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Harnessing Students' Inquiry

Harnessing Students' Inquiry

Guest Blogger: Shannon Treece, Principal and E-magineer, Eminence Schools

Kids can change the world, Eminence is on FIRE, and I have to sprint to keep up for tomorrow. 

Each of these describes my experiences at Eminence Independent Middle/High School.  I am inspired daily in our classrooms at Eminence to support student learning.  Paradigm shifts in education are necessary to achieve next generation learning for the students we serve it is fun and hard at times.   To prepare our students for global success after thirteen years of the public education system can be a challenge.  It requires the honoring of what we refer to in Eminence as World 1 (old school) problems, while serving and dreaming in our World 2 (the dream school). 

Socratic Seminar.

 When students interact in a socratic seminar and are able to formulate and articulate questions around the literature to demonstrate their learning with each other and have intense engagement for an hour it is incredibly exciting.  What about those who did not read the required material you ask?  Well, that has not happened since the first session.  Students who had admittedly not read for the first socratic seminar came fully prepared for the second.  The first seminar was productive without their preparation, the learners recognized that and quickly realized that their ability to be a learner was impeded by their lack of preparation and the instructor never had to say a word.  Real-world application of knowledge gained through an effective assessment strategy that did not require a formal test.


A group of students, an afterschool conversation rooted in service to others, and a tradition of philanthropy converged into a student request resulting in a course designed by students to change the world.  The #UNLOCK class was built on students holding their leader accountable and embracing the journey to earn credits in a different way than any of the students have ever experienced.  

A business plan researched, written, and presented solely by students to professionals in the business world resulting in real-world feedback for change.  The next several days in class students review the video of the presentation, analyze what the see, record the information in a google doc, and create an agenda of next steps.  A student goes to the dry-erase wall and begins calling out tasks and assigns duties.  Students begin working immediately.  Deep, critical thinking begins and the teacher is requisitioned as needed for support.  

A school bus decommissioned for driving condition and to be donated to the #UNLOCK class becomes the center of brainstorming, the question: how to deliver multicultural experiences to students in Kentucky and beyond to demonstrate the need for innovation and education in countries with high rates of need?  Student share their desires about hands-on-learning experiences that will engage participants.  They talk of what can be to reconfigure and utilize the space, how to remove current seating, and where can they secure tools to complete the work of a bus remodel. 

Students Solving Problems

In another room, students are preparing to visit a local preschool and discuss the needs for building an outdoor playhouse.  The children were also interviewed by students to determine what they thought should also be included.  The work was validated by their visit and the students returned with a lengthy list of problems.  How to acquire materials, cost of project, timeline, where to build the playhouse, and many other concerns.  It would have been easy to opt-out, if it weren’t a real playhouse that was needed for real children up the street in the town where they lived.  When they interviewed those children the project that just sounded fun to accomplish no had a whole new level of commitment emerging.  Children would be waiting.  A few days later I walked by a room and the young men heading this project up were writing letters requesting materials from various stores to secure what was needed to build the playhouse.  Then the next thing I knew, students were getting calls back from the businesses about donations and they were requesting phone etiquette for their responses.  The level of motivation around this group of young males increased substantially and through real-world inquiry, the math and science in this project are important enough to achieve.

A stroll down the hall early one morning resulted in a video production by a group of sixth grade students.  The task revolved around a unit on The Power of One from a history class.  The goal was to begin understanding the impact of various humans on life events and experiences.  The students were to create a film around their own personal hero.  In speaking to them though, the most exciting piece of the lesson though was writing letter to their own personal heroes.  They were eager to share who they chose and why.  It was important these letters, they mattered they told because real people were reading them…it wasn’t just going in a folder so they had to be correct.  I witnessed students requesting support from the teacher on their need and the teacher delivering on those requests.  The engagement was high, learning happened, and students were accountable for their work. 

"Kids can Change the World"

We are four weeks into our school year and it is amazing what we are experiencing.  Creating an environment around inquiry will change the input and outcome.  What was teacher driven becomes student driven and teacher supported.  Student engagement that was once difficult to capture is now celebrated in nearly every classroom daily.  The energy around the work is positive and the results are encouraging.    

Courses previously delivered in isolation are now being combined for unique applications to real-world experiences that are changing the face of education at Eminence Middle/High School daily.  The outcomes are synergizing and validate the approach is meaningful.  At the end of the day our Eminence focus this year is making it meaningful.  Isn’t that the dream?

Kids can change the world, if the adults are willing to allow the freedom of inquiry in their classrooms.  It is transformative. It is tiring, exciting, head spinning, and fun every single day at E. 

Follow Shannon and the #SchoolOnFire @principaltreece

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