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Quarterly, Cross-Subject "Big Idea" Inquiry Projects

Cross-curricular inquiry projects focused on phases of learning


During the early months of remote learning, teachers struggled to get full engagement from their students. Traditional motivators, such as grades, no longer served to encourage students to complete their work. Additionally, teachers found themselves overwhelmed with the number of standards to be covered across content areas and with less time than they traditionally had. These challenges provided teachers with the opportunity to place an emphasis on designing lessons for learning rather than teaching and to shift their focus on new outputs.

"We started out just with the mindset shift and explained to teachers that we're no longer planning for teaching - we're planning for learning, and that kind of takes the pressure off as well because how do I teach in this environment? And how do I, as the educator, become the expert in the room with all of these new platforms and things? We're able to kind of take that pressure off and say the main goal here is that kids are learning. What does the brain science say about how kids learn and how they take things from their working memory to their long term memory? When you start thinking that way, then you start designing with the big ideas in mind." - Natasha North, K-12 Literacy Specialist


To help teachers to increase student engagement and maximize learning time across content areas, the district launched a new design for the learning process in order to reimagine and refocus how students learn. Rather than placing emphasis on teaching “standard-by-standard”, teachers took students through six phases of learning, each supported by research on how students learn and how they take things from their working memory to their long-term memory.

On a quarterly basis, teachers across content areas collaborated to determine one big guiding question or inquiry question to design projects that take students through different phases of learning, which ranged from sparking interest to creating goals for the unit to producing a final product. Embedded within each unit are cycles of both skills and content so that students continue to get practice in those skills. Additionally, reflection points were incorporated as well as a cumulative performance assessment. Given the emphasis on inquiry-based learning, teachers saw an increase in both student engagement and in student production of work that demonstrated their learning.

This strategy is a part of TLA's Hop, Skip, Leapfrog release, which explores the concrete ways in which schools and systems pursued student-centered innovation during COVID-19. Explore the full guide to find additional strategies, insights, and resources.