Do Fish Live Near Airports?

[Cross-posted from www.julieacunningham.com.]
Sometimes inquiry leads in strange and funny directions. It requires trust in the process and outcome. I’m learning to let go and enjoy the ride, even though I don’t understand this whole inquiry thing.

In the afternoons, my children and class group have the amazing opportunity to spend time at the be you house through the Innovation Lab of Thompson School District. There, they have the freedom to pursue their own interests and passions supported by mentors and expert tutors. My son, Caleb ((I have  his full permission to share this story… he’s always interested in seeing newcomers to his blog and knows that linking is a powerful thing.  He’d love a few visitors. :) )) , has decided he has a passion for fishing that he would like to pursue… in addition to authoring a chapter book, which he plans to self-publish ((Using lulu.com or a similar site.)) later this school year. This week, he toured a local tackle shop, researched local fishing places, practiced casting in the backyard of the be you house and went fishing (or wading) with his Dad.

However, I’ve been struggling with letting him direct his own learning. Today, I finally sat down with him and asked him to map out some questions he has related to fishing. And because I’m a total nerd, he grudgingly opened a mindmap on bubbl.us… added “Fishing” as the main node…. and promptly had a meltdown.

Why is it so hard for children to think freely?   I don’t have an answer, but I can say that this has been a difficult transition for my own children. It’s like the years of filling in blanks has trained them not to think. Part of me believes that memorization and worksheets create lazy learners, but part of me also senses a great deal of fear coming from these little minds…. “What if I’m not correct?” “What if I make a mistake?” “How will I know what the right answer is?”

After I reassured him that I just wanted him to get some questions down, he relaxed and typed this:

Do fish live near airports?

Seriously???? Of all the questions in the world, that’s the one he wants to know about fish? I took a few deep breaths, let him return to his game, and then tried to figure out how to question without leading. I finally asked, “What do you think about that? Do you think that they do live near airports, or not?”

His response really made me a believer in this whole inquiry thing in a concrete and real way. He said, “Well, I think it would be pretty loud near the airport, and I wondered if fish would not like the noise. Can they hear? Do they have ears?”

Well.

Guess that shows me, huh? I think those are great discovery questions, even if the first one sounded pretty insane to me initially. It taught me that we all think very differently. He saw an airport built in an online game world with water near it earlier in the day, and it made him wonder…. would fish live in that water with all those loud planes flying overhead? The student is the teacher.

Have you heard any very unusual inquiry questions lately? What is your favorite resource on inquiry?

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4 Responses to Do Fish Live Near Airports?

  1. whatedsaid says:

    Julie, I love this post..
    It points to the value of listening… really listening… to kids’ questions. The best inquiry comes from listening to what kids say.. and what they don’t say. It’s why you can’t really plan too far ahead for inquiry. Even in structured inquiry, you have to wait and see where it goes. This line of yours is the key ” It requires trust in the process and outcome.” The best inquiry teachers are comfortable in not knowing where it will go, confident to ask questions they don’t know the answers to, willing to throw something out there and see where it takes you…
    And your “Why is it so hard for children to think freely?” paragraph made me think. I work in an inquiry school where we encourage free thinking. We have been working at it for 5 years and our current focus is still on trying to deepen inquiry. After a time, kids do lose that fear of being wrong or making a mistake. I don’t often see that laziness to think in our inquiry classrooms. Kids are used to thinking, questioning and wondering. The more a teacher builds a ‘culture of thinking’ (Have you read Ron Ritchhart’s work?), the better it gets. I always stress that there is no wrong answer to questions that start with “Do you think…?” ” Why do you think…?” “What do you think…?”
    And I am wondering… DO fish have ears?? :-)

  2. Lawrence says:

    Hi Julie, thanks for a fresh insight into which corner to look out for inquiry! Guess what, I have a son called Caleb too! He is into Beyblades ( a spinning fighting top) and loves switching parts from different models all around. Maybe I could start asking him what questions he has about them..

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