Relevance Amplifies Learning

Last year two grade 11 students, Josh & Brandon, started creating an app using iBeacon technology to help our teachers take attendance. A year later we still don’t have an app for our attendance, and yet this this was one of a number of very successful projects that happened last year. The project took on a life of its own, and only now do the students have time to think about the school attendance app.

The plan was that Josh was going to write the Android version of the app, and Brandon was going to write the IOS version of the app. This was the goal of their Independent Directed Study (IDS) that they were doing for credit at Inquiry Hub Secondary School in Coquitlam.

(The original idea shared by Josh and Brandon.)

However, the reason this attendance app is still not completed is because these boys entered a local ‘Pitch Your Idea‘ contest, and when they were rehearsing their pitch they were advised by the Tricelerate team running the contest that the application could be useful to businesses and not just a school.

(Josh and Brandon pitch their idea.)

The boys ended up winning this (promotional student-only) contest and along with the $500 prize, they also received in-kind advising. They also ended up with a mentor from Tricelerate, who was excited about the potential of their idea.

Their mentor connected them with a construction company, and then things got really interesting. Without doing a play-by-play, the boys went from creating an attendance app to creating a full ‘Workforce Management’ solution.


So, the school attendance app was put on hold!

In an Inquiry Hub slide presentation created for ISTE2016, a few of the slides presented by our Superintendent, Patricia Gartland, Associate Director of Instruction for Learning and Information Technologies, Stephen Whiffin, and I, were about this student project. The specific slide shared below listed some of the learning that went beyond the expectations of the IDS course the students were working on.


In addition to the very slick website they created, (without using Square Space or WordPress or other website creation tools), these students had to experience an incredible amount of learning that went far beyond learning to code the app.

This learning included: Creating a ‘Pitch’ (shared above); Sales Presentations (to business owners in our community); Project Planning; Product (and logo) Design; Creating a company (Parents on board of directors); Financing a company (including decisions about investors); Hiring (their first employee was hired in June); Client Relationship; Customer Service; Pricing (with considerable research); Location mapping; Building a server; Network architecture (to make the business scaleable across different companies); and Time Management (the boys put in about 25-40 hours a week into this project beyond their school work). They also had prototype testing which included putting their sensors on construction sites, having employees download their beta versions of their app, and working with the foreman to fine tune features.

Fortunately for the boys, the Inquiry Hub schedule does not put them in front of a teacher all day long and they could get some of this work done during the school day, because everything on the list above went beyond the original plan for their IDS course. Everything on the list above was relevant and needed to happen to get Josh and Brandon to the point where they could make this a viable business.

In January, I spoke to the boys and I added an additional IDS course to their programs. I did this because they were putting in a considerable amount of hours learning all the aspects of creating and running a technology-based business, and the relevant (real-life) learning was adding up to significantly more that was expected for one course. The app design went from attendance monitoring to a fully integrated app that would connect to payroll, and employee management and safety. The business acumen required to pull this off far exceeded what a usual entrepreneurship course would look like. And the just-in-time learning that had to happen made course planning almost impossible. In fact, I was learning as much as the boys as the project progressed.

From legal issues around starting a company as minors, to learning about pricing, conversations with these boys became lessons where I felt more like a student than a teacher. Instead of presenting just to me the boys were presenting to business owners and they were doing things like turning down funding/investors that other businesses could only wish they were getting.

When learning is relevant, criteria is far less important than when students are doing work to meet the needs of an assignment. I felt that my job was far less to teach, and far more to ‘stay out of the way’ of what was happening. That said, the boys had their parents and a mentor involved and I was not only getting updates, but connecting regularly with the boys to learn about their progress. Sometimes I offered suggestions around things like the website and other general advice that was usefull, and sometimes when I’d suggest something I would be told why my suggestion wouldn’t work, or that they’ve actually got a better way to do things, and it was me who was getting the lesson.

