What am I curious about? What do I want to learn more about? What questions do I want to answer?
Students in all three middle schools in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 are answering those questions as part of new Inquiry Units during their daily Blaze Time period.
Inquiry Units are based on a concept called Genius Hour that began in the corporate world with employees given about 20 percent of their time to work on new ideas or pet projects that interest them. It’s been reported that at Google, the process has increased productivity and resulted in new products including Gmail and Google News.
The process at Eagle Ridge, Metcalf and Nicollet middle schools begins with students brainstorming lists of things that make them curious or excited, or things at which they excel. They select a topic, then ask questions and investigate. The next step is to create a presentation or product of their choice and share with others.
“I hope students gain a simple love for learning new things through Inquiry Units,” said Erika Nesvig, principal at Eagle Ridge Middle School. “All the time we are telling students what they need to learn and this is an opportunity for them to lead their own learning by exploring their interests.”
At Metcalf Middle School, teacher Jessica Thomas (pictured) said 8th grade students took awhile to come up with ideas to explore. But then she shared some of her interests prompting students to move in all kinds of directions. For example, one student is interested in how drama develops, spreads through social media and the impact it has. Another student is passionate about endangered manatees and is creating an artistic visual display.
Sixth-grade students of Connie Iles are literally all over the map with enthusiastic research of megastars, global fashion, Ancient Greek culture, arctic seals, graphic design, animal abuse and more.
“All students are learning and being given this inquiry-based, enrichment-for-all opportunity,” said Shannon McParland, principal of Metcalf Middle School.
As the former principal at Sioux Trail Elementary, McParland saw lots of benefits for students as Genius Hour became a big part of the culture at that school. Just like the school’s makerspaces, inquiry units encourage curiosity, creativity and collaboration.
“Inquiry Units are a new way for students to become future ready,” she said. “It is exciting to see what students produce.”
When they’re digging into subjects or issues of special interest to them, students may be more engaged, motivated and eager to learn. They also gain a deeper understanding of what they’re studying that goes beyond memorizing facts and content and they’re developing strong research skills. Through Inquiry Units, students may discover more about themselves, including possible future career fields of greatest interest to them.