Fill This Form To Receive Instant Help

Help in Homework
sPark Inquiry with Park-Based Learning
  • Jun 2022
  • 0

sPark Inquiry with Park-Based Learning

24th June 2022

Before national parks were known as America’s best idea, Dr. Robin Winks, a professor and historian, called them “the single greatest university in the world.” We are probably familiar with the National Park Service’s (NPS) mission to preserve and protect the cultural and natural heritage that these places protect.

However, just as important, they are also charged with educating the public about why these places are so important that everyone will commit to preserving them for future generations.

To that end, the NPS has developed an online portal with a huge repository of standards-based educational materials that any teacher, even those that live thousands of miles away, can integrate into their classroom. But this online teacher portal is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the potential these places have to support learning. The true power of these places is how they inspire awe or how they can inspire curiosity in our students. 

So, how can you, or any other educator, use National Parks to spark inquiry in your classroom? Follow this simple inquiry framework, and you’ll be able to use these amazing places to get your learners curious, collaborative, and connected to America’s Best Idea.

1. Kick-off inquiry with a question or artifact -

Begin by looking for something to engage your students. What can you show them that will make them say, “Ah-ha!” and get them curious, but most importantly, get them asking questions. A short video, a website, article, an interactive resource, or even a simple question can be enough to get a park-based inquiry rolling in your room. Whatever you use, make sure it is something that they will want to spend time looking at. Think of your kick-off as an invitation to learning; if the invitation isn’t “inviting” or interesting enough, it will be much harder to keep them engaged throughout the rest of your lesson.

After they have had a chance to pour over your learning artifact, you should share an “anchor question” - an open-ended question that, if answered, will demonstrate their progress towards mastery of a standard. This will help them frame their task and provide a reference for reflecting on their progress as the inquiry progresses.

2. Provide a structure for asking and recording questions -

Once learners have had sufficient time to examine your entry event, give them a structured way to record what they need to know to understand what they have seen and already know. This can be done individually but may be more effective in pairs or small groups since students sometimes need peer support to give them examples of questions or to affirm that things they are unsure about are valid.

The Visible Thinking Routines created by Harvard’s Project Zero are a fantastic way to structure this as they are equally effective for all ages K-12. Simple structures such as these can give just enough direction to students to complete a task without overwhelming them with too many directions. 

One important pre-planning consideration is to ensure that you know or can anticipate the big questions you need students to ask so that you can connect those to the learning goals or standards this inquiry-based lesson meets. You may have to ask some questions yourself or probe students thinking to get them to see them, so keep that in mind.

3. Design an activity to help them find those answers -

With a big list of questions recorded, students now have a self-generated pathway to develop the understanding they need to meet the standard. You can then support them in their inquiry by providing them with resources to help them answer their questions. This could be a multi-step process depending on how large the standard is. You could partially lead it through lessons, lectures, and guided readings, or it could be a learner-centered process filled with self-directed labs, individual research, or exploring self-paced learning lessons like this one focused on exploring the characteristics of civilization

One thing to keep in mind is that all students are different, have different challenges, and have different learning preferences. Incorporating multimodal learning resources into a multi-day inquiry-based lesson can help all students find the answers they need as independently as possible.

4. Help them demonstrate their understanding -

Inquiry helps students gather knowledge, but that knowledge doesn’t become understanding unless applied to something. Think about what your students might create or contribute to that can help them showcase that knowledge for you. Is a short presentation the best way? Is a written product something you’d like them to complete? The choices are endless, but make sure they are choices. It is often appropriate to give students options for how they choose to create or produce. 

You might also consider how to make what they are doing authentic to the task. Instead of simply writing up a report, could they write a letter to a park ranger offering suggestions for a solution to the problem that the initial question framed? Could they create some visitor resource, such as a guide book or video, that visitors to Park could use to enhance their knowledge? 

If you’re thinking, “my students aren’t old enough to create something with professional quality,” I promise you that is not true as this student-led project example shows that students can create work that means something to someone else.

So there you have it, an amazing, authentic, Park focused experience for students to enjoy. With over 420 individual units in the national park system, your only problem now is deciding which one to highlight.

Original Author

James Fester is a consultant and author passionate about project-based and experiential learning. His educational experience includes classroom teaching, instructional coaching, technology integration, and most recently serving as a member of the PBLWorks National Faculty. 

In addition to his consulting work, he is a National Park Service volunteer who collaborates on educational programs for parks across the country. His writing has been featured by National Geographic, TED-Ed, and KQED, and in an upcoming book on PBL and environmental science being published by ISTE. He currently resides in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

Follow James- Twitter

Blog - Fester Edu



Leave Your Comment Here