‘Interesting times’ have led us all to have to adapt, and the Year 7 history curriculum is no different. Summer Term 2020 should have seen a second iteration of the Black Death inquiry with Year 7 which would have allowed us to build upon the experiences of running it and learning through it once more. However, who wants to learn about the Black Death in the middle of a global pandemic?
Luckily, the historians in school had confidence enough in FOSIL and their understanding of it to take the structure of the Black Death inquiry, adapt the resources, add the sources and turn it into an inquiry based on how far everyone experienced a renaissance during what is known as ‘The Renaissance’. Not only that, but this was delivered entirely through remote learning with pupils in their homes around the world, mostly taking part in synchronous lessons led by the teacher, but not entirely due to time-zone difficulties for a number of pupils. In these cases, the lessons and material had to be accessible – both in terms of availability of material and in terms of understanding the content – to pupils working through the inquiry mostly on their own.
Feedback on the work produced by the pupils has been extremely positive, with teachers being impressed by the standard of the work submitted – even when measured against exacting MYP assessment criteria – and with the way their pupils engaged in the inquiry remotely. While we hope not to have to return to whole-scale distance learning any time soon, this is a good example of how well suited inquiry is to learning in this way – although it does require a level of support, preparation and organisation beyond that required for classroom delivery. Perhaps we had better get started on planning ahead to deliver other inquiries remotely after all!
Having now started to work my way through this inquiry, it is a remarkable achievement on the part of our colleagues in History and their pupils. I am hopeful that Susanna, who took the lead on this, might be able to find some time to reflect briefly on the design and inquiry process. I am also hopeful that we might soon be able to share the fantastic resources that Susanna created to support this inquiry.
Having spent some time working with Barbara Stripling on her Epistemology & Learning Memo – Learning to know and understand through inquiry – Seymour Papert’s assertion that the kind of knowledge that children most need is knowledge that will help them get more knowledge is fresh in my mind. Barbara picked up on this in her reflection on the foundational influence of John Dewey’s educational philosophy on her approach to learning through inquiry – from Dewey’s recognition of the need for both content and skills, she recognized that “skills must be integrated into the teaching of content to enable learners comprehend information and build knowledge”. This crucial balance – knowledge of the discipline’s content and knowledge of the inquiry process/ skills – is clear in the learning intentions statement for the first lesson in this inquiry (see below), and it will be highly instructive for us to consider the outworking of this more closely, for example, how this builds on existing knowledge of the FOSIL inquiry process and skills from the imminent Year 7 English Inquiry – Science Fictional Writing.