The Start of Our Snail Inquiry

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Igniting our students natural curiousity is something we strive to achieve every day, week, month and throughout the school year with hopes that each student begins to see themselves as a lifelong learner inside and outside the walls of our classroom! Setting up the learning environment to support their wonderments and guide their learning is a very exciting process since it can be one that leads in many different directions based on their interests, knowledge, strengths and needs! As a teaching team, my wonderful DECE, Heidi Theis, and myself look to this process as one with endless possibilities and we always enjoy planning purposeful provocations and setting up the environment as a third teacher for our students.

This post documents the beginning of our Snail Inquiry as we start to create new chapters in our journey as a class this year! To begin, our provocation was something quite simple. Ms. Theis found some lovely visitors (snails) in her garden at home and after much discussion around how we could use them as a hook for an inquiry, we brought them into our classroom. I think it's safe to say that when any living thing becomes part of the classroom family and environment it immediately gets positive reactions and excitement from students!

Here is how we set up our Snail Space as a invitation for learning:
1. Snails are kept in an exposed habitat of a clear glass bowl (with aerated lid) placed on top of a mirror for added depth and reflection.
2. Non-fiction and fiction books displayed around the learning space to promote literacy learning, research, investigations, wonderments.
3. Basket is filled with sticky notes along with a mason jar of pencils to invite students to record their thinking and ideas.
4. Clipboards with "I see...I think...I wonder..." template to support their thinking and to invite responses.
5. Magnifying glasses in tin for deeper exploration and discoveries.
6. Chart Paper with "I see...I think...I wonder..." template enlarged for students to place their sticky note ideas.

Once this Snail Space was discovered by our students, we didn't waste anytime documenting our students' initial theories and wonderments:

I see...
"I see 3 snails. Look 1, 2, 3." - R.K.
"I saw a baby snail I think." - J.S.
"I see the snails digging." - V.D.
"I see the snails lying down in the dirt." - E.Sk.
"I see growing big." - Z.P.
"I see dirt, rocks and leaves in their bowl." - L.M.
"I see their shells and they have swirls on it." - M.P.
"I see some big ones and little ones." - D.K.

I think...
"Snails don't have eyes." - R.V.
"I think those are his eyes because I see little black dots but I don't know." - M.P.
"Snails need slime so they can walk." - Z.P.
"They need the things (tentacles) so they can breath maybe." - G.B. 
"The shell is for them sleeping in and it needs to be dark." - R.V.
"Snails need slime so they can move you know." - C.S.
"The inside of the shell it must be slimy all over and then it (the shell) gets all around and that's why the snail is slimy." - D.K.
"Snails need lots and lots and lots of slime so they can move." - T.B.
"Snails come from eggs." - T.D.
"They play in their house and they are toys in their house and they like that." - R.T.
"I think snails eat lots of leaves." - E.Sk.

I wonder...
"I wonder is snails eat lettuce to eat if they are hungry." - S.R.
"I wonder if snails can turn into a slug?" - E.Sk.
"I looked in a book and I found that snails have eyes on their tentacles. They eat lots of plants." - S.R.
"I wonder how snails get their shells?" - G.B.

After listening, documenting and learning alongside our students based on the following question prompts, Ms. Theis and I knew that our next steps would be to extend their learning and interests about snails into other areas of our program. But I'm going to stop and pause right here because Ms. Theis and I have had many insightful conversations with other educators around how to do take a provocation/inquiry to the next level. In other words, igniting a provocation and gaining student interest is one thing, but how do you take it further and dig deeper in the learning? As a teaching team, we are still learning ourselves and can attest to the feeling of just "scratching the surface" with an inquiry. I hope that the next bit of information about our Snail Inquiry illustrates just how we have integrated this topic into other content areas and catered to the strengths/needs of our students through differentiated opportunities!

If you can believe it...two snails escaped at different times from their habitat.
One was discovered in a book when two students wanted to do more
research and the other was found on the mirror while a student was
writing down their observations!
Here is where our Snail Inquiry has led us so far...
1. Small interest groups of students have used the books and other text forms to research about snails and independently record their ideas on our collaborative thinking space (chart paper) - (Curriculum links: Personal/Social/Emotional Development, Oral Communication, Reading, Media Literacy).
2. With small groups, Ms. Theis and I have led mini lessons based upon their initial theories (e.g. parts of a snail, how they move, what they look like, feel like, etc) and had the snails out of the bowl for open exploration - (Curriculum links: Personal/Social/Emotional Development, Oral Communication, Writing, Science & Technology).

