Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Selection of Skills Embedded in the Integrated Inquiry Project: Executive Function and English Highlights

The Seabury Middle School students are working hard to complete their individual inquiry projects
about Washington State. With this project, we have really encouraged students to ask questions they
truly wonder about and are interested in learning more about.

Their topics include climate change, pollution, economics, marine life, national parks, gender and
sexuality diversity, politics, major tech companies, gaming and hacking, WWII planes, the creation
of the atomic bomb, wilderness survival, genetics and pet preferences, and geological features like
dry falls and volcanoes. Some students are using their questions about the local area to consider the
global issues, and some have zoomed in on our own county.

The students have crafted nuanced and thoughtful questions to drive their inquiry. Here is a selection
of their question:
  • How will the economic contributions of National Parks be impacted by climate change and how will they change?
  • How has shopping been affected by companies like Amazon?
  • How is pollution in the Puget Sound affecting the marine life?
  • How have female politicians affected Pierce County in the last 100 years?
  • How did Washington state help with the production of the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk of WW2?
  • Why is Washington more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community than other places in the US?
  • Can a healthy person aged 15 to 28 survive in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest in present day?
  • What traits are most desired in the pacific northwest for pets and how can those traits be given to foxes?
  • What is the ring of fire and how does it affect Washington State?

At times, project work can seem so individualized and hyper-focused that students do not notice all of
the English, science, social studies, and executive function skills required to plan, execute, and present their
research and products. This blog post will highlight a small selection of the English and executive function skills
students have practiced thus far while working on this individual inquiry project.

Executive Function Skills:
Throughout the individual inquiry project we have been emphasizing executive function skills with
students. Because of asynchronous development, sometimes gifted students need more support
developing executive function skills.

The project started with metacognition and goal setting. After students reflected on their last inquiry
project, we helped them establish three S.M.A.R.T. goals for themselves for this project. A S.M.A.R.T.
goal is defined as one that is specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound.

Here are some examples of their goals (anonymously shared, of course):
  • Goal: I will make a planned calendar with deadlines in order to keep me on track and finish my project in time. I will monitor how much I am working on it and make sure that I am working on it consistently. Steps toward goal: I will mark down all current deadlines in my planner and on my home calendar. I will set alerts as well that will go off at least 3 days in advance. I will set some deadlines for myself such as “finish this paragraph by then.”
  • Goal: A goal for me is to be more flexible when things don't go according to plan in my project, because I think it is an important skill to learn to be more adaptable to new and unfamiliar situations. Steps toward goal: Go outside of my comfort zone when learning about subjects, try to experience new things, not be frustrated when things do not go according to plan, push myself to learn more and try things that might be hard.
  • Goal: I will work on my bibliography as I read and take notes on each source, so I do not have to do it at
the last minute, and I can make sure I include all of my sources. Steps toward goal: Use Zotero or
another source manager (I’m still deciding which one), have a space for bibliography entries on my                       notes document, so I can copy and paste them to the bibliography later, ask Ms. Plastrik to edit  my                       bibliography before I turn it in.

While these goals are not all technically “S.M.A.R.T.” goals because the “measurable” is difficult to
squeeze in there, the students took goal setting seriously and thought deeply about where they were
and how to continue improving.

The next step in practicing metacognition was reflecting on those goals, which the students did
mid-process early this week. They had the opportunity to revise goals to make them more specific to
their projects and to reflect on their progress toward their goals. After students complete the project,
they will do a final reflection where they also consider their progress toward their goals and what skills
and information they learned through their inquiry.

Planning and Time Management:
We have been emphasizing executive function skills with students, helping them learn how to manage
a long-term project and a given amount of time each day to work on the project. All of the students
created calendars of major project due dates, scheduling when they would need to complete what in
order to finish the project on time.

