unpacking a unit of inquiry

At our PYP Information Night we gave parents an opportunity to reflect on their learning from that evening.Just as we do with our students, reflection and feedback is a crucial element to constructing new meaning throughout our units. As we shared in last week’s post, many ah-ha’s as well as new wonderings came out from the event. In the classroom, teachers use these questions and statements as a way of assessing where students are at to address misconceptions or moving forward with new learning with a combination of direct instruction and inquiry, based on classroom and student needs.

Some of the new parent wonderings that came about after PYP Information Night was exactly HOW teachers made everything fit together:

Image (5)

That classrooms that educate our students today are far different from those that we were all used to growing up. We are preparing students for our future world. Life outside of the classroom isn’t departmentalized by content so in order to best prepare children for their futures, an IB school focuses on authentic learning that brings new perspectives and current issues within context (age and grade level appropriate standards and concepts).

The IB Curriculum framework, in addition to the Texas State Standards (TEKS) are embedded within each of the six Units of Inquiry.  I shared the model (see “How?” slide on Prezi) to give parents a visual of how teachers fit these two together in the presentation, but thought that showing an actual planner that one of grade level uses might help build community knowledge of HOW teachers make this all happen.

Below you will find the Who We Are planner for second grade, a Unit of Inquiry that is currently being taught in their classrooms. All teachers, grades k-5, use a Unit of Inquiry planner to drive their instruction over the course of their unit that typically lasts about six weeks.

Let’s break this down….


  1. You’ll see that under the Who We Are theme, second grade is focusing on the CENTRAL IDEA, Who we are involves many different roles. The central idea is a statement that guides overall instruction in the unit. It makes connections to several different content areas (transdisciplinary in nature) and is open-ended to promote questioning and inquiry among the students. This unit ties in organically with the beginning of the year as teachers and students are getting to know one another, setting up procedures and expectations as well as creating goals for the school year. The learning experiences span across all content areas, support the central idea. For example, in second grade students are exposed to different historical figures and how they impacted our community, state and country. Within their unit, second grade investigates Benjamin Franklin and Amelia Earhart as they dig deeper into unpacking the central idea. Image (6)

Students explored Benjamin Franklin in Ms. Gonzales’ class during reading workshop mini lessons as well as during whole class conversations about citizenship. A class chart was created together as students gathered new ideas.

2. The LINES OF INQUIRY are written to elicit more student questioning and deconstruct the central idea. Below you can see how one classroom connected science learning to one of their lines of inquiry:

Image (7)

Image (8)

Student ownership of learning by providing students time for questioning. These questions drive the unit and help provide feedback for teachers as they plan instruction each week. The example above is from another grade level but gives a great visual as to how teacher align the LINES of INQUIRY with student questioning. 

3. The KEY CONCEPTS are chosen to increase coherence across the curriculum. While students explored place value they were making CONNECTIONS to the different places (ones, tens, hundreds, etc.). Key concepts also drove the inquiry into the different historical figures (social studies) that the classes studied. After a series of activities including first and second hand sources coupled with discussions with the class, students reflected on Amelia Earhart and her RESPONSIBILITY as a citizen. Image (9)

4. The SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT assesses the student knowledge and understanding of the central idea. Based on their learning experiences, students interpret the central idea by completing the central idea. 2nd grade is wrapping up their Who We Are unit next week reflecting on learning and answering unanswered questions. Students will be “Creating a self reflection puzzle to demonstrate their understanding of who they are in different roles. This will help them develop goals for student led conferences and revisit at the end of the year to compare growth. These will be used at the spring conference.”

Image (10)This was completed by students when the unit was launched. Student self reflection puzzles might use this learning experience as a tool to reflect on their learning of Who We Are. 

At the end of each Unit of Inquiry, teachers meet together to discuss the learning that took place in the classroom, connections and questions students made and reflect on how they can improve their unit for the next year. Our teachers work hard at evaluating the effectiveness of the learning experiences so that they best meet the needs of out students.

With most of our first Units of Inquiry coming to a close I’m sure you’ll be seeing finished products and reflections lining our hallway bulletin boards. Be sure to ask your child about his or her learning and use the “What can I do at home?” informational flyer to see what other ways you can best support your child’s learning in the classroom.

2 thoughts on “unpacking a unit of inquiry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s