A Rainy Day Adventure: Theory into Practice

Katy Butler reads “Inquiry Inc and the Case of the Missing Ducklings” at the Water Story Teacher Workshop.

A heavy April downpour set the perfect tone for our first Water Inquiry Story Workshop, held in the Design Thinking Lab of Smith College. Skilled educators from four elementary schools cast dripping umbrellas aside before digging into the learning adventures of Inquiry Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings, our newly published storybook. Pilot teacher Katy Butler introduced the interactive text as she did with her first graders, saying: “It’s a picture book story with characters… the kind of story where we will stop and talk, stop and think, stop and go. You will get to do the activities.”

Teachers Jan Szymaszek, 3rd Grade Smith Campus School and Renee Bachman, 3rd Grade Leeds Elementary School, sketch their ideas about where the ducklings will go.

Teachers then had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the student mindset, studying images of storm drains and ducklings, discussing the questions: “Where do you think the water goes?” and “Where will the ducklings go?” before working together to show their ideas about drain design and water pathways. In his new book Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions, James E. Ryan– Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education– writes that, “Inquiry… should always precede advocacy,” and it was, indeed, this sense of participatory engagement that characterized teachers’ efforts to “think… talk… and go” in preparation for doing so with their students.

Illustration by Zoe Dong and Sarah White: story characters investigate how to rescue ducklings from the storm drain.

Opportunities for experimentation and exploration revealed the combined powers of STEM and story. “I love the pauses and premise of the problem” one educator noted, while another shared: “… there is so much that can benefit student writing. It will be powerful for [my students] to have the experience of doing the story activities… it will greatly help their reading and writing.”

Renee Bachman, 3rd grade Leeds Elementary and Margaret Betts, 1st grade Maple Elementary, envision how they will use the story in their classrooms.



The connective power of this Water Inquiry story was revealed, not only through educators’ energetic collaboration, but through the discussion of relational possibilities between the story and math or reading practices, engineering games, field trips– even fundraisers to support organizations that provide clean water in Haiti. Teachers discussed ways to use the story as a complement to inquiries unique to their classrooms, noting interests in environmental activism and the strengthening of connections to their local and global communities.

Allyson Ciccarone (’17), four-year water inquiry researcher, and Jan Szymaszek, share ideas and questions.

Inspired to revise their initial answers about the path of water (and fate of ducklings!), educators left the workshop with answers, ideas, and– most importantly– new questions with which to guide and challenge their students. With copies of the Water Inquiry picture book and activities binder in hand, they left the workshop with a new perspective of the world beneath their rain boots.



If you, too, would like to pilot Inquiry Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings in your classroom, please contact Carol Berner at cberner@smith.edu. And, as always, stay tuned for more Water Inquiry updates. The fun has just begun!

Brittany Collins writing for the Water Inquiry Story Group

Problem-solving jingle of Inquiry Inc. characters

Katy Butler
Allyson Ciccarone
Brittany Collins
Zoe Dong
Meghan Johnson
Ruth Neils
Hannah Searles
Sarah White
Anna Wysocki
Carol Berner & Al Rudnitsky


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