Relating Faith to Research: January Inquiry Projects

In the month of January, I challenged 10 fourth graders to relate their faith to their research! Students who received As and Bs in quarter 2 were invited to participate, and we had three new students join our team this month! In order to facilitate discussions, I divided students into 2 groups in Breakout Rooms. Most mornings in January, we came together for 45 minutes, starting with a greeting, moving into introducing a new concept or skill to guide the research process, and then breaking into Breakout rooms to discuss students’ current growth and give feedback. I frequently toggled back between the rooms and students assumed responsibility over the facilitation of the discussion themselves.

This month, students voted to record their presentations to share as Loom videos with their family members. This eliminated the extra pressure of having additional people listening to presentations or parents’ individual schedule limitations, while giving parents an opportunity to celebrate! I recruited a colleague to record one group’s presentation as I captured the other group. It was a delight!

Overall, students were able to weave together their interests in ways that were creative, compelling, and culturally-aware. It gave me great joy to see them loving God will all their hearts, souls, and minds through these projects!

Student Research Projects

Researching Royal Penguins

This student’s love of penguins has been a yoke of solidarity between us since the beginning of the year. For this project, I challenged him to select just one kind of penguin and study it very closely. I was proud of his verbal explanation of Penguins’ uniqueness as one of God’s creation, and how appreciating them helps us appreciate God. Ever the steadfast friend, this student created his own Kahoot (question game) about Penguin facts, so that his peers could learn more about Royal penguins.

Ravenous for Ramen

This presentation takes the cake for sincerity and wackiness. Brought to you by the same bright mind who put together a college level presentation on Carnivorous Plants in December (complete with Venus Flytrap cardboard diorama), this students’ January Inquiry project came it at 31 pages (including two full pages of sources). Despite of the 3-4 minute limit each student had to summarize their findings, this student achieved his goal with time to spare because he had practiced summarizing his presentation in advance.

Follow last month’s Internet Safety Meeting with families, students practiced selecting quality sources for their January Inquiry project. Imagine my joy and surprise to see how thoroughly this student has applied that skill!

As if his presentation on the History, ingredients, varieties, fast food versions, and applications of Ramen weren’t enough, my student took us on a culinary adventure.

He devoted 10 of his 31 pages to demonstrate step by step (10 Steps) how to make Chicken Karaage Ramen. As a bonus, he shopped at the little Japanese Market up the corner from my last apartment. Small world. 🙂

This student related his faith to Ramen through the lens of community, respecting other cultures, and sharing a meal. Especially given that we as Christians are invited to eat at the Lord’s table as one body of many nations, his presentation was touching.

This kid, amirite?? 🙂

Passionately against Plastic Pollution

Now here is a student whose emotions are sensitive to the Holy Spirit! In class, she is frequently pragmatic and goofy, somber and sincere. For this project, my student focused on the heart problem of pollution, the selfishness and dishonor that it demonstrates towards the Earth, and what she and her peers could do to stop it. Her passion made me think of a project I once did in sixth grade, studying the history of World War 2. I inadvertently spent most of my project psychoanalyzing Hitler’s traumatic upbringing, essentially trying to understand what had turned him down such a dark path. While surprised, my teacher had the wisdom to let me pursue the project from an ethical perspective instead of a strictly factual one. That project allowed me to study questions I had about good and evil in a way that eventually led me to God. Given all that, it felt more important to allow this student to pursue her project through an ethical lens. Intuitively, she included a call to action and summarized with her own personal reflections about God’s power to redeem and restore the earth (Revelation 21).

It was important to this student that her listeners didn’t feel condemned but convicted to reduce pollution. Since the tone of her project was more similar to an opinion piece, submitted her final reflections by quoting herself (hahaha).

Faithfully Fabricating Fidget Spinners

As the son of a teacher, this student has had more than his fair share of exposure to the world of education. Thrilled by the complete freedom to choose his own topic, he chose to study the creation of fidget spinners. While I anticipated that he would relate his project to his faith through the lens of disability and equity, he chose to surprise me! On youtube, he had found tutorials that showed viewers how to make their own fidget spinners out of wood or even raw apples, as opposed to buying ones made from plastic. His main idea: Create your own fidget spinners to steward the environment.

Sincerly Savvy of Shark Attacks

This student chose to study shark attacks based on his mother’s near close encounter with a shark. While she confessed that sharks were mostly ruined to her by the experience, her son decided to see what was really at the root of shark attacks. Were sharks really to blame? And how can we as people try to prevent shark attacks?

One of the best parts of this students’ presentation was the inclusion of Nine Shark Attack Risk Factors, and ways people can prevent them. According to this student, people should:

  1. Always swim in a group
  2. Not wander too far from shore
  3. Not swim with shiny jewelry
  4. Not splash a lot
  5. Not swim where many fish are swimming
  6. Not enter the water if they are bleeding
  7. Avoid the water at night, dawn, or dusk
  8. Not rely on myths about shark attacks (ex: if there are porpoises in the water, there are no sharks)
  9. Avoid sandbars and drop offs

This student related his faith to the environmentalism of Pope Francis. He correctly cited Pope Francis and asserted that by taking care of the environment, humans can reduce the incident of shark attacks.

