What does an inquiry-based, first week of school look like?

During this year’s staff orientation, we used inspiration from two blog posts (sowing the seeds of inquiry & 10 things to do on the first day of school) to move towards a more inquiry-based, first week with students.

Here is a glimpse into what it looked like in classrooms from KG to Grade 5…

Students helped set up their learning environment:

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Students helped choose what to do for the first week:

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Students explored the school:


Students’ questions were honoured:

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Students and teachers learned about and connected with one another:

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Students and teachers discussed what it means to be ‘students’ and ‘teachers’:

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Students shared what they want to learn about in the coming year:

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Students thought about and shared their learning preferences:

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Students explored the learner profile, PYP attitudes, key concepts and action:

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Student constructed essential agreements:

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Students reflected:

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Students played:


The week was a success! The feedback from teachers and students was overwhelmingly positive. Students loved being included in the planning and set-up for a new school year and teachers felt the more ownership they handed over to students the more positive and enjoyable the learning community became.

There is a definite buzz around our elementary school. Enthusiasm… fresh ideas… confidence… inquiry… I can’t wait to see where all this amazing energy takes us this year!

What does your inquiry-based first week of school look like?



Teachers Taking Action

Earlier this year, I posted about how we as teachers can help kids to take action.

Many of the teachers I work with are very passionate about how they can better help their students to take action and feel this is an element of their teaching practice they would like to develop more.

Since in the PYP we are learners first, and teachers second, we decided to reflect and think about how we have taken action based on what we’ve learned professionally this year (with regards to math instruction).

To help us understand the different types of action, we used this chart to help frame our thinking.

Action Elements

We all reflected on the different “actions” we have taken recently and wrote them on post-it notes. Then we shared them with each other.

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Then we posted them on a “Teachers Taking Action” wall.

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Doing this reflection as teachers was beneficial in so many different ways:

1. It was so rewarding and inspiring to see and celebrate all the different ways teachers have taken action based on what they have learned professionally this year!

2. It allowed us to understand more deeply what “Taking Action” really means and that there can be six different ways to take action.

3. It allowed us to experience what it is like as a learner to reflect on taking action.

4. It engendered a discussion about shifting our mindset from “helping students to take action” to “helping students notice, name and reflect on the action they are already taking.”

5. It allowed us to discuss the challenges of helping students to take action and the needs of our school community to further develop this important element of the PYP.

To help make a good human, you have to be a good human.. and boy are our students lucky to have such wonderful role models as teachers who put their own professional learning into action! 

“What are you going to do about it?” Helping Kids to Take Action

So far this year, some of our students have learned that ….

  • People’s perspectives influence their relationships with others. (Grade 4)
  • Responsible choices affect our health. (Grade 1)
  • Migration transforms individuals and communities. (Grade 5)
  • Living things depend on natural resources to survive. (KG2)

But what are the students  doing with that learning?

In the Primary Years Programme, student action is paramount. It’s the end goal of all of our learning. We want our students to take what they have learned and do something about it. But how can we as teachers help this to happen?

At our school we often discuss what “student-initiated action” really means. We are pretty clear on the fact that it means teachers cannot design the action and then oblige the students to partake in it. But does it mean that teachers should be 100% hands off when it comes to student action?

No. I don’t think so.

Just like it is our job to teach the students how to read and write and do math, I personally believe it is our job to also teach the students how to listen, how to learn, how to be kind, and – in this specific case – how to take action.

We don’t need to teach them what action to take, but we can help students learn how to take their own action.

Here are a few ideas of what we as teachers can do to support student-initiated action:

  1. Model it – Take time to explicitly point out when you as a teacher have taken action based on something you have learned.“Last night I learned that the Sea Turtles in the Gulf are becoming endangered so I decided to take action and walk to the beach and throw out some garbage.”
  2.  Explain it – We cannot expect students to take action if they don’t know what “taking action” means. Build a lesson about what is means to “take action”. Create an anchor chart that your class can refer to for the rest of the year.“Does anyone know what it means to take action?” “How have you done something to make the world a better place?” “What types of action can we take as children?” “Tell me about a time you did something because of something you learned?”
  3.  Name it – Sometimes students take action without even knowing it. That is when it is our job as teachers to notice it and point it out for them.“Wow, Ahmad you just took action by turning off that leaky tap! That is such a good way to help with the issue of water conservation we are learning about.”
  4.  Encourage it – when a student shares a discovery or a new piece of learning with you ask “What are you going to do about it?” or “Now that you know that, what can you do?” Also, build in time as a class is to brainstorm what action they could take based on what they have learned. Then leave it up to them.
  5.  Frame it – create a system in your class that encourages, recognizes, acknowledges and celebrates student-initiated action. Come up with a way for students to independently share their action with others. For example:
  • Caught-In-The-Act Badges: Have badges or necklaces available in your classroom that students can put on when they have taken action.
  • Action Wall: Designate a bulletin board in your class for the students to post something about action they have taken. It could be anything from a post-it describing their action to a photograph showing it, to a certificate for their service.
  • Action Blog: Sign your class up for a service like Kidblog to allow students to post about their action online for their classmates and parents to see and comment on.
  • Action Updates: find time during your morning circle or end of day reflections to allow students to share any action they have taken recently with their classmates
  • Action Hour: Similar to genius hour, block out a chunk of time each week for students to plan out, perform and reflect on their action.

At our school we are always looking for new ways to encourage and support our students to truly become contributing world citizens. If you have any advice about how to further cultivate a culture of taking action, we would love to hear about it.