3. Students have begun to independently draw pictures of snails using various mediums (paper and markers, water colour paints, observational drawing/painting, diagrams, labels) - (Curriculum links: Personal/Social/Emotional Development, Reading, Writing, Oral Communication, Visual Arts).
4. Students have created words for our class Word Wall based on their newly acquired knowledge around the names for the parts of a snail (e.g. tentacles, eyes, shell, mouth, foot, slime, snail) and have been seen using those words throughout daily writing opportunities - (Curriculum links: Reading, Writing).

5. In small focus groups based on each student's interests around snails and background/newly acquired knowledge, students worked with an educator to record their new observations, ideas, and wonderments on sentence strips for our documentation wall display - (Curriculum links: Personal/Social/Emotional Development, Writing, Oral Communication).
6. We have shared our learning, daily discoveries, and wonderments on Twitter and have connected with other Kindergarten educators whose classes are also inquiring about snails! 
7. We skyped with Mrs. Lowe's Kindergarten class from Winnipeg, Manitoba to interview, inquire and learn more about their snails, their habitat, etc (**Blog post to come soon!)
8. In small groups, students have begun to create models of snails using wire and beads to contribute to a wall display in our classroom!
9. Small interest groups of students have begun to create their own Snail Books based on their learning and knowledge of snails. 
10. Some students have begun to create 3D models of snails using open-ended materials (e.g. playdough, collage materials - tissue paper, wire, glue, paper, wikki sticks, on the light table with various transparent items, etc). 

*The above are only a few examples of all of the incredible learning going on within the walls of our classroom!

"Good morning Mrs. Lowe's class!"
A snail in progress by E.Sk. 
A snail in progress by G.B.
As outlined in brief, you can see how we have tried to weave in multiple elements of the curriculum into our inquiry which is embedded throughout our timetable each day. We have plans to continue to connect digitally with Mrs. Lowe's class to help us dig deeper into our understanding of snails and continue to share our journey! 

We truly can't wait to see where this takes us as a class! Stay tuned for more updates!

The next few paragraphs of this post are geared towards educators as you begin to create a student-led inquiry in your classrooms! We had the wonderful honour of being featured on our good friend, Joanne Babalis' blog ( in connection to our Cloud Inquiry last year, and I thought it would be relevant to share some of our interview as a way of supporting how Ms. Theis and I work through the inquiry planning process:

How to integrate the learning from other subject areas:
During the proposed planning process, we try to tie in the curriculum expectations that best fit our students' theories and where the learning might go. Inquiry-based learning is wonderful for clustering expectations underneath an "umbrella" topic and we are always surprised by just how many expectations this one inquiry could cover. There were and continue to be many opportunities to extend our students' learning into other content areas. By using the "Big Ideas" in the Full Day Kindergarten curriculum, we are able to select the best holistic expectations for the inquiry and help set the tone for the learning and our goals for what we want our students to walk away knowing and being able to do.  

Suggestions for Teaching Teams about ways to begin an inquiry: 
1. Flexibility is key! Sometimes your inquiry takes you places you didn't expect but that's ok! It can end up going above and beyond what you "planned" for but that's the beauty of it! The learning then becomes incredibly meaningful since it came FROM your students and you co-learn together. For example, from our Cloud Inquiry, two other inquiries were formed throughout the year both of which we never anticipated and both were also huge highlights: Our Airplane/Airport Inquiry (e.g. provocation: when airplanes fly through the clouds) and our Ice Inquiry (e.g. provocation: after making connections to snow and how it's frozen water from the clouds). By running with your students' interests may mean that your day plans don't always pan out, but we encourage any educator teams to embrace each learning opportunity since it may lead you to an exciting, engaging, and thought-provoking outcome!

