Teach Ontario

I recently partnered up with Teach Ontario to share Dive into Inquiry with Ontario teachers through Teach Ontario’s online portal.

From their website, TeachOntario “is an award-winning online community to support sharing, collaboration and knowledge exchange amongst educators across Ontario.  TeachOntario was created by TVO, in partnership with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF), its Affiliates and the Ministry of Education (EDU), and in consultation with teachers from a variety of districts across the province.  A unique destination for teachers created “For Ontario’s Educators, By Ontario’s Educators,” TeachOntario’s purpose is to serve and celebrate Ontario educators for the broader benefit of Ontario’s students.

TeachOntario offers the unique opportunity to:

  • Support teacher professional learning
  • Foster teacher leadership
  • Facilitate the sharing of exemplary practices with others

Ontario educators with a Board of Education email address can register and log in to follow other educators, create blogs, discussions, documents, upload pictures, videos and files, and start groups based on subject matter, grade or interest.”

Sounds cool, eh?

Here is the online bookclub that provides support for educators in their reading of Dive into Inquiry.

And here is my webinar:


The Four Pillars of Inquiry

The Four Pillars of Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt

The Four Pillars of Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt

I love shaping learning and how we spend time in school around things we’re passionate about.  Over my years as an educator I’ve witnessed many students who are incredibly talented and dedicated to their craft.  Whether it be a sport, an artistic endeavour, or a hobby or curiosity that has turned into something greater, passions provide some excitingly meaningful and powerful learning experiences.

But I have also discovered that solely structuring learning around passions can be a tricky thing.  For one, all educators operate under some sort of governing body that requires particular learning objectives be met.  A question I often here from colleagues wanting to adopt inquiry into their classroom is “how can passions and learning objectives be simultaneously honoured?”  This is a great question and one that I unpack in my book Dive into Inquiry and a point I’ll tackle in a future post.

And second, I have often heard from students when I attempt  to weave passions into the classroom that they are not passionate about anything, that they don’t have something that makes them feel fulfilled, that they’ve set their minds to, and that they’ve committed to over the course of some time.  I’m certain you’ve heard the same: “I’m not passionate about anything.”  How can we pull all of our learners in to the inquiry classroom if their connectedness is limited by this one particular hiccup?

In my classroom this is where The Four Pillars of Inquiry come into play.

The Four Pillars are inquiry avenues that provide all learners with the support and foundation to begin to formulate their inquiry topic and their essential question.  Let’s take a brief look at each pillar to help create some understanding of how these support the inquiry classroom.

Explore a Passion: beginning inquiry from a place of passion allows students to start from a place of high interest, commitment, and confidence.  Further to that, students are able to tap into a wealth of prior knowledge that will strengthen the initial steps of their inquiry.

Aim for a Goal: at times students enter my classroom with a vividly clear picture of where they will be in their future.  Whether it be an institute of higher ed, a particular program, or a career path, this pillar provides learners with the support and structure to work towards a goal they possess.

Delve into Your Curiosities: I believe interests and curiosities, things that students have always wondered about but never had the time, space, or support to explore, turn into passions after we’ve grappled with them for an extended period of time.  The third pillar provides students with the means to help identify these questions that have been left unanswered in their educational experience.

Take on a New Challenge: the fourth pillar is rooted in helping students rise to a particular challenge that they’ve identified as worthy of their time and energy.  I’ve supported learners in a myriad of challenges from identifying and attempting to solve social issues such as poverty to facing the challenge of learning something new like a musical instrument or a language.

Each of The Four Pillars of Inquiry is touched down on throughout our coursework.  We constantly weave them into our discussions, our sharing, and our writing so that when it comes time to formulate an inquiry topic learners have already unpacked there their inquiry could take them.

Chapter 7 of Dive into Inquiry is dedicated to The Four Pillars of Inquiry and outlines each pillar in detail, provides meaningful lessons and prompts to support inquiry, and gives student examples to bring the process to life.  Please consider looking further into the book for more information.

Do you incorporate passions in to your classroom?  Do you see The Four Pillars supporting inquiry?  Feel free to comment below!


Guest Post Review by Lisa Bieler

Lisa Bieler is a TOSA and Google Certified Trainer out of California who originally published this review of Dive into Inquiry on her blog.  Check her out and give her a follow on her online spaces.  Thanks Lisa!

