Building Bridges across Boundaries

Yesterday at lunch, the librarian shared with the counselor and myself a new social media tool that students are starting to use. It allows you to use your phone to message with others around within a specific proximity. At first, it seems redundant; why would you want to use your phone to communicate if you’re already in a shared physical space?

And then it hit us: what a great app to build metacognitive conversations around an engagement for a group while they are in a shared physical space. Collaborate live, and use the app to think and talk about thinking while collaborating.

So we’ve got a plan to meet at this great coffee shop in our city to try this engagement first hand. I can’t wait to see what we’ll learn through the experience, about how our students might use the app and how they might be thinking as they do.

Crossing boundaries between school and life

What our lunch conversation illustrates is what happens when learners cross boundaries between thought-worlds (Lofthouse & Wright, 2010). We have our thought worlds comprising how we think of teaching, and we have thought worlds that exist outside of this, in the other parts of our lives in which we learn. When these worlds cross over, the boundaries between them seem to dissolve, and new, personally relevant learning occurs.

For our students, their thought worlds might be what happens in school, and what happens outside of school. We know that our students learn in school; that’s something we make sure of every day we show up and engage.

How might we bring this thought world of school closer to the thought world of learners’ lives, so that there are bridges between them, collectively called learning?

Image by Stan Shebs found on Wikimedia Commons.

Inquiry as a Bridge 

Most common to the IB continuum, we can build bridges between knowledge and understanding through concepts. One of the most memorable events I’ve seen happen in a PYP classroom was when a class realized that a concept is transferrable, timeless and not locked in space and time.

Some third graders were inquiring into How we organize ourselves. They were looking at photos of a local market and noting down observations. As they shared observations, inferences began to emerge and were also noted down along with observations in their collected thinking. They began to make connections to their own lives as they thought deeper about what the images revealed about how people organize themselves. Then, a big idea emerged: Places like markets respond to what people need. Their subsequent reflections show connections between the concepts of form, function and causation. Questions suddenly formed. Why do some markets sell some things but not other things? Did my grandparents see the same items for sale at markets when they were my ageWhat happens when there are no fruit or vegetables for sale at any market?

The unit of inquiry went on to become a highly engaging learning experience for those students. They brought information from their lives into the inquiry, and they brought ideas and skills they were learning in school outside and into their lives through interviews, photographs, and other research. The unit concepts served to build bridges between their thought worlds of school and their lives.

The example from PYP helps us illustrate that the cyclical, iterative learning that inquiry facilitates is transferrable to MYP (and even DP). When students learn responsible entrepreneurship through their inquiry into markets, commodities and commercialization as part of globalization and sustainability (MYP From Principles into Practice, p.61), they are conceptually building upon what they learned about form, function, causation.

Building bridges between thought worlds in the MYP

In the MYP, we use inquiry to build bridges between thought worlds with our students. The global contexts can be bridges spanning a discipline and the world. When our students ask questions through a contextual lens, they might find those intersections as interdisciplinary bridges as well.

Students also build interdisciplinary bridges when they use ATL skills in one subject then in another, and these connections between disciplines allow them to transfer not only the skills to new applications, but transfer their understanding and evaluation of skills to new situations. This type of boundary crossing helps our students to insightfully draw upon skills they had learned and rehearsed in a few ways and generalize patterns of management and use of skills in ambiguous, unfamiliar situations – exactly what they need as independent inquirers.

Each unit we plan, teach and assess can build bridges crossing the boundaries between learners’ lives in school and the world beyond. By thoughtfully designing inquiry approaches that allow multiple entry points into learning, we give our students and ourselves co-authorship of their learning and help them journey with insight and inspiration.

What bridges might you and your students build through inquiry?

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

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