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    8 Exceptional Inquiry-Based Learning Activities Students Will Love

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    8 Exceptional Inquiry-Based Learning Activities Students Will Love

    Inquiry-based learning is a learning process that engages students by making real-world connections through exploration and high-level questioning. It is an approach to learning that encourages students to engage in problem-solving and experiential learning.

    There is so much happening in our world that is worth our learners discovering and experiencing. With the right provocations, real authentic learning can happen. That's exactly what these 8 inquiry-based learning activities will provide. 

    Each one provides a scenario with real-world flavour, a set of discussion questions, and resources for further exploration and knowledge expansion. Try them out with your learners and watch the inquiry-based magic happen.

    1. Our Plastic Oceans

    Why is plastic waste such a problem in our oceans, and how can we solve it?

    In the article What Will it Take to Get Plastics Out of the Ocean?, freelance journalist Anja Krieger profiles the groundbreaking work being done by global innovators to combat the plastics pollution of our oceans.

    She begins the article using Kamilo Beach in Hawaii as a springboard for raising awareness of how much work we have ahead of us in this monumental task. According to her research, at the 14 km stretch of coastline around South Point alone, about 15 to 20 tons (14 to 18 metric tons) of trash appear each year. It floats in and washes up on the beaches from as far away as Asia and North America.  

    So what is being done to alleviate the problem? From the article:

    “Designers and engineers have proposed marine drones and waterborne kites, even huge artificial drains for the gyres. A group of college students from London went so far as to promote the idea of creating biotechnological microorganisms to break up the plastics, and a Dutch architect wanted to turn the trash into a “recycled island” where people could settle sustainably. Despite the attention these concepts have gained, most of them have remained pretty 3-D renderings and — so far — unfulfilled ambitions.”

    According to Plastic Oceans, we are producing roughly 300 million tons of plastic every year, 8 million of which end up in our oceans. With this kind of growth, a proactive solution is desperately needed to keep that plastic from continuing to end up in our waters as discarded litter.

    Discussion Questions

    1. As plastics production evolves, what are some of the newest threats to the health of our environment?
    2. What are some of the hidden costs of us not addressing the problem of plastics pollution in our oceans?
    3. How does plastics pollution affect sea life and the industry built around it, both short and long term?
    4. Do you believe plastics pollution is the threat we can conquer in the next decade? Why or why not?
    5. What do you feel it will take to get plastics out of our oceans from a personal/community/global standpoint?
    6. What do you feel might be some innovative ways we can stop plastics build-up from choking our oceans and the life within them?
    7. What’s the one thing you would encourage people to begin doing RIGHT NOW to alleviate the plastics pollution problem?



    2. The World's Biggest E-Waste Dump

    What are the dangers of consumer electronic waste that we must consider globally?

    Can you imagine stumbling upon a scene directly out of a post-apocalyptic nightmare world, right here on Earth today? If you were to visit the Agbogbloshie wetland on the outskirts of Accra in Ghana, that’s similar to what you’d see.

    According to the Motherboard article Inside the World’s Biggest E-Waste Dump, Agbogbloshie is an illegal “e-waste” dumping ground where outdated technology from the West is dumped and left to poison the land, the air, and the people. Those who work in this area salvage parts for what amounts to only dollars a day. In many cases, students who should be in school are working in Agbogbloshie.  

    Environmental concerns include fluorocarbon emissions, as well as lead, mercury, and hydrogen cyanide poisoning seeping into the soil in and around the dumping ground. Many of the workers admit to using marijuana as a deterrent to the headaches and chest pains they experience due to the toxicity of the environment.

    According to the report Agbogbloshie 2019 by ACT Mask, a respirator manufacturer that launched an air pollution awareness campaign in Accra's low-income areas months before releasing the report, the situation has not markedly improved even after over 20 years. 

    Discussion Questions

    1. Where do you think this problem began? How far back can we trace the origin point?
    2. Having an idea where it started, what do you think could have been done to avoid it?
    3. Why do you think it is we allow things like this to continue happening in our world?
    4. Imagine having a dumping ground like this in your own city. How would your life and the lives of the community be affected?
    5. Where else in the world is this happening and what is being done to stop it?
    6. Who has made an effort to solve this problem so far, and what have they done?
    7. What could Agbogbloshie do differently to help the environment and the people working there?
    8. What affirmative action would you take to help solve this problem?



    3. The True Cost of Digital Piracy

    How does stealing another's intellectual property impact the integrity of our entertainment industry?

    The CBC News article Time to Assess the True Cost of Digital Piracy provides a breakdown of how digital piracy hurts the industries in which it is commonly practiced. Many think that it’s a victimless crime. According to the writer, Joanne Seiff, who is also a published author, this is far from the truth. 

    Joanne begins by explaining that most artists and writers are not able to support themselves with the royalty payments from their work. In a particularly sobering moment in the article, she goes on to clarify just how her publishers calculate costs and royalties. (She’s been a published author for 7 years with 2 books to her credit, and all in all has only received about $500 in royalties for her work.)

