Monthly Archives: September 2013

Intrinsic Motivation, Inquiry, & 3rd Space

While most of his work focuses on business and employee management strategies, Daniel Pink is one thinker whose ideas about intrinsic motivation are pushing educators to enhance inquiry-based learning opportunities for all learners. His New York Times bestseller Drive offers a more comprehensive overview of motivational influences, but check out this RSAnimate video based on a talk Dan Pink gave to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts for a basic overview of the book’s findings:

Which is why educators are striving to undertake what we call Third Space curricula. We open inquiries with a learner’s set of interests and strive to overlap the learner’s interests with curricula identified by the teacher as crucial. In many ways, the dichotomy between student-centered learning and teacher-centered learning is rendered false; instead, we transition into the third space, which is learner-centered: students and teachers alike learn throughout the process.

So, how might we teach crucial chemistry and biology skills and content while starting with a group’s interest in bacon? How might we teach facets of literature with by starting with a group’s interest space travel?

It’s possible to maintain one’s sense of intrinsic motivation and maintain a curriculum that is as rigorous (if not more) than a more content-driven environment. The practices and beliefs of those striving for the Third Space make this goal quite attainable.

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What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

This year, the school community is investigating how to further our implementation of inquiry-based learning. While our Day School has championed inquiry-based learning for quite a while now, we’re looking to continue immersing ourselves in the best practices that lead to strong, interesting, authentic inquiries throughout the schools.

What is inquiry-based learning?

Inquiry-based learning situates the learner in educational experiences that enhance that learner’s process of learning.  Crucial skills for the process of learning include asking questions, developing paths to discover the answers, exploring resources, identifying useful materials, and presenting findings in appropriate manners. Each step of the process is packed with action and reflection in order for students to grow themselves as expert learners.

In inquiry environments, teachers design the educational experiences for their students and mentor them through the process, assuring that the students acquire the core skills of inquiry along with the particular content areas that are deemed necessary. Alongside learning more about particular topics and ideas, learners will essentially grow their awareness and understanding of a process they can adopt for any inquiry.

Why Inquiry?

  • The inquiry process taps a learner’s intrinsic motivation to learn by starting with a learner’s questions about a particular area or idea. Once we establish that motivation, we can mentor students as they find interest in critical areas of study.
  • Inquiry-based learning helps prepare learners for a VUCA futures. VUCA is a military and strategic leadership term for Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, and Ambiguous. With the Department of Labor’s anticipation that 65% of all elementary school students will hold jobs that have yet to be invented, our students should be as adaptable and resilient as possible.
  • Inquiry-based learning is sticky learning. When a learner starts with his or her interest and discovers the depth and complexity of that interest, that learner is far more likely to remember and recall what she’s been exposed to.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be posting even more information regarding inquiry, from the various inquiry cycles we employ at Annie Wright Schools to the scopes of inquiry we find most effective for teaching our students how to learn.


Library as Artifact(ory)

We love libraries for the artifacts they hold. Whether these artifacts are eighty year old travelogues or Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, we frequent libraries for the community resources they provide, community artifacts that bring us knowledge and pleasure.

Among the many activities that have occurred in the library this week, we’ve hosted two dramatically different approaches to artifacts and the knowledge they exude.

Artifact 1: Old Mama Squirrel, by David Ezra Stein

With this artifact newly added to our collection, our PreK learned how Ol’ Mama Squirrel herself shoos off any predator who threatens her children with a resounding repetition of “CHOOK CHOOK CHOOK!.” (My apologies, PreK parents, if this is how your children are now using this to deal with their own problems. We CHOOK CHOOK CHOOK’d until I was out of breath, and I may have let it slip that Ol’ Mama Squirrel’s strategy could work for them). This particular artifact helped build a speedy sense of community around a humorous mother squirrel and the predators she faces.

Artifact 2: Circles and Soup with the 6th Grade

In this collective inquiry activity, our sixth graders developed ideas for who they might honor in an memorial alter they will create for their art class with Ms. Leenstra and eventually display in the Tacoma Art Museum. The artifacts small groups created helped to clarify different options  might produce on the altar, and the entire class had an opportunity to add to the ‘idea soup’ they created. After leaving the library, they gave more formal presentations on their ideas and voted as a group to decide whom they would build an altar for.

Some artifacts we find, some artifacts we make. The library has space for all sorts of artifacts for communities to undertake.

