Building a Learning Culture through a Whole School Inquiry

What would it be like if we all learned like astronauts-

We have been having a blast this year learning like an astronaut. In the fall, I launched a program designed to engage the whole school in exploring 21st Century learning skills. We called it “Learning like an Astronaut.” For one school year we are trying to answer this question: “If we were going to learn like an astronaut, what would we need to do?”

My goals for creating this program were:

  • To inspire students to see themselves as learners
  • To create a sense of belonging and excitement about learning
  • To increase student engagement
  • To explore how inquiry works and how feedback works

bulletin board

The First Challenge:

Our first challenge we learned about the importance of becoming healthy and strong. Classes created amazing fitness tests. Classes earn points by meeting the criteria for the challenge. The criteria is set by and assessed by a student team with representatives from each class.

We delivered feedback in two ways: immediate video feedback and later written feedback. After observing each class the students responsible for feedback spoke as I recorded them using my iPhone. Before the end of the school day, I emailed the teacher the video. All the videos were also posted in a Google Drive. Teachers all have access to the drive and many classes went in and watched the feedback videos created for other classes too.

The students in the Space Crew deliver the feedback for all the challenges. They determine the success criteria and the number of points. They decided it should be the same for all the challenges. At the end of each challenge, I facilitate the Space Crew and scribe for them–the feedback is all theirs!!

Here is the feedback from the first challenge: Feedback for all Classes from Challenge #1


The Second Challenge

In the second challenge we explored a subject “fit for an astronaut.” Students could choose something to learn about in Math, Science, or Technology. They needed to become an expert in the topic and share their learning with another class. This was a hard one!

The Second Challenge Note

Challenge Two Feedback

Students in the Grade 1/2 class all wrote books about the moon and shared them with kindergarten students. Students in Grade 2/3 researched space facts in their literacy centres, collected all their facts and turned them into an educational live tv show for the Grade 1/2 class. Students in Grade 7/8 studied aerodynamics and shared their learning with Grade 4. And the kindergarten students learned some space songs and sang them for the Grade 1/2 class.

It was interesting to see the curiosity building among students. They asked questions about what students in other classes were learning. This is about the time I started walking in on impromptu learning conversations among students during non-instructional times.

In January we invited the Peterborough Planetarium to visit. We were amazed by the high level of student engagement. Students recognized planets and were able to ask very specific questions. We didn’t prepare them for the visit (outside of the monthly challenges). The expert was also amazed by the level of thought in the student questions. Since we have been focusing on the skills we were surprised by how much students had learned about space.

Here are some of the skills we are focusing on: We are learning to

More Questions…

When students spend prolonged time in the office they have the option of choosing a book from my basket. I added two big books about space. They always pick the space books. Students from K-8 flip through the books or look at the big map of the solar system on my office wall.  One week I added a paper and pen, asking students who chose the space books to write down some questions about space.

Then I typed up their questions and randomly posted them all around the school.


I didn’t tell anyone. Just posted the questions one day. I didn’t even tell the staff.

As students noticed the questions, they started trying to answer them. While waiting in line for French class they debated why the sun shines so brightly. One student went around with a clipboard, recording all the questions and then looking at other walls around the school for answers. Then he would smile brightly, find his teacher, find me, and say, “I got it!”

Some students went in groups, moving from question to question. One teacher said to me, “Looks like the students are doing a scavenger hunt.” She didn’t realize I had put up the questions and the students were doing this “work,” this learning all on their own. This was another big shift in this project. It now truly belonged to the students.

Here is the document with their questions: What shape is Earth?

The Third Challenge

This has been by far the most engaging challenge sparking a lot of school and community learning conversations.

Your Third Mission Handout

We had full school participation in this one! Here are just a few of the robots:

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And check out this video of the robot designed by the Grade 5/6 class!!

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