Trevor MacKenzie: 5 Ideas to Bring the Inquiry Mindset into Your Classroom Today

Fantastic ideas to bring the inquiry mindset into the classroom including curiosity jars, provocations and more. Trevor MacKenzie gives us ideas to help kids become excited and curious.

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Trevor MacKenzie: 5 Ideas to Bring the Inquiry Mindset into Your Classroom Today

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Date: May 18, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Trevor MacKenzie, 17-year educator from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and author of Inquiry Mindset. I actually found him on the hashtag, because #inquirymindset going crazy, Trevor.

Today we’re talking about five ideas to bring inquiry mindset into the classroom.

Trevor, what is your first idea?

Trevor: Thanks so much, Vicki, for having me. My first idea — and it sounds like such a simple one, but it’s often one that educators overlook — is to simply ask our students what their curiosities and interests and passions are. Then use these as leveraging points to create powerful learning opportunities.

Idea #1 Ask students what their curiosities and interests and passions are

So one really neat thing that I see in powerful inquiry classes at the younger years is called The Curiosity Jar.

The Curiosity Jar is a beautiful mason jar that teachers have decorated with their students, and teachers encourage kids to plunk a little written curiosity into the jar any time throughout the day. The inquiry teacher can beforehand — we never do this randomly in front of our students, right? — beforehand, pull out these curiosities and prep really awesome learning moments.

I’ve seen some amazing things come from The Curiosity Jar — wonders about space, wonders about humanity, wonders about learning. So really, when we ask our students what their curiosities are, we really do leverage those into powerful learning opportunities.

Vicki: Wow. The teacher looks at all of what they are, and knows what they are, and then the kids — at some point in the next day or so — will draw. And then the teacher will just use that particular lesson based on whichever one they draw, right?

Trevor: Absolutely. Sometimes it happens at carpet time. You know, we pull the kids into carpet time and we pull out these curiosities. It appears random, but the teacher has prepped and scaffolded for these carpet time moments to create really powerful, meaningful learning opportunities.

Vicki: And I love it because in some ways, even though you’ve planned ahead, it’s spontaneous for the teacher. There’s that element of surprise and spontaneity that's so much part of the exciting inquiry-based classroom.

OK, what’s our second one?


Trevor: Our second one is to bring in provocations. Provocations in the inquiry-based classroom are those artifacts or images or videos, to spark further curiosity and meaningful questions and conversation around learning.

Idea #2 Bring in provocations

A really fantastic provocation that my son, who’s in inquiry this year, brought in Remembrance Day. Remembrance Day in Canada is the equivalent of, I suppose Veterans Day in the United States. Is that right, Vicki?

Vicki: It is. I believe so.

Trevor: Yeah, so he brought in his great-grandfather’s boots from World War II.

He brought them in, and rather than have him share them at Show and Tell, the teacher just put them down on a desk and had students go and explore them, pick them up, and ask questions about them. “What do you notice about these boots? What do you wonder about these boots? And what do you know about these boots?”

Between the students and the conversations about those three questions, further questions and curiosities and interests surfaced throughout this activity. So that one little provocation of the boots led into some really amazing conversations around Remembrance Day and specifically, World War II.

I think provocations are a really powerful way to spark further curiosities and questions in the inquiry classroom.

Vicki: I love that! So you’re really trying to provoke curiosity, aren’t you?


Trevor: Absolutely! And you know, to be honest, by having them be a part of those provocations — they can bring them in, we can bring them in — and then from there, we can connect to other plans that we have in our curriculum and with regards to our assessment, right?

Vicki: Oh, what a remarkable idea.

Idea #3 Bring in a real world problem or challenge

OK, what’s number three?

Trevor: Number three is to bring in a real world problem or challenge. I ask my students to help me attack this challenge and solve this challenge and try to make a difference in the world around us, whether it’s our school community or our local community or perhaps our global community.

Sometimes that turns into a letter campaign or an email campaign. Sometimes that turns into design thinking and creating a solution to this challenge. Perhaps it’s using technology to solve a problem that we see in our world.

Overall, really what it does is it generates high interest in our community and our global community. It creates some authentic skills with our students. They look at how to attack a problem, plan a solution, and then of course follow through on that plan.

Then it’s just really meaningful learning, isn’t it? When we are looking at our community, whether it’s our school, our community, our city, our country, and then globally, it’s so much more meaningful than just reading out of a textbook or signing out a book.

It’s an authentic connection to the world around us. And I love it.

Vicki: Trevor, you have got to give me at least one quick example? Go for it.


Trevor: So a really quick example. Graffiti art has really been a hot topic at our school this year because around us there have been some artists who have been, of course — taking liberties, tagging, creating their share of art around us.

So I posed that question to my students. What do we do about this graffiti art? Is it even a problem? Should graffiti art be legalized? What do we want to do about it?

My students decided that graffiti art, when done tactfully and artfully, shouldn’t be illegal. It should be promoted and celebrated in our community.

So we followed up that belief with a plan to try to make a positive change with this topic. Essentially, they wrote letters to our local municipality, encouraging them to consider legalizing graffiti art in some of our public spaces.

So much fun, right?

Vicki: Oh, that's awesome, and they’re being a part of advocating for meaningful change in the world. That’s fantastic!