“High school English teacher Trevor Mackenzie’s recently published book by EdTechTeam Press, Dive Into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice, presents an approach to personalized learning requiring students to eventually take ownership of their own learning.

A tough student situation sparked his own dive into inquiry. Mackenzie sought ways to retain students who might otherwise seek alternative classes or drop out altogether. His seven year journey culminated in the publishing of this book.

Dive Into Inquiry has a broad scope, and isn’t a narrow lesson, unit, or experience. It is a fundamental, yet doable shift that requires educators to keep in mind:

  • a mindful transition to foster student agency and support the shift in pedagogical models students will experience
  • collaborative journey through the Types of Student Inquiry that nurtures a gradual release of control over learning in the classroom
  • gaining a grasp of Understanding by Design and planning for a performance task that demonstrates deep understanding
  • honouring our students, their passions, and goals and tying them to the learning objectives of the course (quoted from the introduction, bold mine)

This easy to read book (about 130 pages) outlines shifts in pedagogy, types of student inquiry, essential questions, creating an authentic product and displaying it publicly.  He starts with some classroom management strategies, such as being flexible, teaching real skills, making eye contact with students, and taking the time to get to know them.

Inquiry based learning is not about telling students to find something that they want to learn about and go do it. Inquiry based classrooms aren’t about the teacher sitting in the back of the room checking email and correcting spelling and grammar. This approach is about scaffolding students’ journey into learning about something that they care about and guiding this trip by assisting students in developing a free inquiry proposal and providing prompts.

Sprinkled throughout the pages are QR codes that link to YouTube videos of student work, some his own and some from across the globe. These students have produced work and broadcast it to the world. Video evidence is one way students demonstrate their learning, as well as writing, video/audio, photography, and dance. His learners record evidence of their learning with storyboards, compilation of resources, their learning process, photography, feedback from mentors or critics.

Mackenzie recommends starting small, but with a plan. You can start by revising an existing unit of study, designing a syllabus with your students, or infusing a smaller chunk of learning with the Dive Into Inquiryprocess, which scaffolds each step into the next. Plan, do, iterate, and reflect.


(I was not paid to write this review, nor was I given the book to review it. I did receive it for no cost as a prize in a recent Teacher Appreciation promotion by EdTechTeam and thought it was very worth reading and reviewing.)”


This week’s edition of #MeaningfulMonday is a call to action.  Everything that we know of school and the buildings and structures we operate in are questioned in this video.  Reimagining what school truly is, at its core, to be something that better prepares our learners to be the critical thinkers and creators and collaborators we need.  Love the good folks at The OPEDUCA Project.  Find them and follow them.  You won’t be disappointed.

Make your Monday meaningful y’all.

Guest Post by Colleen Rose

I first met Colleen Rose when she reached out to me on twitter during her reading of Dive into Inquiry.  We collaborated a bit at first and our connection grew into a trip to her school just north of Thunder Bay, Ontario to Nipigon-Red Rock High School.  While there I worked with her amazing colleagues and co-leaders of the day Lindsay Miller Costa and Stephen Wilson.  I’m incredibly blessed to work with so many inspiring and dedicated teachers.  These three have been awesome additions to my PLN.

Have a read of Colleen’s review of Dive into Inquiry below and follow these #edustars at their various online spaces.

“Last month, I hit a wall. I realized that I had been assuming quite a bit about my pedagogical methods as well as my classroom structure, and I knew I had work to do. What that work was, wasn’t obvious at the time but at least I had identified the problem.

Last week, my copy of Trevor MacKenzie’s Dive Into Inquiry arrived in the mail and the timing seemed almost serendipitous. I tore into the book like a drowning swimmer reaching for a life raft.

I appreciated the message in the foreword, provided by Alec Couros, whose work I’ve appreciated for quite some time. His assertion that Trevor’s book could address questions that had been occupying space in my mind was more than enough to keep me interested. The emphasis on authenticity in the school environment, “practical approaches [married] with …theoretical and philosophical understandings“, and a “solid pedagogical framework” promised hope for someone yearning to connect the dots and establish order within my unknown vision of an ideal classroom setting.


Trevor’s own stories of working with high school students mirrored many of my own experiences and concerns, and I felt that I could identify with the challenges he had faced while teaching. Maybe his model of inquiry might work for my students too…

This year, my TLLP project helps me devote time and energy into providing a classroom environment that is dedicated to student-centred learning. Teaching for Artistic Behaviour deeply respects each student, his or her interests and goals. When I read that all students deserve a chance to explore their passions, interests, and curiosities, I knew that Trevor’s inquiry model would be an excellent fit for my students.