    Digital piracy means that a copy of an artist’s work can be downloaded and passed on literally thousands of times, with only a one-time payment going to the artist. That means that digital piracy does something far more harmful than cost artists money—it actually robs creative ideas of their value.

     Discussion Questions

    1. Do you agree or disagree with digital piracy? Why?
    2. What could be some of the“hidden”costs of Internet piracy (psychological, emotional,  etc.)?
    3. Put yourself in the role of an artist whose work has been pirated and shared illegally. What is your own personal reaction and response?
    4. Do you believe digital piracy will get better or worse as time goes on? Why or why not?
    5. What do you feel is a more effective deterrent against digital piracy and why: stricter laws or evasion strategies?
    6. How much more do you think industry labels and companies could be doing to help artists suffering from the effects of digital piracy? What could they do? 



    4. Spotting Fake News in the Digital Age

    What is "fake news" and why do we need to be aware of it?

    In the age of expanding online information, there’s a new phenomenon sweeping the virtual news stands: fake news. As we wrote in the article 5 Strategies for Spotting Fake News Stories (and Why You Need To), fake news happens just as often as real news does. Getting duped by fake news is one of the inherent risks of consuming information on the Internet.

    Fake news is also called “hoax news.” It’s basically sensationalized or entirely fictional reports about pretty much anything you could find in news media, only published to make it look as though it’s factual. Publishers of fake news go to great lengths to dupe the public and spread misinformation, and it’s estimated (alarmingly) that close to 80% of people—students especially—can’t tell fake news from actual news. 


    Why is being able to spot fake news so important? It comes down to using Information Fluency correctly. It’s about being able to apply critical and analytical thinking to the information we source online, and the news we see every day. It’s also about being able to protect ourselves and others from the spread of false and even harmful information that has inevitably come with a largely anonymous and open Internet. 

    News informs and affects us, and shapes our opinions about the world and what happens in it. We should be able to expect it to be trustworthy. It’s up to us, however, to weed out the bad from the good.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What’s the goal fake news publishers want to accomplish? Why do they do it?
    2. Imagine you are the focus of a widely-published fake news story. How would you feel and what would you do about the story? What could you do?
    3. Looking at fake news and how it is evolving, how much more of a problem do you feel it will be 5, 10, or 20 years from now?
    4. What are some of the ways that, when left unchecked, fake news can damage communities and also global society?
    5. What are some of the ways we can use Information Fluency to avoid being duped by fake news?
    6. What are some of the most outrageous fake news stories you’ve heard? How widely were they accepted as fact, and why?
    7. How do fake news publishers “dress up” their content and platforms for deceiving the general public?
    8. What do you feel should be done about fake news, and how would you begin taking action if you could?



    5. The Sandwich Man

     How can our charitable actions both help and inspire others?

    This is the story of Allan Law, the Sandwich Man of Minneapolis. This former middle school teacher first discovered the homelessness in the inner city schools, and it became a large concern for him. He wondered what he could do to help the homeless in his area, who often went days without food during the winter. So he packed a row of freezers into his apartment, and began making sandwiches. It was the beginning of great things. 

    Allan drives the streets of Minneapolis each evening, delivering sandwiches and other necessities to those living on the city’s streets. He sleeps roughly two hours a night, and always in the back of his van. “I haven’t slept in a bed in 13 years,” Allan states. “This is what I have to do, for the rest of my life.”

    Now heading a fully-staffed and growing volunteer organization called The Sandwich Project, Allan receives donations from schools, churches, businesses, and the general public. Through his organization, he routinely delivers hundreds of thousands of sandwiches, blankets, socks, and mittens to the homeless in his city every year.

    Discussion Questions

    1. How does Allan Law and the work he’s doing set an example for others?
    2. Why do you think so many people have stepped forward to help him in his cause?
    3. What are some other ways we can help those less fortunate than us?
    4. How would you go about beginning a delivery organization of your own in your city?
    5. Do you believe that what Allan is doing is truly making a difference? Why or why not?



    6. When Mindfulness Meets the Classroom

    What are the benefits of bringing mindfulness and meditation practice into a classroom setting?

    In today’s modern educational settings, something quite revolutionary is happening. Many educators are introducing meditation into classrooms to improve attention and emotional regulation, with pretty spectacular results.

    According to the Atlantic article When Mindfulness Meets the Classroom, the term “mindfulness” includes characteristics such as being focused and aware of our surroundings, as well as aware our feelings, our emotions, and how they impact us and others. 

    The term was first used in the ’70s by a biologist named Jon Kabat-Zinn. He described it as the act of “paying attention on purpose” to the present moment, with a “non-judgmental” attitude. It is now being brought into classrooms in the form of meditation.

    The first time it was used in a classroom was in the UK in 2007. More than a dozen similar initiatives have sprouted in the U.S. since then, the two largest being MindUP and Mindful Schools, the links for which are in the resources section below. 

    The results have been slow in coming but are generally positive, with the majority of the teachers using it claiming to have experienced lowered stress and higher job satisfaction. It even seems to be benefitting the students. 