A Library Mystery & The 7th Grade

Every Thursday, I meet with half of the seventh grade as part of the rotation of teachers under “Life Skills.” During my first session with seventh grade, we took on several collective inquiry activities to see what we were curious about. The group was split between “China” and “Spanish.” Given their interest in the world and world languages, I presented them with a mystery for our second session.


In the basement of the Sutton Room, we hold many library archives. Duplicates of old yearbooks, bound volumes of Time and Life magazines. Sets of old National Geographics. And, the books you see above. Inside, you’ll find newspaper clippings, postcards, letters, hotel brochures, and photographs from a world tour.

Whoever assembled these, I believe, traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia on several different occasions.

So, in my quest to get our seventh graders experience with primary documents and engaged in developing good questions about them, I set them on the task to carefully look through these collections for clues.

Seventh graders searching through primary documents from our archives.

Seventh graders searching through primary documents from our archives.

Here’s what we discovered:

*The dates of the albums seem to range from 1926 to 1938. In one of the albums, there is specific reference to a trip that occurred in the summer of 1930.

*Two women named Laura and Beth traveled together for part of the trip, as there is a photograph of Beth taken by Laura placed in one of the albums.

*At some point, we think Laura departed from Beth, as there are some postcards addressed to Elizabeth Laughton in Paris. We assume this is the same Beth that Laura traveled with.

*Some postcards were sent from someone named Millicient Pull.

*We know the pictures were developed by a man in Los Angeles named F.J. Cosner.

*Many postcards were sent to San Francisco.

*There is reference to the Cahall family.

We left the session with several notecards full of clues and questions regarding the journey (and why these documents might be in our library archives).

In my next (and final) session with this half of seventh grade, we’ll think of ways we might discover more information surrounding the names and places mentioned in these documents, and we’ll start to pursue some concrete answers, as well.

If you have any leads on how we might solve this mystery, do let us know!

Virtual Conference: The Science of Thriving

In the early chapters of Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed, Tough mentions Character Strengths and Virtues, by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman.  This tome, published in 2004, attempts to classify the positive psychological traits an individual might have. It also serves as a counter-weight to the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders.

Peterson and Seligman are primary protagonists in the increasingly popular field of positive psychology, one that the Annie Wright School learning community has investigated through the reporting of Paul Tough (in How Children Succeed) and the work of Carol Dweck (in Mindset).

From September 16 to September 21, a virtual conference called The Science of Thriving is being hosted by En*Theos, an company that promotes the tenants of positive psychology.

This conference will feature over 20 webinairs, including ones by Paul Tough and Carol Dweck, and many members of our faculty will gather to view these webinairs and brainstorm how we might apply the ideas to grow our work with kids.

For more information on the conference, please click here. Each webinair is free within 24 hours of the presentation, so take advantage of this opportunity to hear from some of the most exciting speakers in this field.

Last Week in Links

The Impact Effort Matrix from

As a center for media resources, The Library constantly circulating materials that teachers might consider using in class. Here are just a few of the materials The Library has gathered and distributed throughout the learning community this past week.

Mr. Wilson’s Flipped Laboratory, and his synthesis of the Flipped Classroom and Inquiry Learning. This resource helps resolve some of the challenges we’ve worried about with the flipped classroom, as flipped learning can too often focus on earning, not learning. Wilson’s found a mash-up that maintains curiosity and growth even within the flipped environment.

Augmented Reality in Kindergarten: Aurasma is an amazing (and free) iPad application. In this blog post, a teacher describes how he had his kindergarten students use the app to create instructional videos that would help the incoming kindergarten class learn the rules of the classroom. There’s nothing better than students teaching and learning from other students.  

From Benford to Erdös: The second half of this RadioLab episode seemed particularly pertitent to a middle school math teacher looking to get his students intrigued in the biographies, ambitions and lives of mathematicians. Plus, it’s just one fantastic listen, if you haven’t heard it already. 

The Impact & Effort Matrix: The Library’s Co-Lab has softly opened with Friday’s visit from the Upper School Science Team. While you’ll hear even more about the Co-Lab’s role within the school and within learning as we move towards our mid-October official opening, we’re already hosting collaborative planning and working events. As Science Team develops catapults for their Fall Catapult Competition, they wanted to forefront learning group dynamics before they edged in on the first step of the project. The Impact & Effort Matrix was one of the games we played in order to decipher which tasks should be tackled by the group, and which ones should be tackled by individuals.

