An Inquiry Into Where We Are in Place and Time

Our Kindergarten children have been engaging in an inquiry into where we are in place and time, looking in particular at personal histories and journeys. Before the unit started the adults discussed what key concepts would drive the unit, and what enduring understandings we hoped the children would develop. In our reflections from previous years, we had observed that the children were able to connect with their own short histories more easily than the more abstract history that took place before they were born. We decided that the inquiry would focus on personal learning journeys through the lenses of change and reflection.

The central idea was that Personal journeys can lead to change and new opportunities. We discussed whether on not to display the central idea. Often we do not but for this particular unit we decided that we would unpack the central idea with the children as the central idea would provide a framework for the inquiry and give the children a reference point.

In our summative assessment, we expected the children would be able to identify significant landmark events in their lives and would be able to describe some ways that they could apply their newly acquired skills and understandings. Our formal student-led conferences provided a meaningful, real-life assessment. The informal monthly parent sharing sessions provided opportunities for ongoing formative assessment for learning. The children would document their individual learning journeys in their portfolios and the group learning journey would be documented on our class blog.

We introduced the central idea and asked the children to share their thoughts. We used one of project zero’s visible thinking routines so that we could assess what prior knowledge the children were bringing to the unit, and to lay the ground for the inquiry.

Think, Puzzle, Explore

  • What do you think you know about this topic?
  • What questions or puzzles do you have?
  • How can you explore this topic?

The children had many experiences and perspectives to share. They could think of lots of ways that they had changed and could come up with a list of things they could do now that they couldn’t do before. They were less sure about how their new skills and understandings could lead to new opportunities, and about how they had come to acquire those skills. Many of their questions were about how they could learn new things. Several of children were not sure if they would learn to read. Others were more confident. “Of course we will learn to read! Because when we will be six then will we learn to read.”

We recognize that our Kindergarten children’s learning journeys started long before the children came to school. We felt it was important to get parent input on what direction the unit might take. We invited the parents to a meeting. We shared our ideas for lines of inquiry and brainstormed together to come up with some possibilities for developing these inquiry lines.

Lines of inquiry

  • Important events that lead to change
  • How we have changed over the year
  • How change will lead to new opportunities

Teacher questions to drive the inquiry

  • How have you changed?
  • How do you you know you have changed?
  • How did you learn to do that?
  • How does this help you?

We came up with some supporting questions that parents could use at home to help their children make connections between home experiences and school experiences.

Supporting questions:

  • What can you do now that you couldn’t do before?
  • What would you like to be able to do at the end of Kindergarten?
  • How will you learn to do that?
  • How could you record your learning?

We introduced the children to their portfolios. We explained that the portfolios were empty, but throughout the course of the year the children would add “learning stories” that would tell about their individual learning journeys throughout their time in Kindergarten.

Ryan’s big brother Aidan had been in KC two years before, so we asked Ryan’s family if we could have a look at Aidan’s portfolio, as an example. The children were totally absorbed as we turned the pages of Aidan’s portfolio. They were captivated by a story Aidan had written about his baby. “That’s a fiction!” someone cried. The children all know Aidan, and they know he doesn’t have a baby. Suddenly Nia clicked! “It’s Ryan! He was a baby but now he’s not!” This was a wonderful connection to the central idea and showed the children in a concrete way how the empty portfolios will be used to document their personal learning journeys.

We asked the children what we should put in the portfolios. This led to a discussion about what would fit easily into the portfolio and how we would record things like Nikhil’s fast running, which wasn’t so easy to show in a portfolio. I proposed that they might like to start with a self portrait and the children agreed enthusiastically.

As the children have grown during the year, they often come back to their self portraits and talk about the things they can do now that they couldn’t do at the beginning of the year.

When doing the pre-assessment at the beginning of the unit, we observed that many children were not sure how they had learned to do they things they could do now, and several children weren’t sure how or if they would learn skills that seemed far out of their grasp at this point in time. We read Clem Always Could by Sarah Watt and the children thought about something they had learned to do, and how they had felt when faced with that new situation. The children drew pictures to represent their own experiences and shared them with their parents in a VoiceThread.