The current status of the project is that Josh and Brandon are actively searching for clients, and they have decided to create the school attendance app after all. In doing so, they will have a working proof of concept and if it works well, a glowing recommendation from the Vice Principal. But that’s not all they are doing, they even set up a booth at  BUILDEX Express, a one-day tradeshow and conference for the Construction, Property Management, Interior Design and Architecture industries.

I think this venture is going to be very successful in the future. But even if it were to end tomorrow, the learning that these students had to experience because it was relevant and time-sensitive to building their business has made this adventure a life-altering experience. One that has enriched their lives in a way far beyond what the original attendance app IDS could ever have achieved. Relevance truly amplifies learning!

Resources for the Inquiry Hub BCSSA 2015 Fall Conference Presentation

Share the following resources as you wish. We request that if you improve upon any of them, please share back!

Board Approved Courses developed for Inquiry Hub Secondary School:

Foundations of Inquiry 11 BAA Course

In this course students will be required to demonstrate the ability to efficiently and effectively navigate the digital technologies required to accomplish specific goals and tasks. Primarily, the goal of digital literacy is that individuals are able to select the correct digital tool at the right time for the right purpose behaving ethically, responsibly and always protecting the personal security and privacy of themselves and others. There are 4 areas of study: Social Networking, Personal Learning Environments and Networks, and Principles of Digital Presentation and, Principles of Inquiry.

Applications of Digital Learning BAA Course

Foundations of Inquiry 11 is a process-based course reflecting the necessary skills for effective participation in contemporary society. Learners will participate in inquiries that are designed to be a complex combination of structured learning with intentional opportunities for students to create, design, imagine along with developing new possibilities. Students will cycle through the stages of inquiry in an overt, intentional and planful manner across the curriculum, at
the appropriate times for the appropriate purpose.



Inquiry Hub Cross-Curricular Competencies focus around:

Identity, Stewardship, Communication, and Design



Positive Personal & Cultural Identity:

How I think and act with respect to myself and others in this social, cultural, historical moment.


A commitment to act responsibly in the care of common spaces and shared resources for future generations.


The process by which a sender transmits a thought to a receiver.

Design Thinking:

An intentional and informed process to create a solution to a problem.
(Creative and Critical Thinking)
(Inquiry Learning)

Core Competency Rubrics: (Based on above and connected to the new curriculum.)

Short/Simplified Rubric – iHub rubric-2015-v1-short

Full Rubric – iHub rubric-2015-v1

 Other resources:


The Points of Inquiry

The Points of Inquiry: An interesting aspect of Inquiry is that it is messy. We use the BCTLA Points of Inquiry as a visual to emphasize that at any point during your inquiry journey, you might move from point to point (in no particular order).

For example, as you construct something, you might make new connections that result in a different line of questioning (reflection) that perhaps you should look into (investigate) a different plan to construct something new, or take on a new approach that you will need to present (express) in an altogether different way than you had originally planned… Inquiry is not a linear approach to learning.





Canadian Education Association’s Ken Spencer Award

for Innovation in Teaching and Learning



Learning Through Failure

F.A.I.L. – Failure Always Invites Learning

Failure is failure and nothing more if there is a lack of reflection, support, resources or effort. However, if you try something epic, and you fail… there can be some incredible learning along the way. There is an invitation to learn from failure, but it is an opportunity, not a guarantee.


Two quotes epitomize this acronym:

Student: “If it works the first time, you probably did something wrong.”(Your question was too easy, or you are not fully comprehending what needs to be accomplished. This is only true if you are trying something very challenging.)

Teacher: “I don’t know half of the things I talk about, I’m just comfortable in the not knowing.” (Students will ask big questions you don’t know the answer to… and they will likely get to the answer (knowledge/information) before you can… However, you can help them with the cognitive skills they need to find the answers (as Marzano mentioned yesterday).)

