Phase II is off and running!

This note is as much a posting of Phase II thoughts as it is a retrospective of week three.

I started today with a recall exercise, a WTL on the material we discussed during week one. I was glad I did…I hadn’t planned on it but it was necessary to remind my students today that FYS was in the main about the inquiry cycle and the inquiry mindset.

We would use tools (QFT, Issue mapping, classroom discussion) as necessary, I told them, but these tools were not the objectives.  In all we do the focus remains on cognitive diversity, critical thinking for complex problem solving, and writing and speaking for collaboration.

It came up because they were working out the Phase II timeline and its myriad of tasks, and were beginning to fixate on the tasks and products.

Phase II is confusing – we’ve asked them (you) to work through a wicked problem using the inquiry cycle (Ask, Investigate, Create, Discuss, Reflect), use issue maps, and (as if that’s not enough) we want to integrate the four lenses!

They were, quite naturally, confused. I told them we will read the four disciplinary areas so we can develop the sort of context that an educated person needs to engage in critical inquiry (Battersby & Bailin, 2011).

I said it may not be a linear path where we overtly examine our problem from each of the lenses, but it could be.  What I think is necessary is that they (and with some mindful coaching from me and my PCs) will begin to self-discover the value of this context.

(They do have an informal essay due on Monday asking them to analyze the Battersby & Bailin essay looking specifically for what they think is main thesis…I wonder how many of them will remember me saying this?)

Each sections’ four week timeline is multi-layered. During the four week period they will read select essays from the arts, natural and social sciences, and the humanities but their primary focus will be to wrestle with their chosen wicked problem (using the steps of inquiry and the various tools).

This technique interleaves new, old, and different material in a way that fosters durable learning (Lang, 2016).  While a singular focus is good for short term memory, the spacing gives their brains time to encode and consolidate new material. It’s similar to stepping away from a frustrating problem and finding clarity when you return hours later (Lang, 2016).

When combined with the practice of memory retrieval students who engage in interleaving are more apt to (self) discover new connections.

All of my sections know that Phase II culminates with a formal paper, and each built in informal writing assignments as part of what I coin the “publish” step in inquiry.  (If we get this right, these informal writings should form the backbone of the formal paper!)

Although each section approached the problem differently, and each will likely have to make adjustments as we progress, I think all of my sections (even the 11:00!) did a fine job of taking ownership.  I ended the week on a high note.

Here’s a fun observation…I was able to demonstrate the utility of issue mapping by drawing one as they discussed their wicked problem options…their conversations were a perfect case study in conflicting views and selective understanding!  It was another unscripted but wonderful opportunity to seize with great good effect.

In a future post I’ll talk more about how I look for and use these “case-in-point” moments to reinforce a topic.

By the way, I was also able to run some team exercises on Monday that introduced simple but effective critical thinking strategies…I had them define first then develop questions for each of the Elder & Paul Intellectual Standards (afterwards I posted the actual Elder & Paul booklet to Bb so they could compare their answers to the author’s.)

A good week, all in all, despite the ETS interruption.


Battersby, M., & Bailin, S. (2011). Critical inquiry: Considering the context. Argumentation, 25(2), 243-253. doi:10.1007/s10503-011-9205-z

Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning (First ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass


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