Pursuing Inquiry Action

I’m still wondering if our action led to inquiry or vice versa?

It started with plastic water bottles. The 10th graders at our school were selling them the last few weeks as part of a Business Studies project. Their point of sale happened to be right outside our elementary classrooms. I was appalled at their choice. Their goal was to run a small business; they chose the product.

We live in Japan. We are blessed with fresh potable water. Every year, I reinforce to parents and students the importance of having a re-usable water bottle, made out of stainless steel or durable, BPA-free plastic. We have a water fountain right down our hallway with good, cold water.

And here were the 10th graders selling water. So, I asked them why? A few of my students joined me in asking why? The 10th graders’ first reaction was to laugh at us. I think they were nervous.

Dissatisfied with their answer, I took it back to my class and posed the question. What do you think about them selling plastic water bottles? What should we do?

Students 1st action: Their response was that we should talk to them. We’re at a PYP-school. We communicate respectfully. So, the next break when students were selling the water bottles, a group of students went out and asked them questions about plastic and recycling? A few of my students are in an organization known as Roots and Shoots, and they’ve been diving into the problem with plastics in the ocean.

Other teachers came out to support our students, and other students joined in. I could tell the students needed some more facts to back up their questions and ideas. By the next break, there was a mob scene in front of the water sellers. The 10th graders, though, weren’t backing down. They said they were considering making their product cheaper so they could sell more. Hmmm…Behind them, ironically, the video featuring our Roots and Shoots kids was playing. It was a drama of the plastic gyre in the ocean.

Moving on to Inquiry: My kids were starting to talk more and more about it, so I jumped on the opportunity to move them into more inquiry and action. For a moment, I considered how connected this was to our unit on energy. We only had 2 weeks of school before break. More content to finish. Maybe I should have stopped our exploration, but I didn’t.

The Business Studies teacher suggested his students come do a presentation to our students. They came with a video from the Yokohama Recycling center. I had my students write down their thoughts on Post-it notes as they 10th graders talked because I knew they would want to butt in. We talked about respectful communication and listening. At the end of the presentation, my students had a lot of questions, which the 10th graders weren’t able to answer.

Next steps: My students commented that the 10th graders didn’t have a lot of facts. They also said that they looked nervous. We talked about what was next. More research. We used a language-directed lesson which I teach once/week with our EAL teacher to practice some skimming and scanning of articles supporting our kids’ side: we shouldn’t buy bottled water. After modeling, within 15 minutes, they had highlighted facts and arguments. They wanted to protest, stage a boycott.

Activist friends: I needed to do my own inquiry. We were considering a protest of some sort with signs, but I needed some knowledge. I have some good friends who are involved with a Palestinian rights group, and they’ve been heavily involved in the Occupy movement in the United States. I wrote to them, and they wrote back with a lot of tips. Come up with four words that will summarize our side. Chants. Visuals. I was learning a lot about activism and fired up to go.

Presentation: As we rolled into our final week before break, geared up for a boycott or protest of some sort, we heard that the 10th grade water sellers decided to give away their product for free and weren’t selling anymore. The students really wanted to respond, though, so the Business Studies teacher and I decided to have the Grade 5 students do a presentation about their beliefs.

Monday morning, we had an hour. Using Google presentation, anyone interested wrote one slide. Then, we practiced our presentation. The Business Studies teacher came down and told the kids not to be nervous, which was funny since they probably weren’t nervous until he said that.

IMG_3372The end: The students presented in front of 25 10th graders and did great. Each one communicated well and with as much passion as they could muster. They answered some questions at the end and felt comfortable. The 10th grade water sellers were a bit convinced but not completely, but I think they were impressed by the Grade 5 students.

Final reflection: We reflected later about the experience using some visible thinking questions. Once again, using a visible thinking model shows a depth of thinking I don’t often realize is there.

How did they feel about the experience of inquiry and action: angry, nervous, happy, like a protester.

What did they learn? About BPA, where a lot of bottled water comes from, that it takes a lot of energy to make a plastic water bottle, that a lot of water bottles aren’t recycled.

What skills did they gain? Argumentative, researching as fast as possible, talking in front of a crowd, patience.

Their goals for next time: have more eye contact, listen to the other team before speaking, modulating your voice.

Their favorite part with overall consensus: arguing with the 10th graders and standing up in front of them. Everything, one boy said.

How did it connect to their real lives? It connected with everything they said. I think twice about buying a bottled drink, it changed my thoughts on pet bottle caps because I love animals. It allowed me to think differently.

I know that this inquiry took off and didn’t stick with our guided inquiry of energy. As a result, I’m feeling a bit behind, but when the students reflected and said they loved it and what they learned and how connected it was to their own lives, I thought, isn’t that what education is all about? Isn’t this the kind of thing they’re more likely to remember?

About kdceci

I am a grade 5 teacher in a PYP school in Chicago, Illinois, USA. From the US originally, I worked in Asia the last 13 years. I am passionate about inquiry-driven education, collaboration, and ensuring kids get to continue to be kids that play, create and think as long as they can. Outside of school, l love to write, read, hike, run, meditate and travel.
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5 Responses to Pursuing Inquiry Action

  1. johnbarell says:

    Seems to me that you’ve illustrated what inquiry is all about: it begins with a problematic situation, one that is ill-structured and creates some doubt, difficulty or uncertainty within us. Students were puzzled by selling of bottled water and chose to confront the issue head on. What resulted was a rather passionate investigation of the ill-effects of such bottles on the environment.
    I venture to say that your students will remember this purposeful investigation for a long, long time, especially confronting and arguing logically with students five years older, developing the confidence to do so. So what if you fell behind with regular units! This was authentic learning at its best and your guidance helped students turn it into a well-developed, thought out learning experience.

    Bravo Zulu!

    John Barell


  2. Jane Nordli Jessep says:

    This was inspiring. I hope that other educators will share this fine example of what education needs to be about. Thank you for facilitating such an enriching experience, one that will resonate in your students over time and in a variety of ways.


  3. Fantastic post that I look forward to sharing with others. After our discussion about the importance of spontaneous inquiry a few weeks ago – it was lovely to read such a powerful example!! Everything we aim to do as inquiry teachers is captured in this case study – authenticity, higher order thinking, integration, challenge, student voice – I could go on! You recognised an inquiry moment and went with it…doesn’t get much better than that! I hope the students are aware of the skills THEY developed through the process and how they can be easily transferred to similar contexts. Thanks so much for sharing.


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  5. Pingback: The Continuing Saga of a Water Bottle Inquiry | Inquire Within

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