Melanie Bloom

Planning Inquiry-Learning or Problem-Based Units

Discussion created by Melanie Bloom on May 14, 2010
Latest reply on Dec 5, 2014 by Melanie Bloom

The past couple of years our school has been focusing on inquiry-learning and/or problem-based-learning during professional development.  I also used this topic in my Creative Component for my Masters.  This does NOT mean that I am an expert, but maybe some of my ideas will help others.


First - many of us have heard the "ABC" method - Activities Before Content - and it's actually a proven technique when used correctly.  The research I combed through says to design your unit plan beginning with the most tactile, experiential activities and ending with reading and research.


Second - design your unit with a Guiding Question - it shouldn't be an easily-answered question - it's even better if it challenges the students.  For example, some of the questions I came up with for a horticulture class was "What would the world be like without the sun?" (light unit) and "Should we use chemicals to increase food production?" (plant hormones and chemical control of plant growth).  The students walk in, see the question on the board and some of them get fired up and start talking about it right away.  Great lead-in.  During the unit, hopefully they'll formulate their own response to that question.  Each student might have very different response, but they should be able to back it up with some logic.  I also have a few sub-questions (these kind of work as daily or lesson objectives).  My questions are based on my previously-used unit objectives.


I made a unit plan template (which I do not have saved electronically anymore, but I use copies for each unit, and give each unit a tab in a three-ring binder).  The headings on my unit plans are as follow:

  • Guiding Question (and sub-questions)
  • Frontloading (Brainstorming, Secret prompts, Real-life situations, Controversies, What does this topic mean to you?, Artifact & discussion of importance, Why is learning about this topic important?, Questionnaires
  • Instructional Activities (follow this order but you won't necessarily use all categories):
    • Direct Experience (build something, real-life or work situation)
    • Contrived direct experience (field trip, visiting a site, etc)
    • Dramatic participation (role playing, simulation games)
    • Demonstrations (observing experts, working models, apply/utilize technology)
    • Exhibits (viewing artifacts, static displays)
    • Visual & aural materials (charts, graphs, statistical data displays, photos, videos, CD-ROMs)
    • Written materials (books, articles, computer programs, trade publications)
  • Assessment / Proof of Learning - either traditional test/quiz or project RUBRIC (development of printed material, demonstration of specific skill(s), process description essay, creation of exhibit/display, PSA, digital scrapbook, informational video, how-to guides, diagnostic guides, etc)  The sky is the limit!


Once I got started, the farm business class was actually kind of fun - and easy to do with this format.  The kids are resistant to it at first, because they're doing more active learning.  But once they get into the swing of things, like this class has done this semester, I can't stump the kids I have in class right now with the labs that came with the book - they "get" it!  Working in teams, they're competitive with eachother and really have some pride in the work they're turning in.


I've done my entire horticulture and farm business management classes using this format and I think it's helping - I have kids really interested in those CDEs and they've begun to do very well - they really seen to "get" the material because it's become personal.


I've attached the Rationale portion of my creative component if anyone is interested (creative_component_08.doc).  I think a copy of the unit plan template might be at the end of the document.  I've also attached all the unit samples for my horticulture class (creative component units.doc).  They're definitely a work in progress - I don't love every single one - but this has really challenged me to do a better job of teaching and coming up with creative instructional activities.


Hope it helps a few of you out....