At our parent planning meeting we had agreed that each child would keep a “treasure box” at home, in which they would keep special things, treasures, which were important to them and showed something about their learning. So far the treasure boxes have contained a rich and colourful array of treasures including fallen out teeth, locks of hair, photographs,outgrown clothes, precious pebbles, a favourite lego character. These artefacts tell the story of each unique learning journey. The treasure boxes are added to as the year progresses.

Another idea that arose from the parent planning meeting was to display a large map at child height to that the children could make connections bewteen their personal histories and learning journeys and their physical location. The children used globes, atlases and Google Earth on iPads to explore their physical journeys and make connections to their learning journeys.

Something that we had not planned for as part of this unit was our collaboration though global classroom projects with other Kindergarten children around the world. As the relationships deepened, the children made more and more connections between their learning journeys and the learning journeys of their on-line friends in other countries. They were amazed and delighted to discover that another class was doing patterns, or that they were playing a similar counting game. They wanted to know more about the learning that was going on in other classes and communicated with the other children using Twitter, VoiceThread and blog comments. There are plans to continue the dialogue through skype and the children have suggested a collaborative project based on a common learning experience that they observed on their twitter friends’ blog.

The children’s writing shows very obvious signs of improvement. The children can see clearly that now they have more strategies for spelling words and they have begun to master basic writing conventions that they did not understand previously. The children often pour over their earlier writing books and look back with a mixture of pride and sheepishness at the work they did before. The children have been reflecting on their writing and setting themselves goals. We photographed samples of the children’s work for a VoiceThread and the children commented on their goals. Parents were able to join in the reflection at home and they too left comments on the VoiceThread.

When we planned one of our monthly parent sharing sessions, the children made connections to the central idea and to the organizing theme when they decided to have a math focus to share engagements that showed how they had developed as mathematical thinkers, eg: “because I think my mum won’t believe that now I can do all the way to 100 AND in twos!”

At the end of the Semester in place of an end of year party, we had a celebration of learning. The children planned the celebration themselves. They decided to go back to the ELC and share their personal learning journeys, through their portfolios, with their teachers in the ELC “because they were our teachers from before when we were little and we didn’t know how to read and hula hoop and they will be really amazed to see what we can do now”.

As the year progresses, the children have selected pieces of work to put in their portfolio to highlight their learning. They make decisions about how to mount their work and use the safety paper trimmer to present their work they way they want it. Some children type their own reflections, others dictate as adults scribe, the adults re-reading what they have typed so the children can check that their thoughts have been recorded accurately.

Again and again in our reflection sessions, we adults have discussed and agreed on how relevant and engaging this inquiry has felt. The children are naturally intrigued by their own and their peers’ personal learning journeys and are motivated to master new skills and construct new understandings. The inquiry is being driven by the children and their interests and arches over every aspect of learning.

The children are reflecting and taking action all the time. In free inquiry times children often choose to practice some skill they’ve been working on, from making a box out of origami to stabilizing a tricky construction problem, from skip counting to 100 to getting exactly the right shade of green. As one child explains, “Well, I can’t quite do it yet, but Olivia is going to help me and I think I will be able to do it by hometime. Because I’m learning, you know.”

The documenting of the personal journeys happens so naturally. The children have ownership of their portfolios and are enormously motivated to select work to carefully place inside them as the year progresses. The children often choose to look at their own and each other’s portfolios during free inquiry times and reading times. They chose to share the portfolios with their grade nine buddies when they came to visit. The buddies used the same supporting questions that the parents used at home. The Kindergarten children were clearly proud of their achievements and took delight in sharing their work.

This unit will run throughout the year. We expect that the children will make connections between this unit and our other units of inquiry and that it might, in fact, provide another lenses through which the children explore some of the other units. An ongoing question for us is how to take the key ingredients that made this unit such a success -flexible timing, very real purpose and audience, content determined by the children and their interests- and incorporate them into our other units.

