How do kids learn to be self reliant, active citizens in their school communities?

Inquiring Minds USA offers democratic processes and programs that improve student engagement and development.  We provide, simultaneously, professional development for teachers and avenues for students to cultivate  their personal and communal agency in the school.  In the process students develop a strong sense of autonomy as well as civic engagement. The rewards are great!

We asked David, a 5th grader and Kids' Council member "What does self reliance mean?"  He replied instantly,  “Relying on yourself – to pull yourself forward. I say that all the time to myself.” 

Motivated students become helpful problem 'seekers and solvers' and can improve the school’s learning environment and overall community. 

Our programs and processes are used in the (programmed) classroom as well as after school (soft) learning time to help schools make the cultural shift to project-based, student-led learning and to nurture civic participation within the school's communities and common spaces. 

Below are snapshots for 4 different processes/programs/workshops we offer that help us achieve these goals. Scroll further down for a bit more information, videos, photos and detail.

LEARNING WALLS  
Co created by students and teachers, a learning wall is a pin-able, write-able surface in the classroom. Its  an Interactive, integrated approach to inquiry at all elementary grade levels that makes the students' thinking visible. By incorporating the Learning Wall as a tool to enhance the curriculum, children and teachers use democratic, cooperative 'thinking and doing' each and every day.

PEACEKEEPERS PROGRAM
Upper elementary students are trained to lead this program in which they may intervene in conflicts within the school (as well as on the playground, at home)  to arrive at amicable solutions. The benefits are felt across all elementary grade levels and beyond the school.

KIDS' COUNCIL PROGRAM
Upper elementary students elected by their classmates to represent them collaborate to improve aspects of the school that they identify.  They use inquiry and design thinking strategies in the process. Kids' Council is student-led and also incorporates PeaceKeepers in its programming.

HACKING THE BRAIN WORKSHOP
This practical, interactive workshop for teachers, parents and students is led by neuroscientist Dr. Elizabeth Waters. It illuminates how the brain develops and how learning happens at all ages. Participants of all ages learn how to 'hack their brains'.

David talks about how Learning Walls are student-led: They make children's thinking visible through collaboration and co-creation over the course of a lesson.

Learning Walls Workshop: Learn how students’ document their understanding of practices and content knowledge individually and collectively.

Led by DK Holland and Dr. Elizabeth Waters

This workshop (which requires the installation of Learning Walls) uses structured thinking and conversation practices to build a visual document while encouraging dialog, debate and collaboration. The wall demonstrates the value of each person in the classroom.

Students create Learning Walls to build consensus and open new avenues for learning.

Within a lesson, a unit or an entire year, students practice thinking, learning and reflecting on their understanding of a process or idea. Students learn different roles involved in developing consensus, whether peer-to-peer cognitive modeling, connecting thinking to other’s ideas, recognizing everyone’s input, or reaching the best possible explanation. Students set goals for learning by looking for missing pieces in the group’s explanation of a question or process and revise their visual document as they develop a more sophisticated explanation.  As they learn to value and build on the ideas of their classmates, they also compare their experiences of learning a topic and reflect on how differences in perspectives increases their overall understanding.

Learning walls make student thinking visible to all.

Ms. Leathers 4th grade 100% student led Learning Wall (from our Beta) shows the process of the food chain as co created by several students. Lots of erasing shows the iterative process of collaboration. Unseen in this cropped photo are a map, writings and other aspects of the ecosystem reflecting integrated thinking on the Learning Wall.

Ms. Leathers 4th grade 100% student led Learning Wall (from our Beta) shows the process of the food chain as co created by several students. Lots of erasing shows the iterative process of collaboration. Unseen in this cropped photo are a map, writings and other aspects of the ecosystem reflecting integrated thinking on the Learning Wall.

During the workshops, teachers and students participate in developing a Learning Wall display and practice coaching groups through its development. This training also covers ways to transform structured thinking practices or strategies into visual displays and to develop group discussion skills that reflect both inclusion and differentiation. Ongoing coaching, in school or remotely, is provided to teachers to assist in refining and building strategies for building group learning practices and Learning Wall displays.

