It started with a post-it. As I wandered about the room filling out my literature discussion rubrics one of my students rushed up to me and said, “Can I get my iPad because there’s this thing and we need to look at it because it doesn’t make sense.” I wasn’t sure I knew what she was talking about but I said yes and went back to what I was doing.
A few minutes later I wandered over to check in on the group and see what they were researching. I was a bit surprised to see that they had googled “history of the piano.” Their book was about Benjamin Franklin.
“I mean did he invent the piano? That was one of my questions that I wrote down.”
“Yeah I had that question too because I didn’t understand why the Piano was on the timeline of his life. I mean they didn’t say anything about a piano in the book.”
I leaned over to view the image and sure enough, there on the timeline of Franklin’s life was a note about when the piano was invented. Huh? So I began to probe.
“Did it say anything about pianos in the book? Did he play the piano? Did he invent the piano?”
No. No. and No.
In fact, the students pointed out that the piano was invented a mere three years after Franklin was born. They continued their search for a few minutes but found nothing informative and began to grow restless. I began to get excited and whipped out my iPhone to take some footage of their process. (Which I’ll probably show at NCTE if you’re there.)
“Maybe we could ask that other group because they also read a book about Benjamin Franklin?”
The group grabbed their books and iPads and excitedly approached the other group of students and explained the situation. The other group hypothesized that because he invented a different instrument that was similar to the piano, maybe the piano influenced him and that’s why it was important. But still, no answers and my students wanted answers.
Around this time they realized I was taping with my phone and turned their attention to waving at the camera. But one student said,
“Maybe we can do an inquiry project on this?” Will you give us time next week?”
Will I give you time? You betcha!
So what made this possible? What made this happen? In my mind it’s a combination of factors.
- Prior Experience: Students in our school are given experiences and opportunities to generate questions and research them. They do this in all subjects and in big and small ways.
- Intriguing Text: Although I originally thought the kids would be loathe to read biographies for their first book club, they were actually really interested. That one image was ambiguous and confusing and a natural trigger for questions.
- Classroom Community: This group naturally fell into roles, some looking back in the text, some doing research. They worked together and they built on each others ideas and thinking. This is a result of a sense of community and collaboration which I teach. However, I also know their prior teachers also teach this and it has a cumulative effect over time.
- A Place of Questioning: Children are curios creatures. Somehow school has a way of breaking that curiosity. I do my best to encourage it. I think it’s working!