This inquiry was one of the first to be collaboratively developed between the Library and an academic department using the FOSIL framework. Beginning in October 2016, it represents an early attempt at stepping pupils through the whole FOSIL Cycle using a structured approach whilst allowing pupils to “learn by finding out for themselves”. Now in its fourth year the project and teaching approaches have been refined considerably, but importantly the content never taught explicitly using traditional methods. Summative assessment across these years has shown that pupils’ knowledge and understanding are at least as good as from any other topic in the Computer Science curriculum.
The question pupils set out to answer is, ” Is my brain a computer?” – this has changed very little over the years, only being refined as we have become more aware of how to write good inquiry questions. The approach taken to guiding pupils through the inquiry was defined by an awareness of the early stage at which it was being introduced to pupils. Thus the scheme of work needed to encompass curriculum content and the FOSIL stages, and so these quickly became twinned objectives.
The primary objective was for pupils to learn about Computer Hardware, particularly how electronic devices are categorised. Due to the ever-evolving nature of the topic we wanted to enable pupils to learn this through inquiry to equip them with important skills for a continued Computer Science journey. Therefore, the other objective of this inquiry project became “for pupils to become familiar with the process of learning by finding out for themselves and should be introduced to the scholarly resources at their disposal; i.e., books, subscription databases, online resources. The school’s FOSIL framework should be used as the structure underpinning their learning”.
The Computer Science department were very aware that at this stage, pupils would not be familiar with the FOSIL Cycle and so would need explicit teaching of the process; they would need to be shown what each stage involved if they were to acquire the skills to be able to use it again and again with less and less assistance. References are therefore made, in the scheme of work, to teacher-directed “WONDERing”. It is crucial for teachers to realise that by nature a controlled inquiry needs these stages to be teacher-directed: breaking down what they need to know in order to answer the bigger question into smaller questions that they can try to find answers to during the INVESTIGATE stage.
This inquiry was also used as a way of introducing pupils to ways of presenting academic work which adhere to the school’s Style Guide, thus providing them with a skill that is applicable across the school – and including many of the IT-dependent skills contained within the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum (upon which FOSIL is based).
Appendix B (attached) of this scheme of work is an early example of an investigation template for pupils to complete, which has since been developed for use throughout school. Although the layout may have changed and colours of the relevant stages added, the importance of getting pupils to think about what they have learned and how that has helped them build understanding (and the fact that if they don’t yet understand, perhaps they should keep searching) were key from the outset.
While the inquiry has been refined each year since it was introduced, this year it will be revised with the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) in mind. As such, this Topic will chart the next important steps in our journey with FOSIL and how it relates to the MYP.
As this inquiry was one of the first that we planned with teachers in school, it is one we have been attempting to resource for the longest. An important part of the INVESTIGATE stage when designing an inquiry is being able to provide pupils with material in different formats from a variety of media which is age-appropriate. This is actually a much harder task than it first appears, especially for a subject like Computer Science where the majority of print resources published have either a slightly younger audience in mind – who need little more than the basics of what things are – or are aimed at a more advanced, much more detailed readership. Online material also tends to be targeted at this audience. In order to try to address this gap in resources, we have been trying, with varying degrees of success, to identify relevant pages from a whole range of Computing books to direct pupils to. Scanning pages would have the advantage of allowing a number of pupils to access the same material at a time but copyright implications have to be factored in and this is what we are currently investigating. It would also be very dependent on scan quality. If anyone has any advice to offer on resourcing topics such as this for this age group, I would be very grateful for it.
In response to teacher reflection of the learning process offered to pupils and their ability to find and interpret information on this topic the Computer Science and Library departments have again collaborated to create a new inquiry for Year 7.
Over many cycles of this inquiry the teachers of the Computer Science department have noted an over-reliance upon web-based sources for this task during the investigation phase. Indeed the teachers themselves have struggled to find viable books or subscription database articles which are accessible to students of this age. Even the vast quantity of information on the web tended toward the higher reading abilities. We strongly desired to change this by having an inquiry question which could be answered by collating information from a good mixture of sources.
In the creation of a new inquiry task we started by first examining the scheme of work and what we wanted students to learn. With that clearly in our minds we gathered as many books and articles that we could find for as many reading ages as possible. With photocopies of the relevant sections from these sources strewn across a meeting table we gradually curated a good resource pack which contained enough factual information at a variety of reading ages to give students a good starting position. I note that the aim here was to increase accessibility and the variety of sources used, but that we were also very careful to leave enough scope for students’ own original investigation.
With a carefully curated resource pack now in hand we began to work on the phrasing of the inquiry question. We started with ‘Is my washing machine a computer?’. Our aim behind this question was for students to have something familiar to connect with that would lead them to examine the computer hardware components that made up the computer definition. However, I was not particularly happy with this as it lacked excitement and scope for further investigation. My colleagues at the library helped me to rephrase the question to ‘Are there hidden computers in my home?’. Here we opened up the scope of investigation, but lost the familiar thing – the washing machine – to connect with. In order to retain that we instead included the washing machine as a directed example in the connect and wonder phases of the cycle, an example of how the teacher remains in control of the learning during an inquiry project.
You can find the project journal created for this inquiry here.