Opening a Can of Worms on Inquiry-Based Learning

By May 20, 2015Uncategorised

This blog post brought to you by student-teacher Erin Ramsay!

Over the past two weeks at Forest School, the Preschool and School-age groups have been observing creatures in their natural habitats. With some warm and wet spring weather, the creatures of the forest have been very active. Plenty of slugs, worms, spiders, salamanders, and ants can be found underneath logs and rocks and the students have been busy tipping lifting, crouching, and even laying on the ground to observe the bugs and insects. The students have worked together to push over logs, brainstormed locations they can find these creatures, and called their peers over to observe their findings.


Photograph: A group of students stand around a tipped over log observing what is on the damp earth.  “Those are ant eggs” one student suggests. “They are moving so fast” says another student.


Photograph: The facilitators are busy learning alongside the students. A worm has been placed on the log and everyone is watching its movements and discussing what could be occurring.


Photograph: “What is that part?” T. asks while pointing to the yellowish portion of the worm’s body. “I think it ate something big”, T. says as the facilitator listens and documents the learning. “Whoa. When it gets new skins it gets bigger.” The worm stretches out and wiggles on the log moving forward. Another student walks over and reaches to pick up the worm.“You have to leave the worm here.” T. says to her. “Can you pick it up?” P. asks me. “No, we leave it here.” T. responds.

The collaborative learning that has occurred has been quite spectacular. Students are actively engaged with one another to find these creatures. They have been asking questions relating to their findings and are offering one another different perspectives of what they believe is happening. They are sharing ideas on how they should care for the insect or bug and are showing one another how to carry or transport their creature.

Two students, T. and L. crouch down on the ground and find another worm. “It’s similar. Can you get that one out please? Dig it. You can’t hurt it ok?” says L. to T. T. reaches for the worm and starts to pull on it, while removing some of the dirt around it. “Uh oh” T. says as the worm stretches while it is being gently pulled from the earth. “No, but you’re breaking the worm.” L. says in a concerned voice. T. stops pulling and says “it’s breaking”. T. let go of the worm and together, they observed the worm moving in it’s hole. L. says “let’s find another one”, as they walk towards another log.

The students displayed a sincere commitment to one another and themselves to respect the natural environment. This was displayed through the many observations I gathered. Student’s independently discussed the various ways in which they thought the bug or insect would be happiest and explained their thinking. Some students thought that the worm would like to be held, while others thought they should be placed on the cool earth or a log. The children discussed their reasoning with one another.

“This one is similar. Look at this worm. It’s big and tiny. There’s lots.” L. says to a group of students looking at the worm she has found. “Don’t pick her up. We don’t want her hurt.” T. says to the other students.

I. has found a worm and is holding it in her hand. She turns her hand upside down and says, “see that, it didn’t come off”. The worm is stuck to her hand. She gently strokes the side of her worm and turns her hand over to shake it off onto the log.


Photograph: P. has found two snails. She holds up her hand and says “This is the Mommy one and this is the baby one”. P. explained that she would like to find a safe spot for them where “no one will break them”. P. places them into a hollow log and asks “Are you happy snail?” She picks them up again and shows them to her peers.



Photograph: C. shows his slug to a group of children around him. “That slug is naked-pants”, C. explains to his peers. The slug did not have a shell like the snails. “I think it’s a slug”, C. said as his peers looked closer at the bug. “How did he get up there?” he asked looking at the piece of wood it was on. “This is a place where there is squirmy stuff” he said as he tried to pick up the slug.

The learning experience is hands-on, and experiential in nature. The students are engaged in a natural sense of wonder regarding their environmental surroundings. The learning that is occurring is meaningful to each of the students as they are in the driver’s seat to their own educational experiences. They are gathering information regarding their surroundings using all of their senses. They are able to touch their findings, watch the behaviour of the slugs, snails and worms and listen to one another’s ideas. The students questioned the slime that was left on their fingers after handling the snail and came up with their own ideas as to what it was. One child held his fingers up to smell the substance, but concluded that there was no smell and wiped his fingers off onto his pants.


Students are engaged in collaborative learning. As a small group, some students constructed a safe place to keep the snails and slug while we had a break for lunch. Rocks were placed on the log, along with some sticks and leaves and a hat was placed on top for “shade” and to “keep them safe”. “They need to stay inside” one of the students told me. “Make sure they don’t crawl out.” “Put the lid back on (the mesh hat). We will make very sticky stuff so they will stick to the rocks. Let’s fill it with rocks”, one student said, as he pushed rocks around the hat.


Photograph: The hat is lifted and one student starts to laugh. “Look that snail is riding piggy back” he says as his peers come over to take a closer look.


The students have constructed their own ideas on how they can keep their creatures alive and safe. Through exploratory play, the students have looked under rocks and decomposing logs to find lots of living things. Each student has developed their own role in the play and they have worked collaboratively to share their findings, knowledge and questions with one another.

I am looking forward to listening to students ideas and stories, exploring using all of our senses and learning alongside the students in the following weeks.

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