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Think & Inquire

ISTE NETS•S Standards 3&4 - Research, Information Fluency, Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Decision Making

logoStudents apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information. Students will:

Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources. Students will:

As you design learning experiences for young people, consider the inquiry process and how young people will become independent learners through critical thinkers, problem-solvers, and decision-makers.

Let's explore Callison's components of inquiry (shown in logo on right) including questioning, exploring, assimilating, inferring, and reflecting. Consider how the AASL standards could be addressed within this framework.


Boy ThinkWhat is the question I’m trying to answer, the problem I’d liked to solve, or the key issue I need to resolve?

Question BirdAs yourself, "how do I encourage students to ask deep questions rather than surface level questions?"

Generate a list of questions about Egyptian mummies. Then, look at photographs from Wikimedia Commons and refine the questions. What's the impact of the visuals on your ability to generate questions? How could audio, video, or animation be used in another situation? Think of ways to use two images to compare or contrast.

Use video to stimulate questions. Watch the book trailer for Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart on YouTube or watch the book trailer for Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart on YouTube. As you watch, brainstorm a list of questions you have about the facts presented in the video. Locate the section of the book that discussed this aspect, then go on a fact-finding mission.

wickedAsk students to generate questions about what they see and hear in the book trailer.

Check out the resources for the Wicked Bugs website for lots of links and information about insects in addition to what is found in the book

Q TasksIn Q Tasks Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan provide questions to get students and teachers thinking about their questions and information to deepen the investigation.

Use guiding questions to facilitate inquiry:

Use technology to inspire thinking:

Sources of Images, Sounds, and Video

Why re-invent the wheel? Use existing images, sounds, and video clips in your projects. Be sure to check copyright and provide credit when you use the works of others.

Look for collections that will provide groups of resources. For instance, KitZu provides groups of media related to curriculum topics.

Question BirdExplore Gigapan and 360Cities. Select an image to explore as part of a class assignment.
Learn more about the question component.


ExploreEncourage students to explore unusual aspects of a common topic. Example the snow crystal graph from Weather Queries Blog. For instance "I’ve seen many images of snowflakes, but I never really thought about what impacts their shape. I’m going to refocus my inquiry."

Use guiding questions to facilitate inquiry:

  1. What does this problem involve?
  2. What information do I have?
  3. What information is not needed or useful? Why?
  4. What additional information is needed? Where can it be found?
  5. What are the facts of the situation? How are these facts connected?
  6. How have I tackled similar problems in the past?
  7. How can I break down the problem into smaller pieces, fewer numbers, or chunks?
  8. Can I use a chart, graph, time line, drawing, or other visual to help visualize and organize thinking?
  9. What strategies will I use? What's my plan?
  10. What tools will I use? Calculator, online tools?
  11. What are my guesses? What's the range of solutions? What's the wrong answer? What guesses am I rejecting?
  12. What information do I need to solve this problem?
  13. How do I know what I know?
  14. What structure do we need to visualize our thinking? Would a concept map, chart, graph, help me visualized?
  15. How do I simplify and attack a complex problem?
  16. What's the relevant and irrelevant data?

Use technology to structure exploration and collect data:

Question BirdLearn more about the explore component.


AssimilateThe process of assimilation involves reinforcing and confirming information that is known, altering thinking based on new information, or rejecting information that doesn’t match the student‘s belief system. In an inquiry, assimilation leads to consideration of new options and points of view. (Callison, 2006, p. 7)

As you explore, look for unique aspects of at least 3 pieces of evidence and make comparisons.

Question BirdExamine images that represent the different phases of mitosis. How are these images alike and different? What are the key elements that reflect each phase?

deathStudents need to keep their central question in mind as they work with evidence. For instance, they might ask "what should be done with "road kill"? They will use the visuals collected from sites such as the Wild Images Gallery: The Cycle of Life after Death from Banff National Park in Canada to analyze the question and possible solutions (see a sample image from the series on the right).

