I’m sorry I’ve rejoined the party a month late. I seem to a have missed a conversation that gets to the very heart of FOSIL and why I chose to approach Jenny about our Politics inquiry in the first place; how do I teach this topic through inquiry?
Sam, you raise a fundamental point about curriculum design and the pitfalls of tacking on a vacuous activity just for fun. I fear we partially fell into this trap last year, though the creation of one’s own pressure group did generate some of the most imaginative and engaging student work I have ever seen (granted, I see a lot of essays, so perhaps my bar is low!). In addition, it moved students up to the higher order thinking skills of application and evaluation, something I know FOSIL is so effective at doing across the board. Nevertheless, as Jenny says, this year, we will be altering the final phase of the inquiry into something that more closely-follows the Politics specification, by utilising real pressure groups. Indeed we have targeted think tanks, cyberactivists, etc owing to the focus the exam board places on these different brands of pressure group.
Coming back to the main issue, that of knowledge-acquisition, which Jenny has already clarified so thoroughly from the FOSIL perspective (particularly in pointing out the teaching of core topic knowledge that we undertook within the Connect and Wonder stages) and in differentiating problem solving from inquiry learning. From my Politics teacher standpoint, the thing that prevents inquiry overloading the working memory as the quoted ‘problem-solving’ based research suggests is that the cycle and resources we produce as part of FOSIL make it clear to students that everything we do is of ‘take-home’ importance. Each lesson follows a clear stage of the FOSIL cycle and, as Jenny says, we as ‘mountain guides’ scaffold learning in a way that allows student agency to flourish, whilst never becoming superfluous or overloading. For example, in our debate lessons for UK pressure groups (is group x successful?), the non-debating students are not passive audience members; they are actively completing notes that will prepare them for their exams, whilst also adding value to the arguments of the two debaters by using their own Express and Reflect resources. Everyone in the room knows that they are acquiring new understanding and developing their arguments, but the debaters are also inquiring (and problem solving for that matter) on the spot, in a live debate; pre-empting counter arguments and crafting their own rebuttals. The intrinsic and instrumental value of these FOSIL activities was plain to see throughout the process.
This idea of combining inquiry and knowledge acquisition is now something I strive to achieve as regularly as possible with my students.