Setting lines of inquiry with the students #pypinnovation

One of the brilliant parts of being a PYP teacher in this part of the world is how readily people share ideas on twitter.

Although I missed a recent webinar on innovation on ‘innovation in the PYP’ an idea sparked an inquiry the webinar itself had many little gems for me to mull over including this one:

Instead of pre-planning a Sharing the Planet unit with teacher-written lines of inquiry about water, my team decided to give the children an everyday object and a thinking routine to uncover prior understandings and misconceptions to guide the development of this unit.


We chose the Parts, People, Interactions routine as the transdisciplinary unit, Sharing the Planet is the study of the distribution of resources.

  • What are the different parts of this object?
  • What people are connected to this object? What makes you think that?
  • How do people interact with this object? What makes you say that?
  • What changes in our world might change this object? What makes you think that?

The children took a photo of the bottle and then screencast their responses. An interesting part of the process was even the gathering of data for this provocation uncovered yet more data to plan this unit:

  • The children who pushed and shoved others out of the way to get their shot in comparison to others that were happy to wait.  (cooperation)
  • The kids who walked into other children’s shots in comparison to others politely directing other children out of theirs (spacial awareness, verbal communication skills)
  • Some were quickly grabbing a shot while others were going back and taking close-ups of different parts of the bottle (collecting of data, analysis)

In the past, this unit would have started by assuming that children might already know how humans use water and the focus would have been on the water cycle and actions the kids could take conserving water. Instead, the results of this data showed a very different set of learning needs:

  • Almost all of the children stated that water is a finite and essential resource and we need to be mindful of its use (responsibility)
  • Many children were unclear about the causes of shortages of water beyond location ‘Africa,’ or poverty (change, causation)
  • Some children were able to talk about multiple uses of water beyond drinking it (connection).
  • A few children commented on shopkeepers and rubbish collectors interacting with the water but not many thought about how the water is collected (connection, function).
  • A few of the children noted the logo but none made a connection about the name of the brand, Ice Mountain, to the water inside the bottle (function, causation).
  • A few children changed their minds during the recording of the doodlecast which proved to be a fascinating example of making thinking visible.

Instead of planning our unit weeks or months in advance based on an informed guess of the children’s understanding, my team and I can use this data to plan more effective learning engagements.

Yes this did take time some videos took upwards of 10 minutes to analyse but the beauty of hearing a child change their minds as they screencasted was magical. Screencasting bought me extra time to conference with each child which I might not otherwise have enjoed.

The children will be able to use this data too. They will listen to this initial screencast multiple times over the unit. Through the additional use of this specific object and the thinking routine, be able to identify shifts in their understandings.

For me, one little tweet led to a huge shift in how to approach a unit to make it more personalised and relevant to the children I teach.

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