Category Archives: Units of Inquiry

Exhibition 2015

Well deserved congratulations are in order for our students after last night’s big event. They were obviously well prepared for last night’s presentations, and their enthusiasm was infectious. So much so, Noah’s dad said, “I feel like I’ve been to university!”

Electricity with Mr. Kirkwood’s Class

Mr. Kirkwood’s kids taught us how to use Little Bits materials yesterday, but with a theme in mind. We had a friendly competition between pairs of students who were tasked with the challenge of building a holiday themed contraption. Lots of fun and learning and smiling and noise and failures and discoveries and adjustments and, of course, holiday spirit.

Here’s a time lapse of the session…

LittleBits Christmas from ZIS Grade 5 Mr Kirkwood on Vimeo.

Food Documentary Ideas

It seems that overall the biggest takeaway from our unit on Sharing the Planet was the topic of food waste. That was by far the most popular choice for the food documentary. So how are those videographers going to make theirs stand out? Other ideas include documenting family food culture and spoofing famous chefs. See below for all the current ideas, and remember, videos must be submitted the day we return from the holiday.

How the World Works

Big bold title, huh? That’s the theme for our next unit which will focus on electricity. What is electricity? How does it work? In groups, students came up with a presentation to share their thoughts on those two questions. While they were preparing, I asked a few groups about a set of wires and some connectors and a battery and a light bulb – why doesn’t it work? Interesting to see what the kids already know about circuits without knowing that they know what they know. 🙂

Food Documentary Contest


Mrs. Sikora’s class is hosting the next edition. What’s the theme? Food! We have been talking about sustainability issues related to food, local food, food miles, how food is produced and distributed, and the future of food. All terribly interesting stuff. But what has really stuck with the students? What is really important to your child? As they plan for their documentary, students should ask, “What has stood out to me in our discussions of food? What does food mean to my family? Has my attitude toward food changed? What does sustainability actually mean?”

Parents, please ask your child about his/her ideas. Feel free to make suggestions and offer your video-recording services. More details below.

food awards


Possible ideas: (We have discussed these and others in class…any others? Great opportunity for our videographers and food advocates to be creative!)

  • Document your family’s food culture – good opportunity with upcoming holidays.
  • Analyze our school’s food practices, kids’ eating habits, how much food is wasted, etc. – put together a provocative video to inspire change.
  • Make a video of you cooking with local ingredients in the style of a famous chef (I love Gordon Ramsey’s brief clips…lots of angles and different shots…hilarious, dramatic voice over)
  • Conduct further research on one of the many topics we’ve discussed, come up with an entertaining way to inform and inspire others through video.
  • Visit a local farm, interview the farmer…or buy food from the farmer, go home and cook it, and enjoy a family meal…document the whole process.

Sharing the Planet

As we finish up group and individual projects, mostly focusing on digital citizenship and cyber-bullying, for our “How We Organize Ourselves” unit, we are also inquiring into food, finite resources, and sustainability as we move into “Sharing the Planet.”

This is a huge topic, one that started a few years ago as our focus for Grade 5 Exhibition. And those who watched the video from last week of our students sharing their understanding of these and other issues, surely noticed a limited understanding of food – a seemingly simple topic. Definitely something we take for granted, and children are not the only ones with little to no understanding of the implications our food production/distribution practices have on the environment, humans, and systems.

So we need your help!

Family discussions will be crucial during this unit, more so than usual. We all eat differently, and we all have our personal beliefs about food. My request is that you simply talk about these beliefs, the norms and rituals that have developed for your family, while simultaneously asking bigger questions, “Where does this food come from?” and “Why do we buy certain kinds of food?”

A good family discussion might result from taking this “Food Quiz” as a family. The questions are challenging, as we discovered when we did the first three as a class, and they’re from a U.S. perspective, but they’re important questions, ones that raise some interesting points and reveal common misconceptions. I urge you to take this quiz and then leave a comment for this post summarizing the resulting conversations. And for all those grandparents and various relatives out there, as always, feel free to leave your own comments and opinions.

One of the main goals of this unit is to develop the idea of being a “systems thinker”. I hope that the students start to understand that complex systems – nature, food, sustainability, water, etc. – can be affected by the decisions and behaviors of humans. Being a systems thinker involves keeping track of some important elements/concepts:

  • Seeing the big picture – stepping back and seeing how things work together
  • Change – realizing that issues change over time
  • Connection & Causation – seeing that each decision is connected to something else
  • Perspective – realizing that different people have their own feelings about issues

Hopefully through discussions happening at school and at home, the students will see that decisions are rarely “black and white”, that we need to consider various perspectives and potential results of our actions, and we need to be informed in order to make the most appropriate choices. And while action is important, we’re not expecting 10 and 11 years old children to change the world. Understanding, as always, is key. What the kids do with that understanding is up to them. This funny video portrays that point in an entertaining way, that decisions and choice can be more effective than life-altering, impossible actions.


For our new Sharing the Planet unit, we will focus on food. Where does it come from? What are the impacts of food production and distribution? What is sustainability? What are finite resources? What is soil degradation? Is food waste a problem? And, is “marshmallow” a food group (see video below)?

Our initial provocation was simply looking at different food items. We talked about the “journey” each food item underwent, what “bio”/”organic” means, what qualifies as food, etc., mostly so I could get a sense of what the kids know and want to know. Check out the video if you’re interested in hearing the students’ opinions on these and other questions. And parents, if you know anyone who is somehow connected to the food industry, let us know. I’m sure our inquiries will require experts in the field.

Finalizing Exhibition Tensions

Mrs. Dowling visited us the other day to see where we are with Exhibition ideas. She is so good at helping us reflect and clarify our thoughts. Long video, but it may help some of you understand what we’re hoping to accomplish with Exhibition.

Latest U.O.I Activity – Science!

Last week, we began ‘tuning in’ to the topic of our new Unit of Inquiry.

Transdisciplinary Theme: How the World Works

Central Idea: “Electricity supports our technological world.”

Students shared their experience with electricity, their questions, and their ideas for projects and experiments. This morning, I challenged the students with two questions, “What is the role of magnets in the generation of electricity?” and “Why is it called ‘electricity’? Where does the word come from?” The limited responses were partially due to lack of knowledge, but I’m sure the piles of electronics kits I’d spread out on the tables had something to do with it as well. Please be quiet and let us explore and play, Mr. Allen!