By Amanda Buchalski

With night comes darkness, unknowing where each foot step will lead. Eventually however, as night continues, the sun will begin to shine again, bringing with it light, clarity and a sense of comfort.  One might say it also represents the teaching experience, growing from a beginning teacher to that of a veteran. In a way, however, aren’t we always somewhat of a beginning teacher?  If we are constantly upgrading our practice, trying new ideas, strategies, models, then aren’t we allowing ourselves as teachers, to once again step into the darkness, unaware of exactly where we may end up, but sure at least that the sun will have to rise again?  This is the best way I could possibly describe my personal jump into the teaching world of inquiry and IDM.

The first step into the “dark night” began in the middle of the summer of 2016.  Although I was essentially using inquiry within my classroom already, its intentions were not perfectly drawn out and its organization not quite so clear.  In a way, I had a mini flash light in past experimental experience and support from a cohort I happened to jump into.  Working with a small group of teacher leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina, we spent a chunk of our summer with Drew Hammill playing around with the idea of inquiry based learning and how in the world to go about utilizing and creating IDMs.  Although mostly guess work, we each tore through the IDM generator, coming up with new ideas, only to scrap them an hour later and start all over again.  But we were learning and experimenting and even though we were tired and our minds fried, we were excited to present this type of learning to our students!  The use of a compelling question to tie in the learner, with smaller, scaffolded questions to build upon learning that were supported by text sets and assessment tasks seemed so obvious, so organized, so student lead!

As summer ended and the 2016-2017 school year began, I found myself ready to give the IDM a shot in my classroom.  The rest of my PLC, although aware of my nerdy craziness, somehow caught onto my excitement and were willing to give it a shot as well.  We realized instantly that this did not replace any other strategies or initiatives being used in our school or district, however further supported them if not elevated them.  Whether turning to Reader’s Apprenticeship, Academic Conversations, Paideia, or any other literature based process that was thrown our way, the IDM easily and with open arms welcomed and supported these initiatives to further scale up student learning.  Now, by no means am I suggesting that this year of inquiry based learning went smoothly and without a hitch, however it was a year of trial and error as I transformed as many other lessons and materials as I could into something my students could inquire over.  From self-paced inquiry based webquests, to whole class instructed investigations that allowed me to throw the textual evidence onto an online interactive Nearpod presentation, the mediums, lengths and options to personalizing these inquiries were endless!  My students were calling themselves investigators, or HSIs (historical scene investigators) to be more exact and every lesson and unit had a purpose, based on the compelling question or EQ that guided them from beginning through end, yet at the same time gave them the wiggle room to take learning in any direction that the investigators seemed fit (based on their textual evidence, of course).  Students were curious, students had wonder and students were becoming leaders to their own learning!

Now, I am nowhere out of the woods just yet.  I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to attend the 2017 IDM Institute.  Although I was included among a small group of teachers from my district, I was representing a large whole, many of which I had worked alongside and trained just the following week in the use of DBQs, another wonderful tie-in with IDMs.  As a result, I was getting requests for the building of inquiries for topics in which we were lacking for my current and specific grade level, sixth grade ancient civilizations and early world history.  And of course, just because it’s my nature, that became my focus, to help make my other teachers happy and fill the holes that they needed.  So here we are now at the institute, and let me tell you, being there gave me such a sigh of relief and a breath of fresh air that my team and I had been on the right path for the past year.  Breaking down the steps and processes, of course with their purposes in mind, with the experts that orchestrated it all, further gave me the insight I needed on the missing pieces of this giant puzzle of inquiry that we were trying so hard to wrap ourselves around.  But then it came time to build.  The task I had laid out for myself (through peer request), I soon learned was complicated for many a reason, such as a lack of appropriate sources to moral standings.  My compelling question changed numerous times and once I started taking five steps forward, I found myself taking ten steps back.  In fact, I ended up scrapping most of my work from the first day of the Institute and it wasn’t until half way through the second day, after wanting to throw my computer off one of the balconies, did I start to really take off.  Not only did I take off, but I was engulfed.  I spent the rest of the day sitting outside in the hallway, while the rest of the conference took place a wall behind me, digging further into the inquiry.  Now I am sure I might receive a gasp from John, SG and Kathy upon learning this, however let me assure all three of you, I was inspired, excited and there was absolutely no stopping me for fear of losing the thought process train I had suddenly hopped on.  And with a NCSS representative by my side to throw ideas to (thank you for all of your support, Ms. Horton!), I wrote up a blueprint that I was not only proud of, but excited to turn into a full IDM to share with my students and coworkers alike.  

So what am I learning as I continue my journey through these dark woods?  Well for starters, just because it may be dark out, does not mean it is ominous!  Yes, not all topics are easy to build, but the resulting inquires take these students to a place of learning that not many of them have had an opportunity to experience before.  Although I feel much more comfortable then I was a year ago, with my creating and presenting IDMs, I am far from done with trial and error and I will continue to play around this school year, receiving necessary feedback from both my peers, but especially from my students.  Knowing this, there will be much more unpaved territory to cut through (I would love to share these models with my team teachers from other content areas to try) and I am so excited to see exactly where it may end up.  Through the use of IDMs, suddenly I really have become simply the facilitator and my students the leaders of their learning.  And in the end, isn’t that worth all the risk?