Guided Inquiry – ongoing thoughts

On nswtl listserv this week, some teacher librarians raised the question of “Creative Commons” sections of photo gallery sites, such as Flickr and Google Images, and how they are usually blocked to our students by the DEC firewall because there’s simply no way to police the images and ensure that students won’t be exposed to unsavoury images during a lesson. I’d already been milling some ideas in my head and thought I’d transfer them to here as well.

It’s important to keep child protection in mind with ICT. Parents will not tolerate students discovering inappropriate digital images during lesson time, and an open search through Creative Commons may well bring that situation to a head. And too often. My interpretation of “responsible downloading” of images in the K-6 environment is: I use Flickr and Google Image sites with K-6 students to model the search on the IWB, or to a small group clustered around a monitor screen, and we search under my teacher-level username and password. Preferably, I test the searches beforehand.

Even then, I once had a class of Stage 1s discover, during an innocent (and pre-tested) image search on “cats”, an unexpected photograph of a startled cat pencil-sharper, with a pencil in its bottom. It caused great hilarity on the day, but it was a reminder that even a well-rehearsed search can go wrong – because new images are added to Flickr and Google Images every minute of the day. And my search-gone-wrong could have been so much worse.

Guided Inquiry (ie. Ross J Todd & Carol Kuhlthau) would say that any assignment which leaves students no option but to breach copyright is a poorly developed assignment in the first place. Not too much deep knowledge will be evident in a student’s supposedly-original production that features only cut ‘n’ paste text from websites and/or stolen, uncredited images from Google. The situation really isn’t that different since hideous “projects on cardboard” were invented way back in the 60s? (Earlier?) In those days, students used to cut images out of the school’s encyclopedias – and then photocopiers were invented and suddenly students were able to colour over b/w images they stole and somehow make it all better.

If the research question is designed correctly, it can’t be answered by stock text and images. The researched material also needs to be marked and approved by the teacher before final products are created, by which time any plagiarism opportunities should have been eliminated or made redundant (or avoided in the first place).

The students who tend to use the Internet responsibly aren’t likely to plagiarise unless their assignments stymie them into doing so. I’m deep into Guided Inquiry with Stages 2 and 3 at the moment and, as their storyboards and oral presentations take shape, there won’t be anyone feeling the need to steal other people’s information. If anyone does decide they need a particular existing image, then we’ll do a modelled search and find the right one in Creative Commons – under my username and password.

It’s hard going, but it’s working! Guided Inquiry Endangered animals (Stage 3 science & technology).

iInquire… iLearn… iCreate… iShare


A good news story in an attempt to counterbalance all the negative dragon-lady news articles (Sydney Morning Herald; The Age) today:

In the current “Scan”:
“iInquire… iLearn… iCreate… iShare: Stage 1 students create digital stories” in Scan 30(2) May 2011, pp 4-5.
Stage 1 students narrate how they inquire, learn, create and share with ICT and Web 2.0 to produce online Photo Peach slideshows at Penrith Public School.

Many thanks to “Scan” editor Cath Keane. It looks great! Our students are going to be thrilled! And I look terrible in a twin-set & pearls anyway.

UPDATE: This afternoon, I returned to the library briefly after a staff meeting – and there was an urgent email telling me that ABC 702 radio commentator, Richard Glover, was seeking listeners to phone in and explain why they broke a stereotype. This segment was in response to the aforementioned newspaper articles about angry dragon-lady librarians in horn-rimmed glasses, cardigans, pearls and hair in buns. The suggestion was that I ring in myself, to explain that I broke that stereotype. I was sure I’d missed my chance, due to the meeting, but I did ring in and was put to air a few minutes later.

The call ended rather abruptly – no goodbye and thanks – so they must have only been after very brief sound bytes, like the ones I heard them playing while I was awaiting my turn. I wasn’t sure if they were wanted me for something meatier. I only hope I made some sense; it was all so fast. 15 seconds of fame, if that.

The new era of “sound byte” reporting, solidly with us these past few years, is certainly one of our biggest hurdles in getting a complex message (such as the points raised by the recent Parliamentary Enquiry) across – in any media.

What bonus?

It’s been announced that the Federal Government intend to pay bonuses for “the best teachers”. An article has appeared on the ABC website.

When Julia Gillard first floated the idea of new bonuses for teachers of students who’d performed well in NAPLAN, we sort of imagined it would be the school as a whole that benefited, not individual teachers. Our school has worked really hard on literacy and numeracy in recent years; according to NAPLAN, our Year 5 students started low in Year 3 and didn’t necessarily finish high in Year 5, but their improvement from Year 3 to Year 5 was phenomenal. But… who did the “value-adding” of these students anyway? Was it the Year 5 teachers in the first few months of last year, the Year 4 teachers between tests in 2009, or the Year 3 teachers in the last semester of 2008? Who gets paid if a (totally theoretical) teacher was on long service leave, or extended sick leave for the duration of the lead-up to the second NAPLAN test? The talented casual who has long since gone?