    Says one student of New York’s Arturo A. Schomburg Satellite Academy, a transfer school with its own mindfulness program: “I still have my days where it’s not easy, but mindfulness helps me a whole lot. Honestly, I feel like if I’d had this before, it would have been easier.”

    Discussion Questions

    1. What do you and your students know about mindfulness and meditation as a healthful and beneficial practice?
    2. How can mindfulness benefit us in terms of self-awareness? How can it improve fundamental areas of our lives such as relationships and how we communicate?
    3. How do you respond to the claims that some people make about meditation and mindfulness being a “fad” or “new-age nonsense?”
    4. Why do you think it is that some educators have felt a need to bring an initiative based on mindfulness into their classrooms?
    5. Have you or your students ever used meditation in the classroom before? Is it something you would be interested in doing? 



    7. Bullies Need Our Help

    Why do people bully others and what can we do to help them change?

    Amy Payne, a teen from Southhampton, learned a lot about people and what can make them bullies when she finally made peace with her own childhood tormentor. The Daily Echo article Bullies Need Help Too tells Amy's story in a way that could hopefully transform how we approach the problem of bullying in our schools and beyond. 

    In any bullying situation, we often forget there are two sides and two stories because we often place the majority of our attention on the needs of the person on the receiving end. The key to making progress with this issue begins with striving to understand the suffering of the perpetrator as well as that of the victim.

    “I learnt that there were quite a few reasons behind the way she had treated me,” Amy explained in the article. “Things weren’t working at home, she was struggling at school, and no one was listening to her."

    In response to the need for this awareness, Amy created a film on the subject with the help of a UK-based charity called Fixers


    The last statement in Amy's video is a cautionary message for how we must shift our approach to addressing the problem of bullying from one of condemnation to compassion: "Bullying can be a sign that someone desperately needs help."

    “With our Fixers film we want to get the message out there that bullies often need help too as nobody ever really listens to them," Amy explained to the Daily Echo. “They get sectioned off and people assume they’re just angry.”

    “I hope that watching the film will give anyone who is being bullied the confidence to speak out,” she added. "Hopefully it will encourage bullies to say they need help too.”

    Discussion Questions

    1. Have you or has someone you know ever been bullied? How did you deal with the situation?
    2. How is the issue of bullying handled in your school? How big of a problem is it?
    3. What do you think you could do, if anything, to make your approach more effective?
    4. What could your students do to help bullies get the compassionate help they need?



    8. Being "Social Media Safe"

    How can we make sure our kids are staying safe while using social media?

    Let's begin with some quick online facts from Beyond the Classroom:

    • 92% of teens go online daily
    • 8 to 18 year olds spend 7.5 Hours in front of a screen each day
    • What you post online stays online and is completely traceable
    • 70% of job recruiters rejected candidates based on information they found online
    • 88% of teens have seen/witnessed someone be mean or cruel to another user on a social networking site
    • The minimum age for a Facebook account is 13 years of age and yet 55% of parents of 12 year olds say that their child has an account
    • The number of sexual assault cases related to social media sites have increased by 300%

    All of these statistics speak to the need for parents and teachers to make sure that children are diligent about keeping themselves safe and secure when using social media. We can do this by not only teaching, but also modelling best practices for being "social media savvy." 


    So the question becomes, with the online world growing bigger, what do such practices look like? What can we do to make sure we're staying safe on social media?

    These 10 tips come from Information Technology Services at Carleton University:

    1. Use a strong password. The longer it is, the more secure it will be.
    2. Use a different password for each of your social media accounts.
    3. Set up your security answers. This two factor authentication is available for most social media sites.
    4. If you have social media apps on your phone, be sure to password protect your device.
    5. Be selective with friend requests. If you don’t know the person, don’t accept their request. It could be a fake account.
    6. Click links with caution. Social media accounts are regularly hacked. Look out for language or content that does not sound like something your friend would post.
    7. Be careful about what you share. Don’t reveal sensitive personal information ie: home address, financial information, phone number. The more you post the easier it is to have your identity stolen.
    8. Become familiar with the privacy policies of the social media channels you use and customize your privacy settings to control who sees what.
    9. Protect your computer by installing antivirus software to safeguard. Also ensure that your browser, operating system, and software are kept up to date.
    10. Remember to log off when you’re done. 

    Staying safe on social media is everyone's responsibility. If we look out for each other, young and old, we create a safer and more enjoyable online world for everyone.

    Discussion Questions

    1. How do you personally stay safe on social media? What are your practices?
    2. What are some of the benefits of keeping a respectable online profile?
    3. What are some of the consequences of posting inappropriate pictures and messages online?
    4. How do thoughtless actions online affect those around us?
    5. What is a "digital footprint" and why is it important to consider?
    6. Who do you know who has had a negative social media experience, and what was learned from it?
    7. What can you do to make sure everyone at your school is better educated on how to use social media properly?


    Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

    Originally published Apr 19, 2019, updated September 19, 2021

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