In addition to scheduling due dates, some made research plans like this one to help organize

their ideas, potential sources, and keywords for the research process:

Throughout the project, students have been working to learn how to effectively manage a two hour
work window on days when we have project development class.

The students have found these strategies effective:
  • Spending the first five minutes of the period making a detailed plan for the two hours
  • Scheduling breaks when they anticipate needing them and holding themselves to the time
they’ve allowed for the breaks
  • Using a timer clock that dings every fifteen or twenty minutes
  • Thinking about whether they are more efficient as social workers or solo workers, and finding
the right kind of space in which to do work
  • Having a teacher check in with them every 30 minutes to check their progress

At the end of each period, students determine their homework, and the teachers ask them to record it
in their planners or on their calendars.

Learning to Ask for Help
Every Wednesday during Morning Meeting (the first fifteen minutes of our day), we focus on social
emotional skills, and this month, we have encouraged students to find the ways to ask for help that
work for them. Mr. Mackenzie has modeled methods, made a bulletin board detailing strategies, and
asked students to share why it is sometimes difficult to ask for help. We have all noticed that the
students are increasingly comfortable asking for help when they need it, which has, in turn, helped
us guide them as they work on their projects.

A Few Selected English Skills: Nonfiction Reading Skills, Note-taking, and Synthesizing
Information from Multiple Sources

Nonfiction Reading Skills
Note: Some students are reading fictional texts for their project, but tall of them are reading mostly
nonfiction sources.

Nonfiction reading strategies:
  • Establish that the article, book, or movie is a reliable and useful source using the
currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose test to guide your decision (adapted
from Beestrum and Orenic, Librarians at Dominican University in River Forest,
IL, “Wiki-ing Your Way into Collaborative Learning”).
  • Set a purpose for reading
  • Preview the text to determine main ideas and which sections might be useful
    • Skim and Scoop is a great strategy for this (Researchild, Smarts Executive
Function Curriculum)
  • Read the article with sub-questions in mind: what information are you looking for.
  • Read the article asking these three questions:
    • What surprises me?
    • What does the author think I already know?
    • What challenges, changes, or confirms what I already know? (Beers and Probst,
Reading Nonfiction: Notice and Note, Stances, Signposts, and Strategies)
  • Underline any new vocabulary or keywords you could use in future searches
  • Connect to the texts: what do you think about what you read? How does it compare to
other sources? (Tovani)

  • Try to read from printed sources rather than digital sources because your brain is more likely to remember more when you read on paper (Scientific American, “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens”)
  • Read the text once through before taking substantial notes
  • Code ideas and information by subquestion if possible. If not, do this after taking notes on each source.
  • Look for the following sign-posts when determining what to take note of:
    • "Contrasts and Contradictions-when the author presents something that contrasts or contradicts what the reader is likely to know, think or have experienced, or shows a difference between two or more situations, events or perspectives
    • Absolute and Extreme Language– author uses language that leaves no doubt about a situation or event that exaggerates or overstates a case.
    • Numbers and Stats– author uses numbers or words that show amounts or statistical information to show comparisons in order to prove a point or help create an image
    • Quoted Words– author quotes others, directly, with what we call a Voice of Authority or Personal Perspective, or citing Others’Words
    • Word Gap– author uses words or phrases students recognize they don’t know"
(Beers and Probst, Reading Nonfiction: Notice and Note, Stances, Signposts, and
  • Paraphrase by telling yourself the information you read about
  • Make sure source information is clear to save yourself time later
  • Find the right strategy that works for you as a reader and thinker

Synthesizing Information from Multiple Sources
In the early stages of this project, the Seabury Middle School students began work on a pre-AP synthesis essay that allowed them to practice organizing their thinking and notes from multiple sources to craft a more nuanced idea or argument. That work in English class will provide a foundation for re-reading their notes, sorting and comparing information from multiple sources, and drawing conclusions across those sources. That is the difficult stage of this process where many of the students are now. We can’t wait to see the finished products next week!

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