In June 2018, during the final stage of our selection process for the K12 Fellowship, school leaders gathered to choose the finalists for our program. Among them was Dr. Karol Howard, principal from Pitcher Elementary, a KCPS school on the eastern outskirts of the district. During our listening tour Dr. Howard had been adamant about the need for students to develop critical thinking skills, “with the world changing the way it is,” she said, “they need to be able to think and to analyze to make critical decisions […] Companies need people who can think, who are creative, who can make decisions. They don’t need people standing on the assembly line anymore.” So, it follows that Dr. Howard would choose to work with Shanti Elangovan and inquirED, an inquiry-based learning platform.
When Shanti and Dr. Howard began working together at the beginning of the fellowship, they quickly decided what they wanted to measure in the following months. First, they needed to find out if teachers with no previous training in inquiry-based learning would be able to effectively implement inquirED. Second, they wanted to find out if the platform increased student engagement. To measure this, Shanti and Dr. Howard, along with Lori Bestgen and Jeannette Ashby-Welter — Pitcher Elementary’s instructional coaching team — worked with Dr. Ebony Edwards to develop observation criteria, surveys, and focus groups.
“Last year we’d talk about content, and they’d forget about it a few days later. This year we’ve gone so deeply into the content that they not only can tell you about it, they can apply it to other things they’re doing. “
— 5th Grade Teacher, Pitcher Elementary
Over the course of the next few months, Lori and Jeannette completed a total of 14 teacher observations and 14 student observations using the inquirED teaching practices observation tool. Their observations found strong evidence that students were independently learning and collaborating more than control classrooms. They also found teachers were facilitating independent learning, cultivating a collaborative community, assessing and differentiating learning, and promoting a growth mindset.
It was during the focus groups that Shanti received some of her most actionable feedback, though. They discovered early-on that the teachers didn’t have enough capacity to implement the inquiry-based science curriculum, so they quickly pivoted to their history curriculum. Along with this pivot, they made numerous changes to the platform based on teacher recommendations, including producing and embedding more professional development videos into the platform, adding even more capacity to teachers by streamlining the implementation process.
Overall, the results of the study are promising. inquirED was able to provide support for students behind grade level and they were able to develop facilitation guides for schools that are new to inquiry-based learning that they will be able to use across the country as they begin to expand nationally.
Over the course of the next 18 months, Shanti will continue their research at Pitcher Elementary through a $22,000 grant from LEANLAB. This longer study will include 150 more students and allow inquirED to get more reliable results while providing teachers with evidence-based curriculum already shown to increase student engagement.