Independent Student Inquiry Projects

This year at Coastside Leadership Academy, we wanted to find ways to encourage our students to delve deeper into our units and read independently. Our goal is to develop our student’s curiosity while giving them the tools to find out more for themselves by following their own interests. During our Environmental Literacy unit this fall, we defined this process and called it our Independent Student Inquiry Projects. 

Our ISI projects, lovingly pronounced “Issy”, begin at the library. Research has shown that students are more likely to enjoy reading when they can choose what books they read. For this project we allowed students to check out any book related to Environmental Literacy. We had a lesson on how to use the online library catalog, which is a necessary skill, but this felt dry. For our students, books on a screen are not as exciting as books in their hands, so we closed the computers and brought them to the bookshelves. It was fun to watch their enthusiasm for finding a book grow when they got to the nature section of the library and started looking at the photos. 

Our students checked out a wide variety of nature books, and Lindsay and I found books too. ISI book topics included pigeons, bees, fungi, pests, weather, and plants, and for the last six weeks, these books went everywhere with us. We read in the forest, on hikes, and at the beach. We gave our students opportunities to read during the day, and then after we read everyone would share a brief synopsis of what they learned. Even though I wasn’t reading the book about bees, I got to learn alongside the reader, and each reader became the “expert” in their topic. 

As our students continued to read, we watched their curiosity continue. Our student reading about animal pests began to think deeper about why some animals are feared in our culture.

“Can I research the relationship between snakes and religion?” she asked, after finishing her chapter about snakes.

“Sure! We can’t wait to hear what you learn.”

At the end of the unit, we gathered the students and asked them how they wanted to present the information they learned from their ISI project. We decided to have a book club where everyone would have 10 minutes to be the teacher in their subject area.

“I am going to make slides with animations,” said one student.

“I am going to write note cards with my information, and then create a coloring sheet for you to color while I talk.”

“I am going to bring cookies to share.”

“This sounds great!” Lindsay and I beamed. 

We gave our students two hours during the week to create their presentations, and some opted to work on them at home too. 

On the day of the ISI book club, our student’s delivery methods of the information were as wide as the subject areas! We had a Google Slide presentation on how snakes are represented in world religions, cookies baked in the shape of pigeons, coloring worksheets of bees, science experiments showing how fog is created, plant demonstrations, and clay models of fungi. Our students showed their knowledge in fun and interesting ways, and they were proud of how much they had learned. It was definitely a highlight of our Environmental Literacy unit. 

My favorite part of the ISI project is empowering students to be active participants in their own learning. During the project everyone in the community is both a student and a teacher. They learned how to lead and listen to other leaders. The ISI project allowed everyone’s talents and interests to shine and this stemmed from allowing them to choose their own book. We are already looking forward to checking out our next ISI books for unit two.

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