About tasha cowdy

PYP coordinator; Reggio inspired early childhood teacher; Workshop leader; Using technology to flatten classrooms; Involving parents in children's learning; Switzerland
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16 Responses to An Inquiry Into Where We Are in Place and Time

  1. Wow! There are so many great ideas in your blog. I love what you’re doing in your class. We are working on inquiry teaching and I will be sharing this with our K teacher. Thanks!


  2. whatedsaid says:

    Thanks for the detailed description, Tasha. What at a beautiful example of student inquiry and authentic learning. I plan to share this with teachers in the lower grades at my school.


    • Tasha Cowdy says:

      Hi Edna, thanks for your feed-back. I thought that the post might be a bit long, but I wanted document the journey and I felt that all the details were important. It is encouraging that people were not put off by the length, and found the details helpful.


  3. efhurley says:

    How interesting that this will continue throughout the year. You’ve found a way around the 6-week unit rule! I’m going to share this with one of our KG teachers. Thanks for all the great details.


    • Tasha Cowdy says:

      In Kindergarten, we have a bit more flexibility with the timing of units. We have found that dipping in and out of a unit throughout the year, making connections to other units is a powerful way of helping the children to make connections between units.


  4. mirandarose14 says:

    Wow- what a wonderful learning environment you have created for these Kg students. Your team has given students such ownership and pride in how they are growing and changing. I love the detail with which you documented and shared the process with us. I also like that you revisit this unit over the course of the year. We start our Kg’s off with a similar unit and we will be sure to include some of your great ideas next year. Thanks for sharing!


    • Tasha Cowdy says:

      Hi Miranda! Would love to hear about experiences or ideas that you have when you do this unit. I’m interested to know which organizing theme you have this unit. We thought that it might fit more naturally under Who We Are, but ended up putting it under WWAPT because of the knock-on effect on our whole school PoI. Any thoughts?


      • mirandarose14 says:

        Hi Tasha! We do it in WWAPT as ours has history as a related concept. The PYP focus concepts are change and reflection. The Central Idea that is currently under review is “Learning about our personal history allows us to reflect on and celebrate where we have been and how we have developed” (a bit too wordy we think). In the unit students spend a great deal of time learning and reflecting on how they have changed over the course of their short lives and how they know they have changed. think it is a really tangible unit under this Transdisciplinary Theme as it is so relevant to our egocentric and enthusiastic early years learners. It is a great spring board for the year in KG as we can always come back to it and reflect on and celebrate how we have changed since the beginning of KG. We do revisit the unit organically as students change, grow and learn. As a result of your post however, I could see us revisiting the Central Idea even more explicitly and purposefully over the course of the year to guide reflection and further goal setting.


  5. ibdanmagie says:

    Hi Tasha,

    As others have stated, this is a great model, with illustrative detail, regarding a UOI in the early years of the PYP. I will be coming back to this posting as I continue to work with teachers in the future. Thank you for sharing!

    I also found it interesting that you chose to display the Central Idea and un-pack it with the students. The part I really liked about that was the thoughtful decision behind it, not a “one size fits all rule” for displaying central ideas or not, it depends on the unit and the learners.

    Thanks again,


    • Tasha Cowdy says:

      Hi Dan!
      There’s a though provoking post on the IB’s Sharing PYP practice blog, inspired by a post by Christ Frost (Tokyo International School) on the PYP Threads ning, about whether or not to display central ideas. Like you, I like to consider the displaying of each central idea case by case.


  6. Pingback: An Inquiry Into Where We Are in Place and Time | Inquire Within | Love to read, love to learn!

  7. angie chisholm says:

    Hello. I am a new IB Kindergarten teacher and I’m having to develop my UOI from scratch. Your details and examples really helped, and for the first time, I feel like I understand. Thank you so much. I’m off to dive into my very first planner! Thanks for sharing!


  8. Kristal Brandon says:

    I love everything!


  9. Pingback: Inquire into ‘Inquire Within’… | Inquire Within

  10. Pingback: Inquiry into ‘Inquire Within’… | Inquire Within

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