What if it was actually our incredibly hardworking STLD, ESL, and Reading Recovery teachers? Or do we, instead, salute our Principal’s leadership? The class teacher who set up a new literacy program and ended up seconded to a DET, now DEC, Priority Schools Program position? The assistant principal who set up a database to track students? The assistant principal who ran the student welfare program? Or our team of “early intervention” parent volunteers and Aboriginal community liaison, who spend hours with little magnetic letters on baking trays, working 1:1 with needy K-3 students? Or our hardworking but very modest teacher-librarian?

Maybe – gasp! – it was all of us: K-6 teachers, support staff, school executive, P&C, volunteers, canteen assistants, general assistant, clerical staff, cleaning staff…, all working together like a sometimes-well-oiled team?

It seems that some of that team is destined to miss out big time. Especially since the new bonus scheme is supposedly three years away. Equity in education?

Waiting for the other tentacle to drop

Tree Octopus website website

If you’ve never used this website with students, please have a go when next studying endangered animals or persuasive texts. I had a great science and technology lesson about The Endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus with Stage 3 today.

In preceding weeks, the students had already viewed selected Youtube video clips of rainforest animals, “The Dodo” episode of the TV program “Extinct”, and an array of fiction and non fiction books about endangered animals. We had already discussed concepts such as authority, reliability and publishing dates of the books and clips. Today, in groups, they were asked to explore the Tree Octopus site, reporting on ways the web composer had used persuasive images, design features and text.

For a disturbingly long time, no one questioned the factual content, authority or reliability of the site. It took some students a full 45 minutes to realise they were being fooled by a bogus website. A few remained confident right to the end. Some great dialogue ensued and I know this will be a memorable, cautionary experience which will support their ongoing research in the weeks to come!

Animals of the rainforest (and beyond)

Our school’s Stage 3 students are about to commence a Guided Inquiry HSIE/S&T unit on endangered animals that goes beyond their in-class work on rainforests, and I’ve been searching for WebQuests that we can adapt to suit our first attempt at Guided Inquiry. Yesterday, I set up a new Edublogs site, in which the five classes will share their findings.

So far, in my quest to find a suitable WebQuest, I’m more impressed with the one at, although I need to get some additional “deep thinking” potential into it. However, the site has already led me to some interesting and probably very useful Youtube video clips:

Rainforest animals

Wildlife of the Amazon rainforest (

Rainforest animals and plant life in the rainforest

This one, “The *original* rainforest rap“, does not permit embedding.

These clips should also be useful:

The rain forest song

Save the rainforests

Destination 2011: Guided inquiry

I’m off tomorrow to a teacher-librarians’ seminar on “Guided Inquiry”, presented by Dr Ross J Todd!

Teacher-librarian Lee FitzGerald, a former editor of “Scan”, is also presenting and last time I heard of her experiences trialling “Guided Inquiry” under Ross’s guidance, I went back to my school and made a point of recording more often student pre-test and post-test results and tracking the emotional side of my students’ self-evaluations, thus gaining very solid statements of the students’ analyses of their learning, in their own words.

Powerful stuff! The Kinder students who were part of a wiki project in 2007 still talk about those experiences to this day, and the Stage 3 students who did a bushrangers WebQuest in 2008, and recorded their learning on a blog, are being represented in a text book very soon!

Both of those successes occurred without the benefit of now seemingly-indispensable elements such as IWBs and the Connected Classroom. Looking forward to tackling the next stage!


Ross Todd
Ross J Todd presents the election speeches of
Obama and Cheney… as Wordles

Sustaining interest!

A small class of Hearing Support students at my school joined the Learning for sustainability rap today. The boys are very excited about rapping and hope there will be other classes, from around Australia, joining the rap (“Welcome aboard, too, Canterbury PS!”). This afternoon, we got a whole lesson out of deconstructing the official “Year of Sustainability” logo. Our other Stage 3 students are deep into a “Gold” unit this term, but I went in search of a keen group to have a blogging experience. Thanks Mrs Coote and SCHC.

Sustainability logo

Hosted by the NSW DET’s School Libraries and Information Literacy Unit, this rap is aimed at Stage 3 and Stage 4 students. 2010 is the Year of Learning for Sustainability. We hope to share and learn from others about ways of living more sustainably. Teaching resources are available for downloading at:

and the first rap introductions can be found by clicking on “Task 1” at:

Even if you don’t join the rap, I hope you take some opportunities to follow its progress throughout the rest of the term. Rapping is a great way to incorporate ICT and Web 2.0 into CPPT, T&L, S&T and HSIE (to toss around a few abbreviations).

Thanks Lizzie Chase (at School Libraries and Information Literacy Unit, Ryde State Office) for this great learning & teaching activity.

School librarians shelved by the ‘Net?

I had some good belly laughs from Network Ten’s 7pm Project‘s presentation on teacher-librarians on Friday night. The pithy segment covered the forthcoming government inquiry into Australian school libraries and the roles of teacher-librarians. As always with this kind of TV news satire, when you’re close to the issue it can be hard to see the humour, ie. knowing that some teacher-librarians have felt under fire from a naive principal, or shortsighted Departmental or political decision-making, for many years.