The week before Trevor’s book arrived, I spent two days tearing my curriculum apart. I realized which expectations were non-negotiable; the kinds of facts and skills that need to be delivered in a somewhat traditional method. There were other expectations that could be combined with others, and then there were expectations that worked very well within an inquiry model — I just needed the framework for that model.


Not only does transparent planning create an environment of trust, but it shows a dedication to each student as well as genuine respect for them.
Trevor reviews his course curriculum with his students, and requires their input on the best way to meet the expectations. Their responses to questionnaires devoted to uncovering their learning preferences are then used along with their suggestions to design the course syllabus for the year.

In an ideal classroom, free inquiry would work for every student, but there are steps to take before students might feel comfortable with such vast independence.  I’m looking forward to learning more about each type of Student Inquiry in the next few chapters of Trevor’s book:  Structured, Controlled, Guided and Free Inquiry.  Until then, one of my senior students has an interest in learning using an inquiry model, and has begun to look through our curriculum expectations with me.


We are beginning to understand what an essential question is, thanks to the work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, and how these questions can be used to direct our learning.

I honestly can’t wait to see where this takes me and my students…!

Who Are You? What Shapes Your Identity?

Throughout the school year I love to post what we are unpacking in our classes here at Oak Bay High School.  Being a full-time English teacher (this year my timetable consists of English 12, English 11 and Creative Writing) I am actually living in the inquiry pool that I outline in Dive into Inquiry.  We are following the processes outlined in the book and using structures such as the Four Pillars of Inquiry, the Inquiry Process, and the Free Inquiry Proposal that are in Dive into Inquiry.

Our current unit of study, a structured inquiry unit, focuses on the essential questions Who are you?  What shapes your identity?  

In rolling out this essential question I presented students with a number of provocations to get their wonderings and understandings out publicly and to help drive my instruction and their shape role in the unit.

I first shared with them the below slide to set the shape of our unit.  I outlined that we will be looking at identity in many contexts and understandings to help deepen and enrich each of our perspectives on the factors that shape who we are.  We’ll be grappling with many readings, resources, images and art, as well as speakers and other multimedia provocations.  Each of these will at times challenge our perspective, reaffirm our beliefs, and perhaps steer us in a new direction and understanding.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 9.08.42 AM

We then spent time in small groups of 3 (the magic number of optimal collaboration) contributing our ideas on what actually shapes our identity to a digital pin-board using Answer Garden.  We discussed ideas around each perspective and students spoke to their opinions and prior knowledge.  Have a look at the images below!

I then shared the below provocations in order to see what they noticed, what they wondered and what they knew about each.  This was a great activity as it solidified how we, as a community of learners, will have our voice heard in the course and that this will guide my instruction and their role in their learning.


We settled on the below image and followed the same notice, wonder, know process.  The conversation was powerful.  We discussed the why behind the before and after of each pairing, the factors that students knew contributed to this change, and highlighted some big ideas and conceptual understandings that will be the backbone of our unit.  Beyond identity words that surfaced included assimilation, discrimination, segregation, racism and residential school.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 9.09.29 AM

As you can see the provocations slowly, step by step, began to narrow our focus on one lens on identity: aboriginal people.  We will now spend a few weeks deepening our understanding on this aspect of identity.  Students have a few novels to select from: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Three Day Road, or Indian Horse.  We are also looking at the life and death of Chanie Wenjack as well as a few other pieces that I’m certain will resonate with students.

We will then shift our focus on identity to other lenses such as gender and identity, politics and identity, and art and identity.  In this structured unit we are not tied to a single text or resource.  Rather we are connected to an overarching essential question and interact with a broad range of readings and artifacts that deepen our understanding of the essential question.

I’ll keep you all posted as this structured unit unfolds.  Feel free to leave a comment for my learners (or me!) below.


Listen to Sarah wax on being creative. Consider the depth to what she shares.  Think on her talents demonstrated throughout her video. Focus on her honest voice, her candid reflection, and her rich metacognitive discourse.

Now get this.  She’s 15 years old.

Back in the day what were you doing when you were 15?  What are most of your students doing right now?  And most importantly, how can we empower and support more of our students in our classes to do what Sarah is doing?

Great food for thought, no?

Make your Monday meaningful y’all.