ARCHIVED—Matching Personal Quests with Curriculum Objectives
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Steven Van Zoost has found a way to let students discover questions that really interest them and then collaborates with them to help them meet curriculum objectives while completing their inquiries.
Independent, inquiry-based learning requires students to have some accumulated knowledge, so this type of project is not something a teacher should launch early in September. The teacher's challenge is to present subject matter to students that will engage their interest and provide opportunities for them to branch out into areas that intrigue and captivate them.
Van Zoost was presented with such an opportunity in 2009 when a discussion about women in Afghanistan led students to become interested in the role women play in Canadian communities. He arranged a conference call between his class and fellow Prime Minister's Award recipient Casey Brown in Fort Mackay, Alberta. By the end of the call, the class wanted to go to Fort Mackay. In January!
To allow the students to work individually and in smaller groups on a shared project requires a unifying subject for the larger project that can act as an umbrella under which these separate inquires can take place. Van Zoost used the challenge of defining a community as a means of connecting students' diverse interests. That allowed some students to look into how women contributed to the community, others to look at economic issues and others to look at First Nations culture in Fort Mackay.
Van Zoost responded with a process of negotiation and collaboration with the students. To go, they had to determine how the project could meet curriculum objectives and then convince the school board to approve the idea. This last turned out to be an opportunity. One of the curriculum objectives was that students would learn to write business letters. So, students wrote letters to the principal and school board to get approval for the project, and others to local businesses to get financial and other support. Other curriculum objectives that could be met were public speaking and collaborative project and problem-solving work.
By connecting with Michael Ernest Sweet, another Prime Minister's Award recipient, Van Zoost was also able to work with him to produce a collaborative book called 21st Century Communities: A Youth Inquiry Project out of the project. The students also produced a promotional video called "Questions to Learn: A Youth Inquiry Project" and committed to a series of speaking dates at local schools to talk about the project when they got back.