I hope this inquiry into the state of teacher-librarianship has positive results for all stakeholders across Australia, especially the students. NSW conditions are certainly better than in many interstate school libraries; too often, when “equity” comes into a controversial issue, we all end up with less in order to be seen to be equitable. My school’s brand new “stimulus package” library starts being built this week – our local community really hopes I’m still there to work in it when it’s finished. What’s been interesting is that we’ve been without an actual physical collection (and a venue for centralized library visits) for two months now – and yet I’m still doing cooperative planning, programming and teaching, and promoting recreational reading, going from door-to-door. My influence on all class programs is as strong as ever. The TL role is so much more than a school’s information collection, be it shelves of books or a web of Internet sites.

As James Henri rightly says on the 7pm Project‘s web page, “Information is information. Packaging is just packaging”. With the Internet, everybody gets to be their own publisher and having “experts to manage what information is required by whom and when” has never been more important. Someone needs to be showing the students (and the teachers) how to navigate the virtual information overload. I’m not sure I want to evolve into one of those IT guys whom Carrie Bickmore loathes. Teacher-librarianship is so much more (although there’s plenty of IT blood running in our veins; has been for years!).

These principals who supposedly imagine a fully electronic, futuristic school library with no books – and no trained TLs to manage that info – are really going to be in trouble when there’s a power blackout. Or when their child or grandchild wants one last picture book to be shared before bed.

I did try to leave a comment on the 7pm Project‘s web page, but some IT guy’s message was telling me I was “undefined”.

The roll of the die for Stage 3

As noted in my recent post about the culminating activity for Stage 2’s science & technology unit, Bloom’s (Revised) Taxonomy now puts “Creation” above “Evaluation” (as seen in this revised diagram). In the race to the end-of-term activities, this last step can sometimes be easily overlooked, but I was determined to get to this point with both units – and we were successful!

For the culmination of this term’s work with the Stage 3 students – we’ve been studying Antarctic explorers in HSIE (human society & its environment) – I devised a journal-writing activity that relied upon the roll of a six-sided die (ie. numerals 1 to 6) to suggest each new diary entry for our student “explorers”. The students were hopefully able to be creative, while using all the essential field knowledge and skills developed by the unit.

The displayed key to the die was as follows:
1. Team member lost down crevasse
2. Dogs are hungry
3. Frostbite!
4. Sled stuck to ice
5. Clothes wet and frozen
6. Blizzard!

Each student was handed a worksheet with headings for Day 1, Day 5, Day 8, Day 10 and Day 14 (and room for more if the journalist/explorers decided they wanted to keep adventuring and create more entries, or had actually “survived” to make such a decision). Students could elect to be their team’s leader or the member in charge of documenting their expedition for posterity.

It was decided that the first roll would be common for each student in a class, with all future rolls individual to a student as they were ready to write their next entries. One group of explorers, 6D, rolled the dire “Team member lost down crevasse” option for Day 1. 5B began their expedition with the threat of “Frostbite”. 6W got off to a slow start, meeting a “Blizzard!” on Day 1. The teacher and teacher-librarian then made their way around the room, rolling the fates of the explorers for the rest of their journal entries.

It was certainly a fun activity! All three classes were engrossed, and there was a flurry of insightful observations and good use of field knowledge. As the individual journals took on their unique twists and turns, the students began to realise how much they were at the mercy of the elements (and Lady Luck) in the harsh Antarctic environment. Losing team members down crevasses, and having to put their personal reactions into a such short diary entry was often quite confronting, especially if the journal might be the only way that news would get back to loved ones.

Not to trivialise the trials of genuine explorers, there were still a few examples of an ironic, begrudging hilarity, as one student began an incredulous string of bad luck with “Frostbite!”. Another was snowed in by a raging “Blizzard!” for much of his diary (“I paid $30,000 to sail to Antarctica and I’m stuck here in my tent!”) Another student learned of the dangers of ignoring ravenously hungry sled dogs the hard way.

Stage 3 students can often be quite jaded about aspects of their learning, but it was a pleasant surprise today hearing one group, whose teacher had been absent for the simulation game, excitedly remember the highlights of last week’s lesson. Roll on our next term’s (complementary) unit: “Wild Weather and Natural Disasters” for science & technology.

The students write:

Day 1 and we’ve lost a team member. Everyone is sad and nobody wants to talk. We had a quiet dinner and then went straight to bed. Nothing special happened. Just quietness. Captain wrote a letter to his wife. He cried quietly while he did this. We hope it never happens again.”

Day 10: My sled is stuck against the ice again and again. I have an idea! We will unpack some of our equipment and put it into the backpacks…”

Day 5: Today there is a raging blizzard and it is worse than any of us could have imagined. It is freezing cold and we can’t see anything in front of us. I think we will have to stay inside our shelter.”