2. Assessment -- As a teaching team, we always have a mutual understanding and appreciation for each other's assessment strengths and weaknesses. With this understanding, we developed a "sharing" system whereby we will send our documentation notes, transcriptions, photos, videos, etc to each other and in the process, discuss what we observed, the learning that occurred, and areas of strength/need/next steps for our students. These files are stored on both of our computers so that when it comes time to report on our students' learning, they are easily accessible and used as a backbone for our conversations. 

3. It's ok to "let go" of control -- This is something that we have grown to appreciate together as a teaching team. As educators, we often feel the need to "know" what's planned for a particular day/time/period, etc. A "structured" environment provides comfort since we know what to expect throughout the day and from our students. However, inquiry-based learning has flipped this mentality around for us because sometimes the learning does not go according to "plan" and we have learned to adapt, react, and "roll with it." To our surprise, stamina and student engagement has improved, conversations have become more rich and robust, and the learning becomes more meaningful and student-centered. That being said, and as hard as it is to do, letting go of control does not mean letting go of routine/expectations/classroom management, etc, it just means shifting your mentality around how the learning occurs in your classroom. 

We hope this paints a clearer picture of how we have embraced Inquiry-based learning in our classroom. Please feel free to leave a message below and we would be happy to answer! 

"Fall" - A Light Table Creation

Monday, September 16, 2013

Check out what one of our SK students created today on our light table as she made connections to the things she sees out of her window. It was truly wonderful witnessing her attention to detail, focus and imagination come to life as she created such a beautiful picture!
"This is the tree and it has a hole in the middle."
"This is the beehive and the bees are buzzing."
"This is the sky."
"This is a clock so people know what time it is."
During our End of the Day Meeting, we celebrated G.B's creation by tweeting about her work and showcasing a picture of her artistic design to her classmates on the SmartBoard. Here are some of the wonderful compliments given to her by her friends:

E.S.: I really liked how she added a lot of detail and she took her time when she made her picture. I like all the colours too. 

M.P.: I really liked how she made her picture. It's pretty. 

J.S.(SK): I like how you made the leaves falling and made a hole in the tree.

Here is a video of G.B. explaining her beautiful light table creation:

Thank you to G.B.'s parents for letting us post the captured video! We truly love celebrating our student's learning and highlighting their work on the blog!

We Can See...All Around the World: ECOO 2013

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Please join my inspiring colleague Angie Harrison (@TechieAng), a Full Day Kindergarten teacher in York Region, and I as we engage in a conversation about ways to use Global Projects in the classroom at this year's ECOO 2013 Conference!

As mentioned on their website, "ECOO is a voluntary organization for teachers, by teachers. The breadth and scope of workshops make it the perfect destination for self-directed professional development."

The following is a captured description of our session:

In our session, we will highlight our We Can See Project and talk about ways we connected with classrooms and educators around the world.


Come and learn how you can take this simple concept and create an engaging Global Project to meet the needs of your classroom in any grade! 

Feel free to click on the following link to read more about the ECOO 2013: Bring IT Together Conference (

A Look Inside Our Classroom...

The start of a new school year always brings forth the feelings of excitement, new insights, ideas and possibilities! Designing our classroom environment into a learning space that embraces all of those feelings is something my wonderful DECE, Heidi Theis, and myself were looking to accomplish yet again as we embark on our second year together as a teaching team! This entire process is one that automatically builds in professional reflection, as we began to rethink, repeat, and remove particular elements within our classroom set-up. Even though the mountain of furniture piled together on newly waxed floors was intimidating during the last week of August, we always view the process of setting up our classroom environment as a way for setting the tone for our school year! We want our classroom to elicit the same feelings of excitement, new ideas, wonderings, and endless possibilities within our students, and for them to enter into our classroom each day eager and motivated to learn! 

The following pictures capture our learning environment as it was set-up for this 2013-2014 school year! 

Over the course of the first week, many exciting things emerged as our students began to feel comfortable and gained familiarity with the materials, learning spaces, and routines within our classroom. From rocket ships and swimming pools being built in our Building & Constructing Area to students recording what they see, think and wonder about the snails in our classroom, we have truly seen our classroom come to life now 
that are students are a part of it! 


We truly can't wait to see how our students continue to help make this learning environment their own and we look forward to sharing our journey with you! 
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