Learning at Liberty Middle School in Forsyth County, Georgia, begins with a focus on inquiry in its newly remodeled media center. Through a combination of school funds and the ingenuity of the instructional technology specialist, Kim Simshauser, the media center has been reimagined into a hub of digital age learning. In fact, Kim refers to the new space as “The 4C’s Café” in reference to the skills of collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking evident throughout the school. Students are welcomed into the media center to begin learning before the start of the school day.
School personnel and volunteer students act as baristas (much like Starbucks) and serve up hot chocolate, decaffeinated beverages, and instructional advice while students browse the book collection, use their personal technology tools for research, study individually or in groups, or watch the news being streamed over two monitors. Kim notes that since the changes have been made that the learning environment is being used more than ever by teachers and students, and now the media center is packed with activity from morning until the end of the day.
The classrooms at Liberty Middle School also support inquiry through guiding questions and learning projects that are facilitated by the students’ personal technology tools. Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) has been implemented school wide. Students are encouraged to bring their own devices to school, or they may use the school’s technology resources to develop their digital age skills. Principal Connie Stovall provides a scaffold for this emphasis on inquiry by working with her staff and students to develop an inquiry-based team or iTeam. The teachers and students in this seventh grade team applied to participate as trailblazers in the school’s inquiry initiative. They work with each other, their students, and Kim Simshauser to plan lessons that empower the learners. The iTeam students realize that they have a big responsibility to be leaders throughout the school, and their teachers were recently named Team of the Year by the Georgia Middle School Association. In the 2013-2014 school year, the seventh grade team will loop with their students to eighth grade, and new sixth and seventh grade iTeams will be added. The eventual goal is to implement inquiry-based teams throughout the school.
Teachers and students at Liberty Middle School discover that inquiry can be more easily facilitated when students bring their own technology tools to school. Guiding questions can lead to in-depth research, and students can explore new ways to show what they have learned about a topic. These explorations surpass typical standards-based performance tasks and content. They become authentic representations of real-world problems in context. One goal of inquiry is to lead to more questions that become even more relevant to students as they become interested and passionate about a subject.
Here are some additional links and resources related to inquiry-based learning: