Learning through Inquiry: QFT & the BC Curriculum

In a recent guest post, HS Science teacher Carl Sommerfeld shared how he used the Question Formulation Technique (aka QFT) to provide structure for students to ask questions that would guide a unit of study.

One of the key facets of the QFT is that the teacher starts the process with a Question Focus.  This is a teacher prompt that provides a focus for questions students will create.  Here are examples of how Darren Elves’ does this in his primary classroom: example 1, example 2, example 3.  Darren  has a great post on how he uses the QFT with primary students.

Looking at the proposed design for the “new” BC curriculum I can see how I would use the QFT to start each unit.  Sc 7 - Question Focus1

Above is a draft copy of  the Science 7 curriculum.  I think each Enduring Understanding would make a great Question Focus.  The Content that students are expected to know and understand are helpful when Prioritizing Questions (part of the QFT).  As students pursue answers to their questions (via various means) I would emphasis the process in order to develop students’ ability to Inquire, Reason, and Apply (the Curricular Competencies).

Blending into the unit would be the Cross Curricular Competencies.  I see a significant Language Arts (Written & Oral language) learning and application within the study of Science questions and the ecosystem understandings connect to some of the civilization understandings in the current SS7 PLO.  There is so much opportunity for creative and engaging teaching — would definitely want at least 1 or 2 colleagues to collaborate with on the work:)

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Make Just One Change: In Your Biology 12 Classroom

Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions

Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions

A guest post by Carl Sommerfeld, a science teacher at John Oliver Secondary where he shares his experience of “teaching students to ask their own questions” by using the question formulation technique shared in the book “Make Just One Change”.

Recently I decided to introduce the Nervous System to my Biology 12 students in an unconventional way.

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Learning Contexts versus Learning Intentions

Cover - Embedded Formative AssessmentBased on a close reading of Chapter 3 of Embedded Formative Assessment (Wiliam 2011)

The distinction between learning contexts and learning intentions is an important pre-requisite to realizing the improvement in student learning which education research evidence suggests is achievable.

A common trap for teachers is to focus on the context for learning (i.e. the activity, project, experiment, novel, etc.) and overlook the learning intention it was meant to serve.

Wiliam emphasizes that we “have to be able to distinguish between the intended learning outcomes and the instructional activities that we hope will result in those outcomes, and this is a distinction that many teachers find hard to make.” (p.60)

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Why Share Learning Intentions with Students?

Hitting the TargetBased on a close reading of Chapter 3 of Dylan Wiliam’s book Embedded Formative Assessment (2011)

The research evidence for the benefits of sharing learning intentions and success criteria is powerful and persuasive.

Wiliam provides an overview of an extensive body of research evidence that points to increased learning for all students, when learning intentions and success criteria are clear, shared and understood.  In particular, the greatest gain in learning is observed in those students who are commonly seen as low achieving.  In a collaborative environment this closing of the achievement gap is a positive outcome.

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Self-Regulated Learning

Want to write about this but these links will have to do for now.

Resources that make explicit the links between self-regulation and learning.
Note: authors include UBC’s Deborah Butler and Nancy Perry.

A condensed overview of AfL which makes the point that “what we need is a shift from quality control in learning to quality assurance.”  Note: AfL forms part of the foundation for “learners owning their own learning”.

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Learning Intentions – Science 9 Electricity

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Microsoft Clip Art 2012

During the past two weeks I have been co-teaching in a Science 9 classroom.  One thing that came out of that time was a unit overview for the Electricity topic of the BC Science 9 curriculum.

The unit overview addresses all four ministry-mandated Prescribed Learning Outcomes for Science 9 Electricity as can be seen in this working version of the Electricity unit overview.

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Science 8 Learning Intentions

These “units” span the entire Science 8 and Science 10 courses for BC (more examples of other unit plans). They were created by Karen Greig who is sharing them under a Creative Commons Licence. Feel free to use but be sure to credit Karen.

Students have found them to be very useful. They use them to see what we are going to learn, refer to them during the learning and use them for filtering what they know from what they don’t know when preparing for an exam. They also act as organizers for their notebooks. This will be helpful when they begin preparing for their year end exam.

The “owning my learning” theme is also working well. The students seem to feel more responsible for their learning in general. I see them checking off the B and A columns on the sheets, being honest with themselves about what they feel they know and what they need to work on. They appear to like seeing in print all of the ideas that they have learned. Rather than being intimidated, they appear to be proud.

An unforeseen advantage has been that the learning intentions sheets have helped with students who are away from school for extended periods of time. They can see what work we are covering in their absence and try to keep up.

I have taken out the references to the textbook and have been referring to the learning by the title I have given each section, not by the chapter number. Students have realized on their own where they can find supporting information in the textbook without me having to use specific page references all of the time or give assigned reading.

I am happy with the way in which this is unfolding and am glad that I attended the workshop last February. I feel this project has helped my students see where I wish to take them in their learning and to feel ownership in their journey.

Karen Greig

Link to Karen’s Science 8 and Science 10 “unit plans”.

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AfL School Teams – Book List

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What a Teacher Makes – West Vancouver

What Teachers Make — contextualized for West Van teachers by Chris Kennedy


Over the past six years, Taylor Mali has become a YouTube sensation with teachers (and others).  His presentation of his poem, “What Teachers Make” has been viewed more than four million times. This poem was also part of  an inspiration and presentation that I shared on Opening Day with all staff in West Vancouver.  Just recently, I used a modified version of the presentation when I spoke with Teacher Librarians about the key transformational role they play in “Leading from the Library”.

I have had several requests for the presentation, so I have now posted it to YouTube, and it is embedded below:

While people have been very kind in giving me credit for the presentation, the real credit needs to go to Andrea Wilson, Manager of Communications for the West Vancouver School District, who also has the keen ability to turn concepts into reality.

If you would like to know more about the recent presentation at the

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How’s that working for you?


“How’s that working for you?”

This is a question I have heard several times over the past few years and heard three times in the past two days. I am reminded of how important a question it is.

Here’s why:
1) it is evidence-based. It asks me to look at the effects of the decisions I am making and whether they match my aspirations.
2) it challenges my assumptions. When I hear someone (including myself) say “I already know that” the questions that come to mind are “How am applying it & What does it look like when I do?”
3) it encourages change. When I resist a change or reject a suggestion I need to consider what it is I am holding on to. I need to ask myself “How is the strategy/approach that I am holding onto working?” If it is not working then I need to be open to what has been offered


be willing to invest time & energy in making a change.

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