Approximately one third of the student in Year 12 are new to the School, mainly to do International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, which we offer alongside A-levels. This means that they are unlikely to have encountered FOSIL as a model of the inquiry process, or inquiry as an approach to learning (unless, in the latter case, they come from an IB Primary Years Programme and/ or Middle Years Programme background), while the students they join will be increasingly familiar with both, especially since we became an IB MYP candidate school. The first purpose of the Year 12 FOSIL Investigation is, therefore, integration and consolidation. This is complicated by the fact that GCSEs in Years 10 and 11 do not encourage or facilitate the progressive and systematic development of the mindset and skillset that will enable students to pursue inquiry more effectively and with greater independence, which is unhelpful for those of our Year 11 students who go on to choose the IB DP, which has a compulsory Extended Essay (EE), or those choosing to do an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) within A-levels. It is encouraging in this regard, though, that as the Year 9 FOSIL Inquiry Skills Project serves the purpose of integration and consolidation increasingly effectively, partly because of the coherence of approach that the IB MYP brings to Years 7 – 9, there is clear evidence emerging from the Year 12 FOSIL Investigation itself of a greater number our Year 11/ 12 students drawing on a range of the foundational inquiry skills from the Year 9 FOSIL Inquiry Skills Project, and with growing competence.*
Like the Year 9 FOSIL Inquiry Skills Project, the Year 12 FOSIL Investigation therefore also serves the purpose of transition. An important element of transition for all Year 12 students, but especially those who will be doing the compulsory EE as part of the IB DP or those who will be doing an EPQ as part of their A-levels, is the effective use of scholarly resources, both print and online, and this is the focus of the Year 12 FOSIL Investigation.
An interesting feature of the FOSIL Investigation, given its focus on the effective use of scholarly resources, mainly during the Investigate stage of an inquiry, is that it clearly illustrates that even such a short task that is so narrowly focused actually involves all 6 stages in the FOSIL inquiry process.
The particular form that the Year 12 FOSIL Investigation takes is shaped by demands of the Year 12 induction programme (to follow), but it is introduced to students through 2 presentations (download PPT for presentation 1 from here and PPT for presentation 2 from here) and essentially boils down to the following:
The best essay(s) is published in the School Magazine, and this is the blurb that accompanies it:
I will discuss some of the design considerations in another post.
*Time constraints have prevented us from investigating this evidence more closely, but for a number of reasons I am hopeful that we will be able to do so this coming year. Having said that, the Year 9 Individual Project – which provides an important opportunity for Year 9 students to exercise their more or less newly acquired skillset in what effectively amounts to a mini EE/ EPQ, and which I still need to document in the Forum – was completed under the less-than-ideal circumstances of school closure due to a global pandemic. Also, the Year 12 FOSIL Investigation, which is part of the Year 12 induction programme, will face whatever COVID-19 related challenges September may bring.
In September we will face several challenges, as outlined by Darryl above. The two most pressing ones for me (in my first September as Upper School Curriculum Librarian, and therefore my first run at both this investigation and induction) are:
1. The different skill levels among our Year 12 students.
There are several issues here. Students who have come up through the school will understand the basic layout of our Library, will know how to borrow, renew, return and reserve books and how to find and search the online catalogue (even if only in a very basic way). They should be familiar with FOSIL and with our databases, and will also hopefully be able to cite and reference their sources. A gentle reminder of all these things wouldn’t hurt, but we don’t want to bore them by treating them as beginners. Equally, they are (hopefully!) much more mature and capable than they were in Year 9 (see Year 9 FOSIL Inquiry Skills Project) so we would hope to be able to advance their understanding of FOSIL and inquiry and to get them to expand the range of databases they use.
Students who have joined the school in Year 12 are very unlikely to have met FOSIL before (although as the FOSIL Group grows, it isn’t impossible), and are fairly likely to be new to inquiry. While they may have used Subscription Databases before, they won’t have accessed ours, and they will know nothing about using our physical library.
2. The potential restrictions faced due to COVID-19.
At the moment we have no idea whether we will be in a position to gather all the students together in the school auditorium (seems unlikely), or whether induction will need to happen remotely. We are currently making plans for both scenarios. We also don’t yet know what the Library service will look like in September in terms of social distancing, numbers of students allowed in the Library and quarantines for returned books, for example. Regardless of what the government has pledged, it is also impossible to tell how many of our students may only return to school virtually rather than physically – particularly in an international boarding school.
The main solution to all these issues seems to be to set up a resource to support both induction and the investigation virtually – and if we get any face-to-face interaction to back that up, that will be a bonus. The plan is to build a LibGuide, similar to the one we use to support the Extended Essay (but much less complex). LibGuides have really been a game-changer for us (particularly with the COVID-19 shutdown) and have transformed the level of ongoing support we can provide. The subscription is quite expensive and it is possible that someone a lot more technologically capable than I am could achieve a similar effect by designing a website from scratch, but I know that I could not do it in the time I have available.
The idea would be for the LibGuide to host:
A basic core of materials that would explain to all students what was expected of them for the investigation, and give a basic overview of the ways in which the Library supports Years 12 and 13 specifically.
Links to an à la carte menu of other materials (including text, graphics, video guides and online presentations) so that students can choose for themselves what they need to access both to be able to complete their assignment and to be prepared for the Upper School. Certain materials would be compulsory for new students but optional for returning students, for example.
A Microsoft Forms ‘quiz’ for students to report how they have used the materials – this both gives us necessary feedback and gives them some form of accountability.
There are many advantages to this approach – addressing the two issues above, it allows for differentiation and it is COVID secure, for example. Perhaps more interesting and exciting for me is that it is also very much in-keeping with the spirit of inquiry we are trying to promote. Although it is, of course, very important for students to be building their knowledge-base in all areas to reduce demands on their working memory, it is also vital for them to build the self-help skill of “where can I find out if I don’t know?”. Our past approach gave students limited options if they missed, forgot or didn’t understand something from the hectic first few days of induction. Of course they could (and still can) always email us or ask in person, but however approachable we are, some students will always be too shy, too overwhelmed, too frightened of being thought stupid, too busy or (let’s admit this) too lazy to do that. How much better is it if, at any point in the year, they can think “I’m sure I remember seeing something about that during Library induction” and revisit the LibGuide to refresh their memory? If we make sure that teachers know what has been covered, they could even direct their students there for support. In fact, having a LibGuide at all makes it much easier to let teachers and tutors know exactly what has been covered because we can direct them there themselves – they might even learn something they didn’t know about our service.