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Snapshots > Almanacs and Inquiry at School 84


teacherAlmanacs and Inquiry:
Almanacs as Springboards to Inquiry

Ms. K is a bright, young teacher eager to help her students wonder and explore, yet conclude with a learning focus. She challenges her students to think critically and creatively.

“Students and teachers pose questions and in seeking answers, generate new questions. The questions posed matter to us, coming from personal connections and observations of our world. This process of generating questions, instead of eliminating them, leads to exploration, investigation, and more questions.” (IPS Center for Inquiry)

The walls of Ms. K's classroom reflect this inquiry-based approach. As students explore areas of study, they begin creating storyboards, charts, photographs, maps, collages, and other visuals to brainstorm their thoughts, organize their ideas or express their understandings. Posted on the floors, walls, and ceilings, these "works in progress" are often collaboratively created and evolve throughout the school year. These living walls become reflections of the minds of active, thoughtful students. As a result, children are constantly engaged in constructing knowledge, building on the work of others, and reflecting on their accomplishments.


Almanac Discovery

boxIn the Winter of 2007, children in Ms. K's fifth/sixth grade class opened boxes of almanacs on a wide variety of topics including art, sports, politics, science, inventions, women leaders, minority leaders, presidents, pop culture, geography and more. They were enthralled by the range of topics and information. While some of the students were already familiar with almanacs, others were new to this type of reference resource.

Traditionally, school librarians and classroom teachers have used a "worksheet" approach to teaching about almanacs. Students might be asked to find the "longest river in the world" or list the largest cities in the world leaving children to think that almanacs are more like "test answer keys" than exciting tools for learning.

Ms. K took a different approach. Instead of assigning trivia questions, she asked students to dive into the resources and explore those things they found of most interest. From inventors and sport figures to fashion and travel, the classroom was alive with discovery.

two students workingtwo students

almanac videoTo frame their exploration, children were provided with guided questions to help them become familiar with the features such as: [1]

video clipView A Passion for Learning (:27).

A child describes her favorite almanac. You can hear the passion for learning in her voice.


Digging Deeper

almanac videoEach student created a scavenger hunt for a particular almanac. They were encouraged to develop deep questions that asked "how" or "why" rather than simply "find the fact".

To dig deeper into each book, the students completed each others hunts. They developed the rules for the hunt, so they could ask questions and give clues about where to find the information, or not, whatever they chose. This open-ended activity was a wonderful way to learn about almanacs.

The children discussed what they noticed about almanacs and created a place for them in the room.

video clipView Almanacs and World Records (:53).

A child describes why she likes almanacs.


student reading almanacWriter's Workshop Genre Study

As part of a Writer's Workshop genre study, the students created a Features of Almanacs visual organizer.

While reviewing almanacs, the group kept a list of characteristics they wanted to include in their almanac such as design, art, humor, questions, links and whatever the children thought was most intriguing.

Ms. K noted that the class did a "fantastic job brainstorming ideas, better than I thought they would and they are MORE than excited to get started. I'm VERY impressed with today's discussion. The kids are really sounding articulate using vocabulary like: categories, facts, opinions, perspectives, chronological, survey, interests, historical, measure, calculate, just to name a few."

Features of Almanacs

Students generated a list of things that can be found in almanacs:

video clipView Features of Almanacs (:29).

A child describes the features of an almanac.

Questions for Deep Thinking

almanac videoThe children created a list of questions to help them dig deeper into the content of almanacs.

Click the visual above to see a larger version.

video clipView Almanacs and Timeliness (:36).

A child describes his favorite almanac and the elements that make it effective.


students workingAlmanacs and Inquiry

The framework for inquiry includes: [1]

Alamanacs in Room 21Once students were familiar with the almanacs, Ms. K introduced two inquiry experiences. As a class, the children would collect data, organize information, create illustrations, and build their own class almanac. At the same time, students would conduct personal inquiries into a topic of their choice using the many almanac resources.

As the project progressed, Ms. K added a third experience related to Culture Study. The almanacs were a practical tool for locating information to support an exploration of culture and geography.

To see a visual representation of the progression of the project, download the Almanacs in Room 21 PDF document.

Go to the School Almanac page to learn more about the next phase of the project.

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