STUDENT BENEFITS

• Engage in cognitive modeling to share their learning with peers

• Synthesize learning to express increasing complex ideas

• Reduce classroom anxiety, improve mental health

WHOLE SCHOOL BENEFITS

• Engaged students as partners in the learning process

• Display of student work aligned with unit goals, standards and rubrics


PeaceKeepers Workshop: Resolving conflict contributes to learning, social/emotional growth, and school harmony.

Led by DK Holland and Dr. Elizabeth Waters

PeaceKeepers gives students new tools for personal growth. Its a peer-to-peer mentoring model that trains and offers ongoing coaching to upper elementary students to be role models and facilitators for younger children experiencing social conflicts.  It builds on key concepts of emotional intelligence including:

1) Self-awareness

2) Self-management

3) Social awareness

4) Relationship management  

Student practice these skills in order to assist other students experiencing conflict through both direct and indirect support.  

PeaceKeepers (i.e., 4th and 5th grade students) train to help resolve conflict and intervene so they can arrive at an amicable solution under the guidance of their coach. This program is focuses on upper elementary students but may be adapted for middle or high school students.  Students meet after school (or at lunch) with their coach for ongoing training and group discussions. In addition, the PeaceKeeper coach helps students debrief about the conflicts at weekly meetings or as needed.

Our PeaceKeeper program also provides teachers and administrators with dynamic coaching to ensue the program works for the whole school.

During the workshops, teachers, parents and students and administrators learn how to use PeaceKeeping as a tool to develop student agency and emotional intelligence. Through role playing identifying different emotional responses, and techniques for building empathy are practiced with dynamic coaching in the context of conflict resolution. Ongoing coaching, in school or remotely, is provided to the PeaceKeeper coach or coaching staff by a facilitator to assist in refining and building the PeaceKeeper student training.  

STUDENT BENEFITS

• Cultivate peer-to-peer communication skills

• 4th and 5th grade PeaceKeepers model positive behavior

• PeaceKeepers enlist younger children to help to keep the peace during recess and in the hallways

• Students learn how, as a bystander, to intercede in a mediation or intervention

• Develop self and social awareness

• Develop social emotional intelligence

WHOLE SCHOOL BENEFITS

• Improved overall school culture 

• Increased respect and communication between adults and students

FAMILY AND COMMUNITY BENEFITS

• Children  mediate disputes outside the school

• Children internalize the process and can act with fairness and empathy more readily

• Parents encourage the use of the peacekeeper strategy at home and beyond


Kids' Council Workshop: Democratic leadership – upper elementary students team-up to improve their school

Civc-minded students are the greatest resource in growing an effective school. With that in mind,  we created processes and programs to guide student development towards civic engagement.. Our ultimate goal is for kids to learn to be independent co-operators and engaged, confident, effective thinkers and doers.

We believe that students know best how they learn best. Through the Kids’ Council process, students create and maintain a cooperative peer-to-peer council within the school focused on improving the school’s learning environment as well as common spaces. They research, vote on and act on their own initiatives.

Simultaneously, we provide strategies and tools for teachers to move to a facilitation mindset as well as avenues for students to exercise agency. In the process. In addition, they develop independent thinking as well as team building skills.

Students in upper elementary grades are often motivated to improve their school before they leave it: They see it as their legacy realizing the children in younger grades look up to them.  And, of course, they often have very practical ideas and problem solutions that do not occur to adults.

Our process starts with  a teacher, student, parent and administrator workshop. Its followed by dynamic coaching of teachers in the classroom by a coach. This orients the whole school to the value and purpose of KIds’ Council. Ongoing coaching within Kids' Council sessions and during the school day keeps the kids on track and helps teachers as well.