Read more about this: Learning and Failure (Blog post)


Resources from other schools:

Blog post: In Query

Including this great resource:

Work that Matters: This guide is for teachers. It explains how to design and run projects for students that begin with an inquiry and end with a tangible, publicly exhibited product.




Inquiry Hub Links

(Shared or discussed in our presentation)

Website: :: ‘About’ Page  :: Facebook :: Twitter

Sample Student Portfolio: Jay Jang. And his Leapiono Inquiry

Student Garden (group blog):

Lettuce Sprouting Inquiry by the Green Inquiry Team

Student created polling site for election: And: A local news article about it.

Brandon and Josh’s Attendance App (Facebook Video)

Visit us during our Open House on December 2nd, 2015!

Click here to RSVP


 BCSSA 2015 Presentation

By Stephen Whiffin & David Truss



Presentation Description

The SD43 Inquiry Hub (iHub) is a program of choice for grades 9 to 12 students. It provides an innovative, technology-driven, full-time program which allows students to pursue their own learning questions by shaping the educational experience around their interests instead of structured classes.  Despite having a full-time face-to-face school day, the iHub leverages online learning materials creating a blended learning environment where deep learning is achieved through mentorship relationships and independent directed studies (IDS) while gaps in curricular outcomes are addressed through flexible online materials.

Key features of the iHub include mandatory courses in learning through inquiry (Foundations of Inquiry) and Digital Media.  Foundations of Inquiry introduces cycle of investigation that supports students as they study topics of their own choosing on a small scale, within set timeframes, and culminates in presentations that demonstrate skills across multiple subject areas. Senior level IDS courses run similarly to the smaller projects in grades 9 and 10, but require far more focus, deeper learning and commitment (100-120 hours).

Teachers encourage students to pursue their interests and make learning visible through the design of new products, services and experiences. Students are challenged to seek mentorship beyond the school boundaries, but reaching out to subject area specialists in the community to create a “network of support” to guide their inquiry processes.  They are also encouraged to promote stewardship through action by taking care our school, their community and the world.

The Inquiry Hub won the 2015 Canadian Education Association’s Ken Spencer Award as the most innovative educational program in Canada.  The iHub’s application of blended and inquiry based learning through personalized experiences are strongly connected to the BC Education Plan and will provide BCSSA members with a tangible example of how, by removing traditional constraints from the learning environment, a school successfully transform the learning experience.

iHub Garden Build

Last Friday three students at the Inquiry Hub Secondary School, in Coquitlam BC, organized a garden build. It started with Grade 9 student, Shauna, applying for and getting a World Wildlife Fund grant. This led to some inquiry questions around the best soil, water and temperature conditions for growing lettuce. And Friday’s garden build was the latest progress in developing an urban/inquiry garden for our school.

"iHub Green Inquiry Garden - Photo By Richard Stewart"

Everything about this garden has been coordinated by the @GreenInquiry team, from: getting permission from the school district; to coordinating students, parents, community members, and teachers to help; to purchasing plants, seeds, supplies, equipment & materials; to planning for summer maintenance; to future community outreach, and education programs for a local elementary school. By implementing a series of IDS – Independent Directed Studies courses, we will be building a high school program that allows these students to design a fair bit of their inquiry work time at the Inquiry Hub, while earning credits for high school graduation.

I’m speculating now, that by the time these Grade 9 students graduate, their Green Inquiry website will be a learning portfolio that will have any university they want to go to very interested in these students!

Here is a wonderful time lapse taken from our learning commons window. There are some images shared afterwards to show some of the things missed by this point of view.

Here is a Storify of the day… Comments and images shared online:


Congratulations to the Green Inquiry team, and to the Inquiry Hub community on their incredibly successful garden build!

Update: See their blog post, Successful Garden Building Day!

Lettuce Sprouting Inquiry

We are now working on our third inquiry projects at the Inquiry Hub.

