Reading, Science, Teaching and Instruction

Building a Culture of Wonder: Inquiry in Primary Education

Children are born with a sense of wonder starts the moment they open their eyes and begin to make sense of the many sights, tastes, sounds and smells around them. As they get older they begin to speak and that sense of wonder is often articulated in one word which they use over and over again… WHY? Why is the sky blue? Why does the dog bark? Why are we going to the store? Why? Why? Why?

When those same children first come to school in kindergarten they often bring with them this same enthusiasm, quest for answers and wonder. Our job as educators is to create space in our classrooms and our day for this wonder. We need to let them know that their questions are not only valued an important but have a place in our classrooms and school.

In our current Saskatchewan curricula inquiry is the heart of each document. From ELA to math to science to social studies teachers are being asked to foster a sense of inquiry in their students as they discover and uncover what each discipline has to offer. For myself as a primary teacher I saw inquiry as living in the wonder that my students brought into the classroom each day. Through conscious teaching, careful planning and willingness to wonder myself I could foster, encourage, and facilitate opportunities for wonder in and outside the four walls of my classroom. Here are some ideas that I found quite helpful as well as some new ones to help build and maintain a culture of wonder in your classroom:

Wonder Wall

A place where group questions can be modeled, recorded, shared, and encouraged. As students discover answers to their questions they can be crossed off and more can be added. Another option is to have students write their questions on sticky notes that can be placed on the wall. When we were learning about the rainforest this wall took the shape of a giant palm tree. The new learnings were placed on palm fronds and questions were posted beside the tree.

Wonder of the Week

Posting a wonder of the week can initiate discussions, thinking and more questions. The questions need not have an answer. The goal is not to answer every question but create a culture of wonder. Fermi questions are a great source for thinking and discussion.

Wonder Words

Using wonder words as sentence starters can encourage student’s sense of wonder. These words can be used for written and oral communication.

  • I wonder
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Do
  • If
  • Can
  • Why
  • How

Wonder Centre

This centre can be a collection of objects carefully chosen objects which can fit in with current themes in the classroom. Natural objects work well and create opportunities for students to use many scientific skills such as observing, measuring, classifying, predicting and inference making.

Possible ways to record thinking at the Wonder Centre:

  • Wonder Journal
  • Wonder cards
  • Observation templates
  • Sentence starters
  • Science Notebook

Possible Objects for a Wonder Centre:

  • Natural objects (rocks, soil, plants, shells…)
  • Artifacts
  • Pictures
  • Magnifying Glasses
  • Magnets
  • Rulers
  • Balance scales
  • Microscopes
  • Tape measures
  • Wonder Bottles – sealed pop bottles full of liquids and other items like glitter. These allow students to see how liquids mix, or don’t as well as how items can float or sink on the liquid. I used to make my collection with water and oil, corn syrup, pancake syrup, and salt water.

I know this list is incomplete but it is a start and really that is the first thing you need to do to create a classroom of wonder and inquiry for your students… be willing to start. If you have other ideas of ways you create wonder and inquiry in your classroom I would love to hear them.

Recommended Professional resource to explore – A Place for Wonder by Georgina Heard and Jennifer McDonough