primary inquiry lessons at Lee

Posted on: January 24th, 2015 by jnovakowski

The K-2 primary teachers at Lee Elementary are engaging in a professional collaborative inquiry into inquiry-based teaching and learning practices in their classrooms, with a particular focus on science.

I am spending one day a month at Lee, collaborating with teachers in their classrooms and meeting together over lunch time. In January, we talked about ways to create a tone in the classroom that encourages inquiry. We talked about different ways to think about inquiry-based teaching – structured, guided and open.

The Kindergarten classes are beginning a study of penguins. As we can’t actually have a penguin in the classroom or go outside to observe one, the closest we can get is observing penguins via video. I found the “10 best penguin videos” from Discovery, on site in Antarctica. I turned the audio off intentionally, to focus the students on what they could see  – what the penguins looked like and how they moved. We watched a few short clips and then recorded the students’ observations, interpretations and questions, using the thinking frame of  I see, I think, I wonder.



There were lots of interesting questions that the teachers can continue to take up with their students.

One of the classes enjoyed role-playing the movements of the penguins while the other class did some observational drawings of the penguins. At this age, it is common to get “cartoon” drawings, or copies of drawings the students have seen of penguins. I paused the video on the Smartboard and really tried to draw students attention to the shape of the “real” penguins and what they looked like.


magnificent thing In two grades 1 and 2 classes our focus was on imaginative inquiry and we read the story The Most Magnificent Thing, written by local author Ashley Spires. The story has a great message of perseverance. The main character has a vision and plan to create “the most magnificent thing” but she has some setbacks along the way. In the end, although not perfect, the “thing” she creates is magnificent to her and her friend. We asked the students to think of something everydayish or typical and think about how they could make it magnificent. Some students wanted to draw a plan, like in the story, while others wanted to start creating and making. We didn’t set any materials out but asked students to find things in the classroom. Students chose art materials, lego, blocks and items from the recycling bin. A competency in the redesigned curriculum is creative thinking and this book is ideal for introducing the facets of the competency:

The students were highly engaged and as I walked around talking to them, I came back to the big idea or question of “What makes it magnificent?”



this is a flying flower pot, on a paper airplane


a water bottle holder, created with materials from the recycling bin


an airplane that holds a lot of passengers and has special openings to for parachutists


The grade 2 class is just beginning a science study of magnets. I did a silent demonstration with a magnet and some different materials to spark the students’ interest and focus them on what they were observing, what they thought was happening and what questions they had. We used the I see, I think, I wonder thinking frame again, though this time it was done orally. The classroom teacher recorded the students’ wonder questions. We asked the students to choose a question they were curious about and use magnets and materials (such as tubs of paper clips and materials in the classroom) to investigate their questions. We provided time for students to share their findings and I know the students have lots more questions they want to investigate. They were particularly interested in different shapes of magnets and how the shape affects their magnetism and the students were also curious about which coins and metals are magnetic. I’m curious to see what they have been able to find out!

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Can a magnet attract another magnet?


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