Idea #4: Model your own passions, interests, and curiosities

OK, what’s our fourth, Trevor?

Trevor: You know, number four is that I really do try to — as an inquiry teacher — model my own passions and my own interests and my own curiosities for my students.

Not only do I want them to see my thinking and hear my thinking — around what gets me ticking and what gets me excited about learning — but also I want them to see what lifelong learning really looks like.

I want to be a role model for what their future as a learner could look like. Really, by modeling that and sharing my thinking aloud, I’m helping them work out that metacognitive thinking behind what we see day in and day out for our students.

I think a real strong inquiry teacher models their passions, models their thinking, models that friction that we know students have in learning — and then how we deal with that friction and how we deal with the heavy lifting of learning.

So yeah. I encourage inquiry teachers to model their passions, model their interests, and model their thinking, Vicki.

Vicki: Oh yes. Bring it in to your classroom! Let them see you get excited. Let them see you learn. Let them see you talk out the challenges that you have as you learn it.

OK. These are fantastic!

What’s our fifth, Trevor?


Trevor: Our fifth is the power of the PLN. You referred to the hashtag earlier. I know this is bringing the inquiry mindset into the classroom, but number five is really about bringing the inquiry mindset to our school.

Idea #5: Use the power of the PLN

I’m going to encourage teachers who are listening to find a collaborative tribe within their building to partake in some professional inquiry around teaching and learning in our school. Inquiry just isn’t great for our students, it’s powerful for our staff as well.

So asking a big question of myself and a little group of teachers within my building — and that question, obviously revolves around how my teaching is impacting my students’ learning.

That can look like many things. It could look like provocations, as I referred to earlier. It could be a big question around my assessment practice or my preparation for my learning moments with my students.

But that — harnessing the power of the PLN in our building — is going to quick create the inquiry mindset with our staff, with our colleagues, and with our teachers. Once we have that happening with our staff? Amazing things are going to trickle down for our students.

Vicki: Trevor, while we have time, what’s the most incredible thing you’ve seen happen on the #inquirymindset on Twitter?

Trevor: Oh my gosh!

You know one thing that I’m real excited about — and it’s happening slowly because I think this one takes a little bit of time, but — I’m seeing teachers start to look at their learning spaces, their classrooms, and really start to re-jig and redesign how their classrooms look.

Quite literally, it’s playing with the furniture in the room. You know those Before and After photos that we see in design TV shows all the time?

We’re seeing teachers take this to the next level and really think about, “OK, what’s the teacher-centered room look like? What’s the student-centered room look like? How can I maybe find a balance between the two?”

Because we know teacher-centered time and teaching directly is important. We need that in our classroom. But then what does the student-centered classroom actually look like?

I’m seeing amazing BEFORE and AFTER photos of these classrooms where teachers have tried to strike that balance a little bit more explicitly and intently. Some of it is just so, so cool.

And it doesn’t take this huge budget. We’re not talking about spending hundreds and thousands of dollars on new furniture. It really is a matter of redesigning what we currently have in our room on a low, low budget.

And that to me is just so inspiring to see teachers re-jig what it is that they have in front of them to better meet the needs of their students. It’s super exciting!

Vicki: Trevor, give us a thirty-second pep talk for adding inquiry-based learning into our classroom.


Trevor: Wow. A thirty-second pep talk?

I tell you, some of the biggest changes I’ve made in my practice all stem from just trying to better meet the needs of my students. You know, I never set out to write two books on inquiry, or become kind of a global consultant on inquiry. The very first question I ask myself with regard to this journey I’ve been on has been, “How can I meet the needs of the students I’m serving?”

To me, that’s always been relationships first, right? It’s the high-five in the hallway. It’s the kind smile. It’s really being present to hear the needs from each of my students. Then, of course, really thinking on what a proper and powerful pathway is that I can create to better meet the needs of my kids. So relationships first!

It starts small and it ends up big.

Vicki: Educators, we know, we’ve got to relate before we educate.

These are some fantastic principles.

Hope to see you on the hashtag. I think I’m going to be adding it to HootSuite now after we finish up the show.

Thank you, Trevor! The book is The Inquiry Mindset. Follow #inquirymindset. So many fantastic ideas here.

We can do this! I really love the provocations and asking students about curiosity.

A previous show guest actually has kids keep a “Wonderings Journal,” where they write about things that they wonder, and these are all exciting ways to add the inquiry mindset into our classroom. Let’s do this!

Trevor: Love it! Thanks for having me, Vicki! So much fun!

Contact us about the show:

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Trevor MacKenzie is an award winning English teacher, instructional coach (focusing on inquiry and technology), and graduate student from Victoria, BC, Canada who believes that it is a magical time to be an educator.

By increasing student agency over learning, weaving in strong pedagogy, transformative tech use, and sharing learning to a public audience, Trevor’s learners are ready to take on important roles in the 21st century.

Trevor is the author of Dive into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice as well as Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders and Curiosities of Our Youngest Learners (co-authored with Rebecca Bauthurst-Hunt).

Find out more about Trevor and his work at


Twitter: @trev_mackenzie

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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1 comment

International residential school May 25, 2018 - 3:53 am

True, when the children start being inquisitive; it opens up the opportunity to learn more


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