Professional Development Tool – Inquiry Circles


abeo school change This post originally appeared on Abeo School Change’s blog, an education design and implementation group that partners with schools and systems to make powerful learning a reality for every student. View Original >


Inquiry is a “buzz” word education, and thrown around often, but this it not because of bad intent. We really do want our students to engage in inquiry, but what does it look like? More importantly, how do we get educators to internalize the process. One of the best tools that teachers can use to not only internalize inquiry, but also DO inquiry on topics of their choice is the Inquiry Circle.

The Inquiry Circle replaces the “book club” or “book study” model with a more authentic and inquiry modeled process so there is voice and choice for teachers in terms of learning targets, but also a better understanding of inquiry. It is modeled after the PBL process as well. Here are the steps for an inquiry circle:

1) Craft a Driving Question: This question can either be created by administrators, or co-created with faculty and staff. Perhaps it is something like: “How do we make culturally responsive curriculum?” or “How do we create tasks in the classroom that truly make students college and career ready?” You can even have groups create their own questions and jigsaw the faculty and staff appropriately.

2) Entry Event: Engage participants in a intriguing video, provocative reading or similar. It can help to frame the future exploration and get participants excited about next steps.

3) Research Questions: Have teachers or groups of teachers generate questions they want to know about the topics. After generating, have them share out with other groups to help build transparency and interest.

4) Expert Groups: The DQ question is the big umbrella question of the Inquiry Circle model, but from the research questions, sub topics are formed. Have teachers choose into a subtopic group.

5) Product: How will each group share what they have learned by the end of the process. Give them a list of possible products and allow they the flexibility to choose how they are assessed and to pick a product that will be authentic and useful.

6) Facilitate Inquiry: After these initial steps, teachers must choose literature, books, and other resources to explore. Teachers will meet periodically over an extended period to share learning, engage in reading selections, and generate further questions to explore. Participants will need to find more resources and continually draft and revise their final product.

7) Present Products: After an appropriate amount of time, teachers should present their product to the entire faculty and staff. These presentations should be done by the whole expert group. Encourage creativity! Have the entire faculty, after seeing presentations, generate ideas for next steps and implementation.

In order to rethink how we use professional development time, we must have the tools to do it. The Inquiry Circle is one way to allow for collaboration, voice and choice, and focus in professional development that teachers need.

Get Your Game On: How to Build Curriculum Units Using the Video Game Model


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


In the last post I wrote, I explained many of the important in game-based learning unit. GBL continues to get national press. Game design company Valve is working on digital learning in partnership with the White House. Mashable just touted in a post that “Education needs to get its game on.” I couldn’t agree more!

I promised to give some tips on how to make one of the units in your teacher bag of tricks into a game-based unit. Before I move forward with that, I need to clarify a couple terms: game-based learning and “gamification.” Gamification is the process of applying game design principles into another field. Game-based learning is the process of using games to teach content, critical thinking, and other important outcomes. When you make a game-based learning unit, you are doing both. The entire unit, as well as the individual missions and boss levels, are gamified. They contain important principles of game design. In addition, the individual mission, quests or boss levels can be games themselves. So to summarize, what you are doing when you are creating a game-based learning unit you are not only apply overall principles of game design, but you are also using individual games.

In order to help you create your own unit, I’m going to be using an already proven effective unit by Quest to Learn from their website. So how do you start?

Begin with the End In Mind

No surprises here. You must use the Understanding By Design principles to effectively plan the GBL unit. Think about the enduring understands, learning targets, standards etc, that you want students to target and achieve by the end of the unit. GBL Units are often interdisciplinary, and target standards from a variety of subjects. For this unit the standards targeted and content knowledge are:

Social Studies

Interpret, analyze and evaluate different forms of evidence and determine which pieces are most convincing.
Apply evidence to support a theory of action (war, neutrality, or diplomacy), and understand how the choice of action affects systems.


Write and deliver a persuasive oral report in the format of a policy brief.
Use the writing process to develop and revise their writing.
Read, respond to, critique and discuss a variety of fiction and nonfiction texts.

Digital Media

Select an appropriate tool for research and presentation.


