Piloting “Inquiry, Inc and the Case of the Flooded Fields”

“It’s science! It’s inquiry! It’s imagination!” Nan Childs, pilot teacher

This October, Nan Childs’ second and third grade class at Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School became the first to pilot a new curriculum designed by the Water Inquiry project. The class, called the Greens, followed Inquiry Inc.’s new adventure in The Case of the Flooded Fields. In the story, soccer player Lee finds their practice field completely flooded right before a big championship game. An open-ended conclusion allows for inquiry-based discussions in which students think and ask questions, brainstorm solutions, and present what they would do to help solve the problem. 

Piloting the Project

Nan Childs spent three lessons over three days facilitating the unit, which she split up into an introduction and story lesson, a siphoning experiment lesson, and a solution-design lesson.  The kids were given a decorated story box– inspired by the national Top Secret YA StoryBox Project— containing the storybook, materials for a siphoning experiment, and materials for presenting a solution. When the story box was unveiled, students were very enthusiastic about its sleek, creative, pizza-box design, which they recognized from the illustrations of the book. 


Story Day

Student researchers Emily Buxengaard, Emily Buck, and Brittany Collins, and project leader Professor Carol Berner, were able to observe the pilot lessons at Hilltown. The students were excited and responsive to having four guests in class. As Nan read the story aloud, the kids immediately connected to the material. They had experience with magic tricks, playing soccer, and even flooding, just like the characters, sparking text-to-self connections. 

Prompted with the questions, “Have you ever seen too much water? Where was it? Where did the water come from and what problems did it cause?” kids turned to each other in a Think and Talk activity and discussed their ideas. 

One student had seen flooding in their kitchen: “Our kitchen sink broke and every time we used it, water would go on the floor.” Another student said she had water flowing into her yard after it storms. “I saw too much water in my tennis court because it was raining really hard the day before,” one student remarked; “I couldn’t play tennis!” another called out; “I had a baseball game and in the middle of the game it started raining so they cancelled the game.” 

Although the book urged asking questions, the students were already thinking of ways to get rid of water. The next Think and Talk prompt was “What questions do you have? What do you think is the problem? What do you need to understand to solve the problem?” The Greens were eager to brainstorm what they would do to get water out of a flooded soccer field. Some of the answers were meant to be funny (i.e. use a “floaty field”) but were encouraged as creative problem-solving. After this encouragement, students became more serious with their ideas, generating questions in response to the prompt. 

Siphon Day

The next day was the highly-anticipated siphoning experiment day. The class opened with Nan revisiting the part of the story in which characters share their problem-solving ideas. Then, the Greens moved into a siphoning experiment which demonstrates a way in which water can move up, rather than down.  The kids were enthralled both by Nan’s demonstration and their own trials, and embraced the “mouth trick” when pipettes stopped providing enough suction. Equipped with this new perspective on how to move water, students started generating more solutions to the flooded field problem. 








Solution Day 

On the final day of the Flooded Fields pilot, students were focused on designing final drafts of their solutions. They had already created first drafts, which received feedback from peers through a gallery walk. Students collaborated in pairs and either combined solutions or submitted two separate ones. They had to draw and explain what their ideas were, given large handouts, a vocabulary word list, and art supplies. Incentivized by the characters’ call for help, the Greens quickly got to work. 

The students seemed engaged and focused on this final step, and spent a lot of time talking and listening to each other. Ideas included:

“We could siphon the water into the pipe!”

“Bubble soccer –– it’s a real sport.”

“Make a stream two feet deep to the river…not too deep so animals won’t get their home ruined.”

Students were excited when Nan told them they would get letters back from Inquiry Inc. As Carol left, there were hushed conversations about whether Inquiry Inc. was real. “It’s the college students,” one student said knowingly. 


Debriefing with Nan

Nan had lots of positive comments about the pilot. She mentioned that the kids loved that their ideas were listened to, and that the letters they received from Inquiry Inc. were a big part of that. Nan also liked how Inquiry Inc. pulled together many different subjects. She remarked in our meeting, “It’s not just reading, it’s science, it’s inquiry, it’s imagination!” 

Nan thought the Flooded Fields story was well-suited to her class and could also hold value for older students, which is certainly something to consider for future pilots . She was interested in returning to the lesson in two years with her next group of students.  Nan provided students with a vocabulary list including words like “siphon” and “absorb,” to aid in the brainstorming process. After talking as a group, the Water Inquiry team has decided to include similar vocabulary lists in the future. 

“Siphon the water into a car wash”

In our meeting with Nan, we were especially focused on improvements we could make in our next iteration of the Flooded Fields unit. She mentioned that she wished students had talked more about their solutions before doing their final drawings. Another idea Nan had was conducting experiments with models of  flooded soccer fields in order to test ideas and get kids even more involved in hands-on activities. 

“Put sandbags around the soccer field and siphon the water out.”

We were all excited to hear that Nan had encouraged several students to share their ideas in an all-school assembly. While we weren’t able to attend, Nan tells us the presentation [click to open PDF] was well-received. The kids were proud of their work and received lots of compliments from parents and teachers.

Future Goals

Unfinished story box brings “Flooded Fields” to classrooms

Looking back at the pilot, one of our main takeaways was the extent to which students and their ideas were valued. Nan informed us this is a very rare but very important thing to see in the classroom. Going forward, it’s important for us to keep this in mind. The letters, or “positive notes,” are an integral part of the project. We look forward to integrating into our unit the suggestions for improvement gleaned from Nan and her students and are excited to continue piloting Flooded Fields in other classrooms. If you are interested in bringing the unit to your school, or our premiere story unit, Inquiry Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings (geared toward 1st-3rd graders), please contact Carol Berner at cberner@smith.edu

Written by Emily Buck and Emily Buxengaard

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