What wasn’t mentioned in this video is that one of our students has applied for a grant to start a garden, and it is hoped that some of what is learned here will help us with the location and resources used in our garden.

In Query

The HUB Blog is “The Inquiry Hub‘s Professional Learning Blog”. As such, it is a place to share what we have learned, what we are learning, and what we are still trying to figure out.

One of the most exciting things about being an educator is sharing great learning moments with our students… discovering answers to questions that neither teacher nor student knew beforehand. In that way, it is vital for educators to see that they are not just teachers, but equally as important, they are also learners. After all, we are in the ‘business of learning’ and modeling fearless learning is probably one of the most influential ways we can instil curiosity and a love of learning in our students.

"Inquiry Hub :: Connect | Create | Learn"

One of the key premises of the Inquiry Hub is that we will help students develop their own questions, based on their interests, and then help them find the answers. With that in mind, I’ll share some resources based on a couple key questions that I have asked myself:

Where can I find some of the best resources on inquiry based learning? 

– And –

How can we best foster a culture of curiosity and meaningful inquiry in our community?

Hopefully the links below will be a start, but the best use of this blog won’t be just as a repository of useful links and resources, but rather a ‘living’ documentation of our insights, reflections and our own inquiry into what our learning community is exploring at the school. Connect. Create. Learn.

Here are some great resources for inquiry based teaching and learning. (Previously shared here.)

These are for sharing, discussing, and questioning. They are conversation starters between colleagues in schools and students in classrooms. Attempting to use these resource in isolation is a recipe for frustration and exhaustion. Together, ‘we’ are much smarter, more effective, potent.

Connect! – The Professional Learning Journal of the Calgary Science School. Follow along as the staff at CSS continue to learn and share.

Discipline-Based Inquiry Rubric – from The Galileo Educational Network. It takes a while for planning with this rubric to become a habit of mind.

Exemplary Learning and Teaching posters – These are in every classroom at CSS, and the students and staff live and breathe these concepts! Here is the CSS blog post on this!

Exemplary Collaboration – Staff at CSS have just developed this!

Examining Student Work: A Collaborative Inquiry into Exemplary Teaching and Learning produced by the Calgary Science School.

Calgary Science School Strategic Plan 2011/2012 – “Centre of Exemplary Teaching and Learning through Collaboration, Research and Innovation”

"Inquiry at CSS"

Work that Matters: This guide is for teachers. It explains how to design and run projects for students that begin with an enquiry and end with a tangible, publicly exhibited product.

Introduction to Inquiry Based Learning: A great website by Neil Stephenson, with excellent examples from CSS!

Points of Inquiry: A Framework For Information Literacy and The 21st Century Learner.

Blog posts by Shelley Wright: Life in a Technology Embedded Classroom: Science, Life in a 21st-Century English ClassWhy I Love Project Based Learning and Flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Blog posts by Chris Wejr: Power of a Student-Designed Curriculum and 6 BIG Assessment (AFL) Practices.

A Step-by-Step Guide to the Best Projects: But we are in Canada, so instead of #1. State Standards, think ‘Learning Outcomes’.

Inquiry learning – from knowledge to understanding – 6 minute video by Vic Hygate – How do you use inquiry learning to move from knowledge to understanding?

Environmental Inquiry: A Pedagogical Framework on Natural Curiosity – a resource for teachers.

Challenge Based Learning: Take action to make a difference.

Describing 16 Habits of Mind: ”Habit of Mind” means having a disposition toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems, the answers to which are not immediately known.

Next Steps: Creating a focus on Learning. Good notes on the value of culture.

"DeFour - Critical Questions"

And now here is what I believe is THE MOST IMPORTANT RESOURCE! One that we have to collectively create in our school:

An inquiry driven,

collaborative culture,

that is pervasive throughout our school,

including parents, educators, and students.

Hopefully this blog will provide a space for us to share parts of our learning journey in our efforts to build such a community.