Student questions and the curriculumA common misconception about Integrated Learning is that it solely entails the integration of more than one subject within the curricula. Teachers typically ask themselves: In an inquiry-based learning environment, however, teachers continually ask:
Robin was willing to take the inquiry in the direction the children wanted. She was flexible in her thinking and planning, confident that the children's understanding about soil would continue to grow as they investigated worms, especially since these two aspects of nature are so inextricably connected. She highlighted this interconnected relationship, instead of focusing on a single, disconnected topic or unit. In this way, Robin demonstrated the true essence of Environmental Education. This approach aligns with the Ministry of Education's definition of Environmental Education as education "that promotes an understanding of rich and active experience in, and an appreciation for the dynamic interactions [emphasis added] of: the Earth's physical and biological systems" (2009a, p. 4).
To gain a deep understanding of any living species, be it worm, salmon or polar bear, one must also explore the dynamic interaction between that species and its habitat. This is precisely what the Grade 3s set out to do. After analyzing soil samples and negotiating their ideas in a Knowledge Building Circle, the students built a worm terrarium in the classroom to facilitate their investigation of the following questions:
They sketched the contents of the terrarium and the changes that occurred over time and paid special attention to the worms' interactions with the soil. As Photo 38 demonstrates, integrating the children's questions led them to make important systems thinking insights about the relationship between worms and their soil habitats.
MathRobin integrated Math into the inquiry by revisiting students' earlier questions about worms: She asked the students to form pairs. Each pair of students introduced "Red Wigglers" into the terrarium, documenting the precise number of worms that went in. This information would establish a baseline from which to monitor the worms' reproduction over the course of one month. The children used mental math strategies to determine how many worms there were all together and how many new ones were produced over time.