One of the many things I really value about my classroom colleagues across all year groups at Blanchelande is their willingness to engage with inquiry, even if they aren’t quite sure how it might work in their subject yet, to seek (and take) advice and to make small changes that make all the difference. It can take a lot of professional confidence for a teacher to open up their classroom (and schemes of work) to a librarian, but genuine collaboration is so powerful and the children always benefit from it.
At the end of last school year, the primary Geography specialist approached me about building one inquiry unit into her Geography teaching this year as a ‘starter’ for building more inquiry into her teaching across a range of different year groups. She had decided to start with Y5, and had identified the volcanoes unit in the September-December term as a good place to start. In discussion we decided on the question “Would you want to live near a volcano?”, which over time changed into “Which of these (named) volcanoes would you prefer to live near?”. Although fairly standard GCSE (Y10-11, Grade 9-10) questions, we decided they would be fresh and engaging for Y5 with enough information available at a suitable level to get them started.
After a busy start to the term, the teacher contacted me again this week, and she has kindly agreed to allow me to reproduce our exchange here. As a school we are trying to empower teachers to design their own inquiries (with whatever support they feel they need from us), because this is the best way to embed inquiry into the curriculum. If we try to run every inquiry between the two of us it will massively limit what is possible in our Reception-Y13 (Pre-K-12) school, as well as disempowering our talented classroom colleagues to feel that inquiry is a ‘library thing’ which they aren’t qualified to have a go at themselves. It is a journey for us as a school and for individual teachers, and we are using a combination of whole school INSET alongside working closely with individual teachers to get them started to cascade the inquiry expertise through the staff. There will always be a place for us, but we can’t do everything (in the same way as there is always a very important place for the teacher in the classroom, but they can’t learn everything for their students!). One step along the way was creating this guide to the FOSIL group site for our staff (Word , PDF ):
I do need to clean that up a bit and post it in FAQs here on the site as a quickstart guide!
The teacher had been through the guide and had a look around on this site, but hadn’t quite found what she needed and wanted a bit of help to get started. I will post an edited version of our exchange below in case it is of use to others starting this journey (and because it is a helpful part of our school collective memory – posting on these forums is such an important part of recording our personal and school journey to revisit in furture years, and I hope others feel the same).
Hope you are enjoying half term and so sorry to e-mail in a holiday. I am stumbling a bit with the masses of information for a Year 5 FOSIL Inquiry. We spoke about the initial question and I have taken time to look through the resources on the website, …[and this is] where I am so far….We have covered about 3 lessons as the first couple of lessons are atlas based.
KWL sheet to introduce topic.
structure of the earth
features of a volcano
I am aware that there are very few lessons left before Christmas and the following still needs to be covered.
What happens at the boundaries between the Earth’s plates?
Locate a range of famous volcanoes and find out some key facts, including when the volcanoes last erupted.
What happens when a volcano erupts?
Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of living near a volcano.
My question to you is, if I teach for another couple of weeks and cover number 1 – 3, could number 4 be a mini inquiry of just two weeks. After finding out about a range of famous volcanos I could ask the question ‘If you had to choose a volcano to live by, which would it be?’ They would only be able to choose from the ones tudies: Mauna Loa, Etna, St Helens, Vesuvius, Popocatepetyl. I was thinking they could feed back their findings verbally as this will save time. I’m still not convinced there will be enough time to do it properly. I think next year I will have to start the topic at the start of term and give it longer than the usual 6 weeks. Any thoughts or suggestions will be gratefully received.
You could – but it would be a shame to separate the last little bit from the rest of the topic. An inquiry will often involve a taught element as part of Connect, so there is no need to separate your taught element out from the rest of the inquiry, and the degree to which you provide curated resources for them to work from is up to you. Do they all need to know each volcano in the same detail? Could small groups each do one and then report back to the rest of the class? How about something like this? You could build 10 minutes into the end of each lesson for them to think about what they are going to report back and who is going to do it.Week 1:
Connect & Wonder (15-20 min): Why do people live near volcanoes? Perhaps show something like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1vOdnDqY8E that gives a contrast for the impact of the Hawaii eruptions (which were inconvenient but to some extent a tourist show) with one in Indonesia, which was more deadly. It’s really short and gives a real sense of the downside of living near a volcano. Could use a volcanic eruption drill video like this one insetad:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-w_z9yobpE
Discussion: For this age group maybe encourage 5Ws + H questions
e.g. What is a volcano? What is the land around volcanoes like?