Libraries as Spaces to Meet & Make


Beyond being storehouses for books, periodicals, and databases, libraries have long served as social centers where groups can gather to develop ideas, share common experiences, and play.

This year, the AWS Upper School is focusing on how play might complement the strong academic performance that has always been within their school culture. As apart of the orientation, Dean of Students Annie Green and I hosted an exercise in collaboration and play, where teams of upper school students built towers and talismans out of balloons and other office supplies and materials.

ImageIn the coming months, we will be looking for other avenues for inquiry and play in the library, especially given the long lunches the upper school students have this year. Already, girls are dreaming up possibilities for the 3D printer, and we have plans to set up an old sewing machine in a corner so patrons can sew smart phone pockets for their skirts.

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Transliteracy, Minecraft, and Will Richardson

An image of a library designed in Minecraft.

Reading and writing skills are absolutely crucial for any learner (child or adult!) to develop and maintain, and librarians have always felt empowered to foster those skills in their patrons. Increasingly, we’re also concerned with transliteracy: the ability to engage with a variety of tools and media, from social network literacy to visual literacy to sound literacy.

As AWS prepares to send several facilitators to help guide conversations at the Northwest Association of Independent Schools’ Fall Educator’s Conference in October, I’ve been preparing by reading Why School?, by Will Richardson, as Richardson will be the conference‘s keynote speaker. Here’s one passage where Richardson talks about his son’s learning to show how a game like Minecraft can support transliteracy:

I look at how he’s learned Minecraft and totally understand why school is becoming more of a struggle. First, he has a passion for learning the game. That’s crucial. He creates his own, constantly updated curriculum based on what he knows and needs to know next. He cobbles together his own multimedia texts using YouTube videos. He finds his own teachers, both local (his friends who tutor him via ooVoo) and global (the other players he interacts with on the Massively Minecraft server, hosted in Australia). He’s engaged in assessing his own work, scraping it and starting over when something fails, building or refining when he gets new ideas, and offering feedback to his peers on a regular basis.

This isn’t to say that playing Minecraft doesn’t come with all the risk that might occur through interactions across the internet; instead, let’s continue to develop our transliterate abilities. School is one place to focus on these skills. The library is another. But there are plenty of other spaces (and mediums) to challenge us and motivate us to better our skills and performance while developing the sense of resilience and curiosity that help us stay learners for life.

For further reading, check out Richardson’s book:

Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information are Everywhere (Kindle Edition, September 2012)

Or, check out the talk Will Richardson gave to TEDxNYED:

Inquiry Models: Guided Inquiry Design

One of the many goals we faculty have for the year is investigating how we might further apply inquiry-based learning in our classrooms. At the very least, inquiry-based learning asks learners to consciously consider how they learn as they learn.

In some environments, inquiry-based learning asks learners to drive the content of their studies. In other environments, inquiry-based learning positions learners to understand and feel the need of teacher-directed curricular content.

No matter the openness of the inquiry learning, learners are always challenged to consciously consider how and why they explore, select, verify, organize, and present information. Teachers can design learning experiences where students will face a variety of intellectual roadblocks, whether those roadblocks pertain to verifying the accuracy of information, organizing research, or managing time. With the teacher as mentor, the student can then build confidence in overcoming those road blocks, heightening that student’s sense of resilience and building important skills for the future.

In the opening days of school, I’ve shared several models of inquiry learning, the most prominent being Guided Inquiry Design, developed by Carol C. Kuhlthau, Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. This model outlines a series eight distinct steps in an inquiry process that a) we naturally follow and b) we can coach learners to use in their inquiries:

from Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Your School

Guided Inquiry Design stems from over 30 years of research that rockstar-libarian-scholar Carol Kuhltau has put into the Information Search Process, or, ISP. The ISP shows the feelings, thoughts, and actions any researcher undergoes throughout a project, helping teachers and learners anticipate and intervene with the discouraging, negative emotions that accompany the process of seeking information and creating knowledge.

In the coming weeks, I’ll continue to share other models of inquiry (especially those endorsed by PYP, MYP, and IB), and I’ll provide sample approaches for each step in that process, showcasing how teachers at AWS use inquiry to strengthen knowledge, resilience, and curiosity throughout the grade levels at our schools.

For more information on Guided Inquiry, stop by the library to check out our own copy of Guided Inquiry Design:

Kuhlthau, Carol Collier, Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited, 2012. Print.