Apply the Ds of Evidence to this problem:

Although assimilation occurs deep within our brain, we can use visual activities to build these associations. Marzano, Pickering and Pollock (1997) identified six graphic organizers that correspond to six common information organization patterns:

Syrup production

Use guiding questions to facilitate inquiry:

  1. What evidence have I collected?
  2. What are the patterns, relationships, connections, sequences, or causes/effects?
  3. How do I handle ambiguity?
  4. How does this new evidence match my prior knowledge?
  5. How does this relate to...?
  6. What ideas have we learned that I can apply in this situation?
  7. Can I give examples and non-examples?
  8. How and why is this happening
  9. What inferences and be drawn?
  10. What additional information is needed?
  11. How can this data be synthesized?
  12. How do I know what formula or concept is most useful in applying to this situation?

Use technology to scaffold thinking.

Question BirdChoose one of the tools above to explore.
Learn more about the assimilate component.


InferInventing a new way to build a backyard fort, creating an innovative approach to recycling, and building a case against a new coal power plant all involve applying evidence to solve problems and make decisions.

Evidence is necessary to support a claim, justify change, or make an informed decision. Students must learn to identify, process, and judge evidence.

"If you can recycle plastic, why not reuse shoes?"

This begins with looking for patterns of evidence. Ask:

Question BirdRethink an assignment.
Focus on the collecting evidence and building convincing arguments.

Another approach is to ask students to turn facts into a visually convincing argument that can be shared. For example, show me that this computer game is or isn't accurate. In a recent NPR program titled E.O. Wilson and Will Wright: An Lovers Unite! Wilson stated "I think games are the future in education. We're going through a rapid transition now. We're about to leave print and textbooks behind." Use the following gaming sites:

Children may become "machine detectives." After collecting information at EdHeads about simple machines, their job is to collect evidence of simple machines by identifying and photographing them around the school. Rather than a traditional powerpoint presentation, they created a comic using PowerPoint.

Use guiding questions to facilitate inquiry:

  1. Is there a single solution or alternate solutions?
  2. Does the solution make sense? Is it reasonable? Why or why not?
  3. What evidence supports my conclusion?
  4. How does this result compare to my original guess?
  5. How will I explain this conclusions to others or take action?
  6. Is my conclusion correct or valid?
  7. How can the result be visualized?
  8. How can the result be shared?
  9. What can I or others use this information? How can this be applied to other problems?
  10. What are the sources of errors or problems in the solution?
  11. How is my answer like and unlike others?
  12. Do you want to share with people in your class or the world?
  13. Do you want to share temporarily or permanently?
  14. Could you write a letter or email?
  15. Could you make a sign for the kitchen, hallway, or area business?
  16. Could you make a group decision and create a "Science Squad" shared announcement?

Use technology to create and share solutions.

Question BirdExplore online games. How could students share what they learned about the game?
Learn more about the infer component.



After rounds of questioning and exploring, assimilating and inferring, ask students to revisit the questions and goals of their inquiry. How did the project evolve?

Encourage products that build in metacognitive aspects and opportunities for reflection. Examples:

Rather than just copying from Wikipedia, I thought about what a tourist would really want to know about the desert.

I’ve created both a family timeline and a Civil Right Movement timeline so we can talk about how each member of the family might have been impacted by what was happening nationally.

My exploration of music from the 1850s lead me to songs about fashion. I create a song in GarageBand that’s a parody of the fashion industry.

lemonsUse guiding questions to facilitate inquiry:

  1. How did I move through the process?
  2. How does this inquiry connect to possible future inquiries?
  3. What are my new questions?
  4. Do I see patterns in my work?
  5. What if things were changed? How would the solution be different?
  6. What have I learned? How could I apply this to a future situation?
  7. What are the biggest ideas from the inquiry?

Use technology to reflect.

Use Google Search Story to reflect on the inquiry experience. Watch A World Without Fish and Climate Change and Frogs.

Question BirdCreate a Google Search Story.
Learn more about the reflect component.

Go to Graphic Inquiry for the Sustainable Fishing and Dustbowl examples.

For a more detailed look at math and science inquiry, go to Making Math/Science Meaningful and Science Learning.

For a more in-depth exploration, read the graphic book Graphic Inquiry by Annette Lamb and Danny Callison available from Libraries Unlimited, 2010.

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