Where do volcanoes form? (will lead into your teaching on plate boundaries)
Who lives near volcanoes? Who can tell if a volcano is going to erupt?
Why do people live near volcanoes? Why do volcanoes erupt?
When do volcanoes erupt? How much warning do we get?
How do we know if a volcano is going to erupt?
Probably quickest to do this as a class exercise and gather class questions on a poster or board to display throughout the topic.
Connect: Recap taught work on features of volcanoes from before HT and finish your taught element by looking at what happens at the boundaries of the earth’s plates.
Investigate 1:Key facts about famous volcanoes. Case studies on Mauna Loa, Etna, St Helens, Vesuvius, Popocatepetyl. Could either do this as a taught segment or use videos and print resources for them to work in small groups to gather information in ‘key facts’ tables about a specific volcano. Can each group do a separate volcano and report back at the end?
Week 3: (or could do as part of week 2 if you’re really pushed?)
Investigate 2: What happens when a volcano erupts? Group teaching about how volcanic eruption happens and the different potential effects, followed by chance to explore own volcano as a group. Look at impacts of the eruptions of your famous volcanoes. What happened physically (lava flow, mud, ash, dangerous gases)? How many people died or were displaced? How long did it take before people could come back?
Investigate 3: Why do people live near volcanoes? Perhaps introduce with a video resource like this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjswavT5tfQ (Inspire education) or this one (Why live near a volcano? DGS Geography (2013)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5O9JRDfCGiY). They then need to investigate the advantages of the different volcanoes you have chosen. Depending on ability, you could make a list of the advantages together and then give them some pictures of the different volcanoes and maybe some brief snippets of text or pictures for them to rate the different volcanoes in the different ‘advantages’ areas (e.g. IS there a lot of farming around that volcano? IS there mineral mining? IS it a tourist attraction?).
Report back to the class about their own group’s volcano. Use the sheets the groups have filled in in previous lessons to feed back – no need to make a poster – but might want to choose some photos as visual aids. Give the whole class a ‘rating’ sheet with different criteria to decide how much they want to live near each volcano and vote on a winner at the end. Be clear that they are rating the features of the volcano not the quality of the presentation!
It may be that you don’t think that will work – it would require some books or fact sheets each lesson on each volcano for them to work from as I’m assuming you aren’t going to be in the IT room (and at this age that would probably be a distraction anyway). If you want help designing some simple FOSIL sheets for them to gather their ideas on at each Investigate stage I could probably help with that. Do you already have some case study material on the different volcanoes (maybe even in their textbooks?) that you were planning to work with? Hope that helps. Ignore me if I am overcomplicating things!
You are an absolute life saver. Thank you so much for taking the time to think this through and come up with YouTube links etc. Sometimes it is very difficult to think outside the box when you have been teaching the same content for a number of years. The sequence of teaching you have suggested sounds perfect. I didn’t realise that the ‘connect’ part involves taught content, so that will work well. The children don’t need to learn about each one in detail. A mapping activity to locate them is all that is needed. I have some fact file sheets (p46 – 50 in the Volcano resource pack) I usually use for a scavenger hunt activity. I could print those off with some other photographs and information sheets. We do have access to the ICT room for both lessons, but as you say it can take them longer due to distractions. As far as a sheet to gather their ideas goes, it would be great to have a simple one to use. I’ll leave you in peace now. At least I now have a plan of action! Enjoy the rest of the holiday.
I will update this topic when we have created some of the additional resources, and once we see how the inquiry goes. In the meantime, huge thanks to the teacher who kindly allowed me to post this exchange here – and very graciously said she had had a look around the forums for something that would help with this particular inquiry and not found it, so would be happy to provide a thread that might be useful to others in the same boat.
I have enjoyed reading your planning conversation from my perch in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, because I am thinking about some of the same questions about teaching and learning through inquiry. First, I wanted to say how much I appreciated the guiding question for the whole unit – Why do people live near volcanoes? That question lifts the whole experience from fact-finding to constructing personal meaning from facts and ideas. You will engage students in understanding the people and context of the area around volcanoes and forming evidence-based opinions. That’s powerful.
I was thinking that one possible way to deepen students’ understanding of the impact of living near a volcano would be to let them choose a role in pursuing their investigations – reporter, government official, survivor/local resident. You can probably find short accounts from each of these perspectives. I would think the answer to the question about why people live near volcanoes would differ depending on the point of view and that would further personalize and deepen the students’ understanding about volcanoes.
I wish I could be there to see the students’ engagement in this interesting inquiry investigation. Thanks for sharing.