Making time for inquiry: a #thoughtvectors post

Earlier this spring I stumbled across a four-week online ALA class called Dynamic One-Shot Library Instruction.  After playing around in #DS106 for a few rounds, I knew this ALA class could be absolutely unbearable.  However, the ALA class turned out to be the very thing I needed.  Heidi Buchanan and Beth McDonough, the course instructors and authors of The One-Shot Library Instruction Survival Guide stymied a looming existential crisis.

For a while I’ve been thinking about the library instruction that I do here at school.  Most of it involves a 15-minute introduction to databases that students may find useful for a research project.  The “instruction” was my absolute least favorite thing to do.  I was bored.  The kids were bored.  Change was needed.

After a week at Constructing Modern Knowledge last summer and rolling the article, “Beyond Active Learning: A Constructivist Approach to Learning” around in my head, I was asking how DOES one apply Constructivist approaches to library instruction, especially instruction that may be one 45-minute class period?

Jessica Gordon, in her explanation of the “Brainstorming for Inquiry Project” for TeamCreate, poses some excellent questions that one hopes all curious people ask:

1.  What do you want to find out?

2.  What have you always been curious about?

3.  What do you wonder?

My question is how do you get a disengaged student sitting in an English class that he/she may not want to be in (but has to take) to ask the above questions about The Great Gatsby or Beowulf?

Leonardo Dicaprio in Baz Luhrmann's Gatsby.

How could you not care about me?








After all, research projects/papers/products exist as does needed to get credits in X subject whether you care about that subject or not.

I kind of have an answer to my own question.  One of the many things I’m enjoying about #thoughtvectors is the time for reflection.  Students reflect on readings in their nuggets.  They explore associative trails.  There are concept experiences where students put the theories into action.  This time carved out for thoughtful, reflective, exploration is key to question asking.  Even for the student who could give two s***s about Jane Austen.

I think I can safely make the broad statement that just because we are human beings, we have thoughts and/or questions about things we may not care much about. It’s the capturing of those thoughts/questions rather than letting them flit away that’s important.  Essential really.

I’m impressed by #thoughtvectors, because it’s time (an entire course!  EIGHT WEEKS!) dedicated to thinking about thinking/inquiry/questions/passions/research.  It’s not inquiry as a unit, research as a box to check off, or inquiry as an afterthought.  Making the time to reflect on the content and information our students encounter both in and out of school is bound to result in better questions, and connection/sense-making.



Show me your browser history, and I’ll show you mine.

I am thoroughly enjoying looking at the browser history of other people.

That makes for a great movie title.  Other People’s Browser History.

As I look at the screenshots, I sing in my headspace Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me.”*  This sharing of browser histories is an intimate act.  We’re just getting to know each other.

Perhaps sharing one’s browser history should be required on a second date.  Maybe even the first date.  The browser history is the new book shelf.  You judge people by what’s on their book shelf, right?

Here’s a screenshot of my browser history:

Screenshot of my browser history

Screenshot of my browser history


Fascinating, no?  My Firefox preferences include erasing the browser history every time Firefox closes.

At the end of every day, I typically have a good 7-8 tabs open as reminders to go back to the sites to read, explore, etc.  Rarely do I ever find the opportunity to go back to anything.  I half appreciate the reminder that is an open tab.  I’m half crushed by the pressure of having to keep up with the flow of information that comes through Twitter, news channels, Boing Boing, Brain Pickings, etc.

Most of the time the crushing force of too many orphaned tabs won out.  I declared tab bankruptcy at the end of many days, and just close them all out.  However, for a while I was taking screenshots of said tabs before abandoning them.

I look back on those screenshots several months later, and they provide some interesting insight into what I was interested and focused on at the time.

orphaned tabs

orphaned tabs — don’t judge the 795 “unread” emails.

More orphaned tabs


And more orphaned tabs.  I guess it's really all the same stuff.

And more orphaned tabs. I guess it’s really all the same stuff.

Screenshots of open tabs is almost as revealing as keeping a daily journal.  I may have to go back to capturing those internet moments.


* I don’t really sing “Somebody’s Watching Me” in my head.  That would be kind of weird.


Putting the crazy, half-baked ideas in concept space

“Thanks for reaching out.”

That’s a phrase that I’ve bumped into a few times recently.  The phrase is a result getting in touch with complete strangers doing pretty cool things in the city that I (a) want to know more about (b) want to get my students and/or myself involved in or (c) some combination of a and b.

A powerful message: Thanks for reaching out

A powerful message: Thanks for reaching out. Got this email in November 2013. I’ve been thinking about the significance of reaching out ever since.

It’s such a simple message.  “Thanks for reaching out.”  But it suggests so much.  It reminds me that people who genuinely love their work (be it a paid job or what they do out of love for their community) are excited about sharing said work and possibly interested in taking advantage of the brain power/passion existing in local (and sometimes virtual) communities.

I received another “Thanks for reaching out.” just this morning as I settled in with “As We May Think.”

"Thanks for reaching out."

“Thanks for reaching out.”





I’m not far into the article yet, but I started thinking about the significance of “reaching out” and collaboration.  In the article, Bush writes:

They have done their part on the devices that made it possible to turn back the enemy, have worked in combined effort with the physicists of our allies. They have felt within themselves the stir of achievement. They have been part of a great team. Now, as peace approaches, one asks where they will find objectives worthy of their best.

I’m no physicist (as much of my amateur work with electronics will prove), but I consider myself an ally of many individuals and organizations in Richmond.  Especially those people/organizations who endeavor to support and nurture a kid’s curiosity or serve as a champion for whimsy.

Bush is talking about physicists working together, sharing research, etc. for a common goal.  This “reaching out” is “interdisciplinary” (does that have any meaning out side of a school environment?).  The devices that make it possible to turn back the enemy?  Twitter, email, coffee, a beer.  Anything that is conducive to conversations and the the building of networks.

I’m stretching, aren’t I?

I have to say that I’m really surprised by how easy it is to throw out an idea when it’s masquerading as a thought vector.  Idea.  Opinion.  Thought.  These are things loaded with the weight of suggestions.  “Thought vector.”  Totally liberating.  Also, Jenny Stout’s permission to put the crazy, half-baked ideas in concept space is also a gift.

I hope it’s a gift I can give my students in the 2014-15 school year.