Tag Archives: inquiry-based approach

Robertson Program for Inquiry-Based Teaching in Math and Science

This past week I (Clare) met with the Robertson Foundation Program for Inquiry-Based Teaching in Math and Science. The program is housed at the Jackman Institute of Child Studies (JICS) and in short I was blown away with the work they are doing. The team includes: Bev Caswell, Jisoo Seo, Zach Pedersen,  Larissa Lam, Dr. Joan Moss, and Zack Hawes

Here is a short video of Dr. Bev Caswell talking about the program. https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=16&v=ROGrNfqI8_8

The purpose of the Robertson Program is to create, demonstrate, and disseminate ImageFamily-Math-Night-collageinquiry-based teaching models for mathematics and science by focusing on both teacher and student inquiry. The crux of inquiry-based learning is critical thinking- an essential skill for teachers, who strive to deepen students’ conceptual understanding of mathematics and science in authentic ways and for students, who choose to pursue academic and professional careers in the STEM professions (i.e., Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

One of their initiatives has been a collaboration with “Rainy River District School Board (RRDSB) schools and the First Nation communites they serve.  Family Math Nights were designed collaboratively with indigenous instructional leaders, First Nation educational counsellors, school board numeracy facilitators and the Robertson Program/Jackman ICS/OISE team. 

First Nation community members and RRDSB educators developed activities  – such as canoe symmetry, creating tangram clan animals, wigwam construction, exploring number patterns through Metis jigging – that raise awareness of concepts of geometry and measurement embedded in local cultural practices. As well, school board numeracy facitlitators and OISE team offered activities that reflect current research in spatial thinking – a strong predictor of overall math achievement.

This deeply collaborative and respectful approach to planning Family Math nights – designed under the leadership of First Nation communities in collaboration with the school board – highlights a model of success being used across the RRDSB.

Hosting a Family Math Night at your school is an opportunity to build and strengthen positive relationships among home, school and community. Not only that, children of all ages get a chance to see math as an inclusive, playful, engaging and accessible endeavour.”

For more info check out their website: http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/robertson/

But we already DO this at the Laboratory School: Learning from Leaders

Building on Clive’s post from yesterday I (yiola) want to extend the discussion on inquiry- based pedagogy and its many high-level thinking practices. Question posing, experiential learning, researching, sharing, collaborating, exploring, imagining, experimenting — these are but some of the qualities you will find in inquiry-based classrooms. Problem-based and play-based (some use the terms interchangeably) do too.  And, these are the practices that I see being used daily at the Laboratory School here in downtown Toronto. It is good practice. Students are empowered, responsible, creative thinkers. They are also happy when they learn. It is good to read then that the Finnish system is moving away from the subject oriented traditions of schooling into a more “topic” based or what we call “inquiry time” approach to learning.  It is what we’ve been doing at the laboratory school for a very long time.

Here is an article the speaks to Finland’s transition:


What I find interesting is that the countries out outperform the groundbreaking work of the Nordic country are countries I presume have a very different pedagogy. China — a country whose system is very subject driven, standardized,  and competitive in nature. Yes?

I find it interesting to contrast the 2 systems and to consider what the long-term projections will be for the students who exit out of each system.

I see students from our Laboratory school entering high school as creative, capable, high-level thinking individuals. Data shows that in the long term, the Laboratory school graduates go into creative and high performing fields in the arts, academia, public service and corporate sectors.

The article shares:

Welcome to Siltamaki primary school in Helsinki – a school with 240 seven- to 12-year-olds – which has embraced Finland’s new learning style. Its principal, Anne-Mari Jaatinen, explains the school’s philosophy: “We want the pupils to learn in a safe, happy, relaxed and inspired atmosphere.”

We come across children playing chess in a corridor and a game being played whereby children rush around the corridors collecting information about different parts of Africa. Ms Jaatinen describes what is going on as “joyful learning”. She wants more collaboration and communication between pupils to allow them to develop their creative thinking skills.

This is the work of the Laboratory School and more.  I look forward to hearing more about Finland’s transitions, the upcoming PISA rankings and to sharing in greater detail just how the Laboratory School here in Toronto is very much a leader in Inquiry-based teaching and learning.

A recently published article on the pedagogical nuances of one teacher’s critical literacy practice

In addition to the amazing work our research teams explore on literacy teacher educators and the longitudinal study of classroom teachers, I (Yiola) am interested in the pedagogical work of teachers. In particular, I am interested in teachers’  work related to critical literacy: What do teachers do? How do they do it? What challenges do they face? How do they overcome those challenges? Why do they choose to teach critical literacy?

I have spent many hours in classrooms observing teachers’ work to see first hand their practices. I have interviewed the teachers to hear first hand their perceptions and understandings of their work. From this research we have begun to share some of the findings.

In our article entitled:  An Inquiry-Based Approach to Critical Literacy: Pedagogical Nuances of a Second Grade Classroom  we share the details of second grade teacher Sarah’s practices during her “Selfology Project”. The Selfology Project is a literacy project that required students to explore their identities, histories, families while thinking about issues of race and equity.  How the teacher constructed critical literacy learning through an inquiry-based pedagogical framework is shared.  Below is the abstract for the article:

This case study explores the pedagogy and practices of an elementary school teacher who combines inquiry pedagogy and critical literacy. The authors gathered data for this analysis by conducting two interviews with a classroom teacher and observing classroom practices 12 times over a 6 month period. Through a general inductive approach to analysis, trends emerged that showed the classroom teacher used practices that combined traditional inquiry pedagogy for critical literacy development. This research provides insight into how this elementary teacher negotiated and connected inquiry to critical literacy. Furthermore, the findings can inform scholars and teacher educators of successful teaching strategies as they prepare future generations of elementary teachers.

For access to the article please go to: http://www.ajer.ca

Several elementary classrooms were observed over the course of one school year. I look forward to sharing more from this study soon.