Specific historic events that help us understand why Athens and Sparta developed uniquely different cultures within the same area during the same time period (e.g., Messenian Wars, Peisistratos grants rights to the poor, Thermopylae, Salamis, etc.).
The advantages and disadvantages of all the 3 resolution strategies (War, Diplomacy, Neutrality).
How to synthesize key information about the daily life, social and political organization, culture, religious beliefs, economic systems, use of land and resources, development of science and technology of Ancient Greece.

In addition, making sure to create a driving question that summarizes the game and its purpose or include essential questions. They list essential questions such as “How do the actions of one society impact other societies?” and “How can a system function within a larger system?” For a DQ I would suggest “How can we convince the Spartan Council of Elders the best course of action to take?” or something related to the objective and purpose. This leads to the next step.

Brainstorm a Rigorous Scenario

This could be your “boss level.” Your boss level needs to require students to synthesize the content they will learn from the other quests without the unit. In this case, the students will be presenting to a council of elders about war strategies that will be beneficial to Sparta. They will work in teams to critically think and collaborate as they gather evidence, consider different points of view, and ultimately come up with the best possible answer in a fictitious scenario. You will see major similarities here to PBL, but the difference here is that there is a focus on a scenario rather than an authentic current situation. This scenario is the major summative assessment, and as you can see will show that the standards and content have been learned. As you come up with this scenario, you may add or remove standards to meet the needs of the “boss level.” This scenario is also the whole frame of the unit, where all quests fit within the structure and theme.

Design Quests

Consider these quests your individual lessons and learning activities, some that you already have, some that you may need to create, some that you may need to steal! (Remember, it’s ok to steal.) Look at the skills, content and standards to craft quests to arm students with what they will need to be successful for the boss level. In these quests, you may have some modeling, direct instruction and other teacher driven activities, but make sure think outside the box in terms of what the goal of the quest could be. Yes, the major objective is to accomplish learning, but what is the more game-based learning goal? In one of their core documents about their work with Quest to Learn, the Institute of Play articulates the plethora of quests you could create as a teacher. These include:

Collect Quest Goal is to collect/harvest x resources.
Puzzle Quest Goal is to solve a problem (might also be called a Code Cracker Quest).
Share Quest Goal is to share x resources.
Drama Quest Goal is to enact a system or behavior.
Conquest Goal is to capture a territory or resource.
Spy or Scout Quest Goal is to observe and gather information and report back.
Research Quest Research a question and return with the answer. This research might take any number of forms, from questioning friends and teachers for viewpoints to reading and more.

From this you can see how easy these quests can align to the activities and learning tasks you probably already have as a teacher. Now you just need to modify them to fit within the overall challenge and scenario of the GBL unit.

Don’t Forget!

The quests, boss levels and content explained in this blog here must also include the core tenants of Game Based Learning from my last blog. Students need to be able to tinker and fail, and then get back up again. Students should be given incentives like badges and rewards for their avatar. Students should role play as characters in the scenario of the unit. When you create an engaging and fun game, it will create a “need to know” the content and allow for the inquiry process. Now get your game on and gamify the learning for your students!

Save PD Time, Put Up a Parking Lot


This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

Why might teachers be pessimistic about setting aside valuable time for professional development?

One major reason is that teachers often have little to no role in designing their own PD. But an often even more pervasive reason is that PD time is misused or wasted on nonessential items. Here are three quick tips for maximizing the time devoted to PD:

Parking Lot:
If something comes up during PD that is unrelated to the focus and can be addressed via e-mail later, put it in the parking lot.This can be a digital or physical space or a piece of paper where those requests are honored, but also put to the side, so that the time is sacred to the task at hand.

Use Digital Tools: Instead of spending 20 minutes of valuable PD time to go over logistics or schedules, capitalize on digital platforms to push out general info and announcements. Perhaps you post important information on Edmodo or a Google Doc, have your teachers read and ask questions by a certain date and time, and then come to the meeting with those answers ready. Make sure that the information being pushed out is manageable and also held in one space. This helps to make sure there isn’t password and destination overload for teachers, and ensures documentation for future return and reflection.

Set Next Steps: At the end of a PD session, set next steps with teachers that include dates and times, deliverables, and locations—perhaps a digital collaboration space to get more information or continue work. When next steps and goals are set in a concrete way and teachers can see a product connected to their PD, then the time spent working toward goals will be sacred.

How do you make sure PD time is time well spent?