustrate one way that Discovery Education Streaming Canada resources could be used in classrooms here. I chose the theme of the Canadian Cultural mosaic because the issue of Canadian unity is one that resonates with me deeply. Although working with Web 2.0 tools and resources has linked Canadian educators with our counterparts in the US and around the world,  as yet cross-Canada communication between teachers is still not easy or frequent.  Respect for the heritage of others and an appreciation of cultural differences  have been overshadowed by fears of “the other” inside our own country.

There is no federal educational authority here: K-12 education solely a provincial responsibility. Except for special collaborative efforts such as the Western and Northern Protocol, each province sets its own educational agenda. As a result, graduation requirements and curricula vary greatly from one province to another and there is little opportunity for educators to compare notes, share ideas, or collaborate. As one Discovery staffer put it, as far as education is concerned: “Each province is like its own little kingdom.” Add to that the language barriers between English- and French-speaking regions and the result is that few Canadian teachers have much sense of what is going on in other parts of our country as far as the use of technology, e-learning, or professional development  are concerned. I think an excellent use of resources such as Google Earth would be to promote a greater feeling of respect and affiliation among teachers and students across Canada.

The importance of this work was brought home for me by my cross-Canada trip in July. I was at ISTE/NECC in Washington, DC. My husband drove to Halifax (in Nova Scotia) where we rendezvoused for the journey home. I had not driven across the country since I first started teaching in 1976 and had not used my French since I taught that subject in Dawson City, Yukon, in 1977. I admit that I had some worries about how I would be received in Francophone areas. Now — I did 3 years of schooling, including my initial teacher training, in Quebec and taught there for 2 years as well. I lived on the east (Francophone) side of Montreal and considered myself bilingual when I left.

However, until I went back to Quebec this past summer, I had not used my second language skills in over 30 years.  Having followed the political changes in Quebec in the English-language press, I knew of the French-only language laws, the requirement that all immigrants whose first language was not English be educated in French schools, and the growing pressure for Quebec if not to separate to at least develop an identity distinct from the rest of the country.  Thirty years away had left me wondering if people living in the place I’d loved and called once home would snub me when I went back to visit. I feared that the sort of ethnocentric regionalism which exists elsewhere in this country would be more intense in a place where the language and cultural divide had deepened and widened. I wondered if  my attempts to communicate in rusty Quebecois would seem pathetic. I think of myself as an open-minded person,  but as I crossed into ‘Gaspesie‘ from New Brunswick,  my growing anxiety about not being welcome there told me that 30 years of bad press had tainted my view of the people and the culture.

To my great pleasure, I found that I wasn’t treated like an intruder — an object of curiosity perhaps — and  people were as welcoming and friendly as I had remembered. Yes, many with whom I spoke had less facility with English than they would have in the past, but they were more than willing to try to find some common ground between my fractured French and their broken English.

Our BC license plate was a conversation-starter in itself. “You’re from so far away/ vous etes de si loin,” they’d remark. They asked us where we were headed, what we loved most about being in Quebec, and whether we’d have time to see their favourite spots. People who had traveled “outside” Quebec wanted to know if we’d been to the places they’d visited in the west. They told us what it was like to travel to see relatives who’d moved elsewhere. We pondered the beauty of the landscape and friendliness of our fellow Canucks and renewed our mutual respect and our appreciation of cultural differences. A few days later, I left Quebec reassured it was still home.

In this day of internet connectedness,  using digital tools such as Google Earth should be able to foster a “flat Canada” attitude and give young people across the country a chance to develop a new a sense of mutual, inter-cultural respect. What I hope that this project can illustrate is that ALL Canadian are immigrants to this land.  We all have a stake in learning how to live together and take strength from our different cultural backsgounds. Ultimately the goal of this kind of project could be to create a layer in Google Earth to which contributors from schools all over the country could add placemarks celebrating their contributions to the development of the country. Only by helping youth overcome their fears of reaching out, connecting, communicating, and collaborating with their peers across the country will we be able to help rekindle Canadian pride in being part of a beautiful cultural mosaic within which we can celebrate and preserve our diverse cultures and at the same time claim our heritage as Canadians.


Gardner, Howard. (2007). Five minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

“” (Producer). (2010, February 04). Pierre Trudeau: Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Uploaded by watchmojo. Retrieved April 30, 2010, from Used in the Assessment tool created with Discovery’s Assignment Builder.

“” (Producer). (2006, November 28). Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Retrieved April 30, 2010, from Video excerpt posted in YouTube by “grenwold” and used in the Assessment tool created with Discovery’s Assignment Builder.

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