Agreeably Analyzing Acid Rain

I continue to enjoy this students’ relaxed but thoughtful presentation style! Unlike some, he understands that the key to a great powerpoint is a moderate amount of text and graphics, but a substantial amount of explanation. This student explored the role of acid rain, and what individuals can do to reduce its impact.

This student rarely seeks the spotlight, but will allow me to appoint him as group leader during breakout rooms periodically. I’m consistently impressed by his humility and the fact that he can articulate when he feels shy, BUT challenge himself to overcome self-consciousness for the things he loves.

Like my Ramen radical, this student extended his learning by doing a science experiment! Inside the beaker, there was a chemical that managed to turn the rose a different color. Kudos to this student for his self-directed science!

Like many of his peers, this student ultimately decided that Christians should care about acid rain out of our responsibility to steward the Earth.

Skillfully Smashing Smog

This fall, I was lucky enough to witness the essay-writing skills of this student first-hand. As an encore, she has dazzled me once again by writing an essay to discuss the impact of car smog on air quality.

As you can see, her essay proceeds in a problem and solution format. She begins by connecting to her viewer’s personal experience with transportation, ways cars can increase air pollution, methods to reducing smog, and a call to action. She has included her faith in her call to action, since she is speaking to a religious audience. She ultimately relates her faith to the the theme of community.

Inter-religious Interest

In response to our many mornings spent praying for the nations and earlier units on Judaism and Islam this year, this student studied the core beliefs and worship methods of Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism. She articulated that “learning about other religions helps us to learn more about other cultures and people who God created.” Ultimately in the context of other cultures, this student gained a better understanding and appreciation of the teachings of her faith.

Purposeful Patterns in Pokemon

I have had many a conversation debating the greatest Pokemon with this student. In this project, he doubled the amount of detail he included last month, and described how many Pokemon are actually based on the animals of the natural world. For example, he explained that Mewtwo is actually based on a Kangaroo, but that Mew is based on a cat. By studying the ways that Pokemon’s creators engineered Pokemon based on natural creatures, this student gained a deeper appreciation for God’s diligence and creativity in forming the diversity of life on Earth.

My favorite pokemon is Ditto, in case anyone was wondering.

Where do we go from here?

This month in class, students will be starting to explore the Civil Rights movement. One student from this group wasted no time in telling me that she would like to “learn a little more deeply, like writing an essay, a kahoot, or powerpoint” to understand the ethical roots of racism through a religious lens. As a result of these Inquiry projects, it was greatly satisfying to see her specifically ask to dive deeper into this topic, and suggest some potential methods we’ve used to do so. With the blessings of my colleagues, students will brush past a surface level understanding of Civil Rights to understand key tactics, leaders, and ethics.

As various students have wondered about the role of religious leaders in the Civil rights movement, I plan to select 4-5 prominent religious leaders and discuss their stances on the Civil Rights movement (spoiler: some were supportive, but many were not). We will examine quotes of denominations speeches or public comments on the Civil Rights movement, and students will even do an activity where they have to match the name and intended outcome of various forms of direct action (for example, sit ins, boycotts, freedom rides, blockades, lunch counter protests, etc).

At the end of the unit, students will be able to:

  • Recognize the diversity of tactics employed by Civil Rights leaders, and identify their outcomes
  • Use Christian teachings of nonviolence to compare and contrast nonviolent civil disobedience with militancy
  • From reflection, draw independent personal conclusions on the role of Christians should play in racial politics, and the methods Christians should employ

In February as many students transition back to the building, students will be spending our Inquiry project designing group inquiry projects for March. In March, 3 more students will join us, boosting our number to 13 (of 20) students total. As a group, students will select 1-3 themes that they will explore as a jigsaw, each student taking one individual component. While it seems very likely students will continue to purpose environmentalism (something they first studied in depth in first grade), I suspect some might be interested in the history of toys or some other theme.

Regardless of what they choose to explore, I’ve gotten approval from my colleagues to ultimately support ALL students to do Inquiry Projects in the final months of our school year! I am confident that by crafting a jigsaw of different topics with students for March, we will be able to continue to build a web of collective interests that will catalyze their love of learning into next school year.

Published by Haley Nus

I am a bilingual Christian Educator in the heart of D.C. who longs to see revival transform K-12 education both domestically and internationally. I believe that inquiry-based and experiential teaching methods pair seamlessly with godly awe and point us through the gospel towards a Creator who invites us to taste and see his goodness (Psalm 34:8). While I love sharing the gospel with people, I take Jesus's invitation to welcome children in his name (Luke 9:48) and Jesus's exhortation to become like children (Mathew 18:3) literally! In order to shape the world well for adults, we must serve the youngest among us so that we will truly understand who we are as sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18).

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