STUDENT BENEFITS

• Enhance peer-to-peer communication skills

• Greater investment in student-created solutions that work

• Increase skills in tackling real world questions

• Trained in bystander mediation

• Learn how to conduct a 'user experience' process

• Confident authentic selves emerge

• Increased democratic leadership skills

WHOLE SCHOOL BENEFITS

• More harmonious classrooms

• Improved communication between teachers and students

• Overall improvement of school culture

• Savvy presentation, literacy skills demonstrated at all-school events

• Increased respect between adults and students

 

Hacking the Brain Workshop

led by Dr. Elizabeth Waters

This interactive workshop examines myths and facts regarding the brain and what research tells us about how this knowledge can inform education practices at different stages of development – from preK to adult.

Students, teachers, parents, students and administrators will make their own user manuals for optimizing their brain function in the course of the workshop. 

We use structured thinking and conversation practices to build a visual document that demonstrates the value of each person in the classroom.

Each group evaluates the evidence for common myths about the brain including left-brain vs right-brain and learning styles at different age appropriate levels.  

Simple but powerful demonstrations of “brain hacking” are used to demonstrate how the brain is always ready to learn and develop new memories. Models of the brain and its components are used to discuss how the brain changes and why it continues to change when you learn – at any age. This will be used to examine fixed versus growth mindset attitudes and practice ways to develop productive growth mindset habits. 

PARTICIPANT BENEFITS

• Identify positive influencers of brain development and function to incorporate into classrooms, informal learning spaces, and everyday life

• Experience some of the ways that the brain is changeable throughout life

• Understand intelligence as a skill that requires practice

• Practice growth mindset strategies that work in any setting.

• Engage parents and students as partners in the learning process

•Learn to juggle!

What is inquiry? 

The 4 main disciplines of the inquiry arc equip students to become actively engaged in their nation:

1. Developing questions and planning inquiries

Encourages students to ask main and supporting questions about historical events and concepts learned in class lessons. Teachers also play a role by supporting and encouraging their students’ development of ideas.

2. Evaluating sources and using evidence

Asks students to research in a variety of forms and then develop their claims or understand the claims of others.

3. Applying disciplinary concepts and tools

Values the importance of what content the teachers decide to present the students. In this main idea, “Disciplinary” refers to a subject such as civics, economics, geography, or history. A student may examine one or all of these subjects in order to gather evidence to share their question and/or answer in class.

4. Communicating conclusions and taking informed action

We examine the process by which students compile their findings and share them with others. The demonstration of knowledge is in the presentation. This could mean creating a portfolio, such as a video or an essay. Since Inquiring Minds is design focused, the arc is part of our design process.

We also worked with the team who developed C3 Framework (which is being adapted in many state standards including New York State through Engage NY). The centerpiece of inquiry is the Inquiry Arc. With our focus on developing disciplined civic engagement, the arc has become one of our best tools.

In respect to the social studies state standards, The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework encourages critical thinking for K-12 students. Inquiring Minds designed the visual format for this framework which prepares students to be active citizens by offering a level-by-level structure showing how a student at every grade-level can act thoughtfully in a democratic environment that continues to develop culturally and physically. 

The C3 Framework document also offers an overview of their English Language Arts/Literacy Common Core Connections. As noted in the ELA/ Literacy Common Core Standards, students who are college and career ready can independently ‘construct effective arguments and convey intricate or multifaceted information' and ‘use relevant evidence’ when making arguments.

Where did the C3 Framework come from?

"The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards was conceptualized by individual state leaders in social studies education and supported by fifteen professional organizations representing four core social studies content areas: civics, economics, geography, and history. The C3 Framework was written by experts in the academic disciplines and social studies education in collaboration with classroom teachers, state social studies education leaders, and representatives of professional organizations.    

Work on the C3 Framework began in 2010 with the development of an initial conceptual guidance document written by individuals from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) Social Studies Assessment, Curriculum, and Instruction state collaborative and by representatives from the professional associations. The framework writers were selected in consultation with the participating professional associations. Feedback was solicited throughout the process from stakeholders, including invitational reviews with professional organizations, teachers, and critical friends."

(from page 7 of Social Studies for the Next Generation: Purposes, Practices, and Implications of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards)

 

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