The front-end loading process is a winner.  Not only does it lead to richer discussion and more interesting questions it sparks interest and desire to learn more about the subject.  Whether this takes the form of searching for answers to specific questions or simply an interest in the topic in general, it is clear that my group is hooked.

We have a wonderful set of new animal books that are perfect for our 2s (thanks, Julie!) as they have vibrant and interesting photos paired with efficiently communicated written information.  Each page has between 1 and 3 sentences which not only hold(s) most readers’ attention, but keeps important points from getting lost amongst less interesting information.  This might not be a great thing at older grade levels as it is useful for students to learn to discern between big ideas and supporting ones, but at grade 2 the simplicity is preferable as this is one of the first times the kids will be asked to do formal research.

These animal books have been a huge hit during our silent reading times for the past week or so, despite that they were hiding at the back of the room as they were meant to be used for Science class, but I caught myself before I told the kids to put the books down and stop learning. 🙂  Kids have been keen to share facts and show photos from these new books, turning silent reading time into human popcorn as they get up and down from their seats to share their learning within the framework of what the knowledge that they have already acquired during the unit.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks has remained the relative lack of student created “big questions” other than “What makes something an animal?” which is a great one.  This has been an especially powerful question as the kids have generated potential ideas as to what might contribute to something being considered an animal.  It is also telltale that the students have picked up on little bits of information that either support or go against their theories.  One girl expressed great frustration to learn that sponges are considered animals despite the fact that they do not move (unless stuck to the back of something that moves) as this ruined her “all animals move” theory.  Given some of the complexities that exist around this question, I am leaning towards having the kids examine the “Why do animals look different” question (adaptations) with regard to a given animal or two as I think that it might be something that they can answer with more success.  In this regard we are guiding the question, but giving them choice about which animal(s) they choose and perhaps how they demonstrate their knowledge.  This differs from what Anne and Julie did with the older students (grade 3s) who had their “big questions” narrowed down to about 6 from which to choose one and answer in their projects.

Another idea is to have the class choose a small number of the interesting questions that they generated that we will explore as a class.  These questions are not necessarily “deep” questions, but are interesting none the less (e.g. Do worms eat?).  If I narrow down their questions to 5 or 6 of the most common/interesting the group could then come to an agreement about which 3 or 4 to explore as a class.

Personally, I have come upon at least two major realizations: One is that front-end loading is a great process for leading to rich discussion.  Another is that there needs to be a lot of scaffolding and guidance for our younger students to be succesful in a process such as inquiry based learning especially when exploring a vast subject.  Despite the removal of some choice for the students through the guidance discussed above the learning that has taken place has been very rich.