“What does inquiry mean?” Maple School Pilot

Water Inquiry Researcher Anna Wysocki ‘21 explores storm drains with first graders.

First grade students in the classrooms of Margaret Betts and Martha Morgan considered this question during a recent pilot of Inquiry Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings at Maple Street School in Easthampton, MA. “Talking about something and seeing what you can do,” one student offered, while others noticed the words “inquire, wonder, investigate” written on a group chart in their classroom. “Can water run out? Is all water the same? Where does water come from? Where does water go?” These guiding questions encouraged students to view an integral resource in new and exciting ways. As they walked around their block to scout for storm drains, first graders were riveted by the facts and mysteries of the everyday wonder that is water, revealing anew the powers of place-based and narrative learning.

These inquisitive scientists were the first in their town to interact with Inquiry Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings story and unit materials, but they will not be the last; we are excited to announce that our unit was officially adopted into the Easthampton public school first-grade science curriculum! In celebration of this achievement, and with reverence for the organic discoveries of collaborative inquiry, we have created a compilation of reflections from members involved in piloting our story.

Water Inquiry Researcher Anna Wysocki ’20 connects the day to her personal experiences with water systems:

“We arrived at Maple Hill Elementary with open minds and eyes and were able to leave with full hearts. The children we worked with were so insightful and full of inquiry, and truly made this adventure so special.

First grader making storm drain observations.

After briefing on the plan for the day with our wonderful host teachers, the students were split into groups of 3 or 4 so that they each had a chance to engage and discuss their observations. Then, we made our way outside with clipboards and pencils and flashlights to see what we could find out about how storm drains work. There were six stations of storm drains to observe, and at each there was something new to ask, to say, and to laugh about for the kids. Funnily enough, in the very beginning, as I was handing a pencil out to a student, it fell down the drain and floated in the water, just as takes place in the story.


“Look! There’s a mushroom!”

There were two moments that really stuck with me from the day. First was in the second group, when the four students were observing the storm drain located in their school playground and found a mushroom growing at the bottom of it. They found this to be hilarious and began making songs about the mushroom in the drain, singing for the rest of the time we were there.

Secondly, was once we were back inside and the teacher began reading the book. They approached a section of the story where the Inquiry Inc. “jingle” was to be said, and the whole class full of kids knew it and screamed it. It was amazing to look back to when we were writing those very lines and then now see them being memorized and cheered by people reading the book. It was really an amazing day. The children we worked with came up with so many brilliant questions and observations. It was a day that was truly benevolent to our research and to brightening our spirits.

For me, the water inquiry project was more than writing stories for children to be entertained by. Having grown up in Hoosick Falls, NY, where recently it was discovered that our very own drinking water supply is polluted by a toxic chemical called PFOA, this story was a chance to inform and make a positive difference on the way that people look at water and all that goes with it. This is just the beginning of our journey to informing kids about water safety, and this adventure is making the future look bright!”

Ruth Neils ’19 examines storm drain with students.

Pilot teacher Margaret Betts discusses her launch of Inquiry Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings:

“The children were so excited to investigate the drains. They immediately took a personal interest in what would be in a drain and what might be good for the drain and bad for the drain. The activity really engaged active looking and wondering. When we returned to the classroom to reflect on our field trip everyone had something to say about what they noticed and wondered. It was a perfect way to engage children into the larger inquiry.”

Margaret Betts (right) shows Ruth Neils ‘19 (left) student diagrams tracing the journey of water from cloud to faucet.


First graders began the pilot by identifying the story’s central problem (“She sees ducklings in a storm drain and they’re trapped”) and imagining real-world solutions:

Students’ ideas included:

  • “Pour more water in the drain until it fills up so much that the ducklings float to the surface.”
  • “Use a screwdriver to get the grate off. Then use a rope to catch the ducklings.”
  • “Go get my dad. He would use a technique to get ducklings out.”
  • “Put an umbrella down in the grate and pull the ducklings up.”

Concluding Reflections from Anna Wysocki ‘20

Our fun out-of-the-classroom adventure resulted in inquiry, creativity, and laughs from all participants. One of our main goals as a group is to allow the readers of our stories to gain new thought processes and techniques to use in real-world applications, encouraging them to realize the amazing impacts that they can have on any problem. As silly as saving ducks from a storm drain may sound in terms of implementation in everyday life, we were able to learn that such problems do happen, and that if you’ve “got a problem that won’t go away”, then a little bit of inquiry can “save the day!” In fact, a first grader brought to school breaking news that in our very own city of Northampton, some baby ducks fell into a storm drain and were trapped, leaving their mom above-ground in a panic. Local firefighters and passers-by used inquiry skills to save the ducks, just as Inquiry Inc. and these curious Maple School students could have done.

You never know when a little bit of inquiry can save the day!

Illustration by Zoe Dong ‘17, from Inquiry Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings.

Written by Brittany Collins and Anna Wysocki on behalf of the Water Inquiry team.

1 thought on ““What does inquiry mean?” Maple School Pilot

  1. Ally

    “we are excited to announce that our unit was officially adopted into the Easthampton public school first-grade science curriculum!”

    This is so exciting to hear! Congratulations everyone.

    The real-world solutions as imagined by the first grade students were fascinating. I’m especially interested in the umbrella theory.

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