Sustainability is our new theme in the i-zone! We have developed 11 new stations that are designed to engage students in sustainable science engineering.

Some of the stations include:

Solar Vehicles

Solar Houses and Ovens

Vermi-composting (composting with worms)

Water Filtration

Bird Feeders from recycled materials



Cold Cup

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Students choose a station to work at and may spend 2-3 days at that station developing and carrying out their experiments. Students scan a QR code that directs them to our inquiry zone website. From the website, students get help starting at their station. Miss Jess, the classroom teacher, and myself (3 knowledgeable adults!) then walk around the i-zone to further guide students at their station.



Guiding Questions

How does aquaponics affect your community? 

 Why do we use water filters? Where have you seen a filter before?

What are some words you would use to describe the cockroaches to your friend? 

How cold can you get the liquid in your cup? What are you noticing about the temperature? 

Why is the black solar house warmer than the white solar house?

What would you do differently next week?

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Reflections may be heard during our open discussions at the end of class or written down in their science notebooks.


We’ve been going through some structural changes to the i-zone, including the addition of whiteboards. Students use them to demonstrate their plans in small groups and write down their personal science quotes of the day. That’s Greg. He’s good with a glue gun.


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New Beginnings

Hello Everyone! I’m Leah, the new Inquiry Zone teacher at Crossroads Elementary!

When I came for a tour, it was exciting to see that our teaching methods at Hamline University were running parallel with those used in the I-Zone. This is a wonderful fit for me as nothing gives me more joy than inspiring and guiding students to “wonder deeply” about the world.

Day Eighteen (11_10)               20160202_141935

       Doing science at Hamline!                           Doing science in the I-Zone! 

I’m in the middle of obtaining an additional Elementary Education license and have spent the past several years teaching Spanish in St. Louis Park and teaching English in Spain. When I’m not at work, you can find me riding my bike around, practicing dance, or being outside in nature. I also love to play music and create art!

me                                                                              Me!  

Our science specialist from the University of Minnesota, Miss Jess, has launched a very special project with our fifth graders, called Aquaponics. Students are becoming experts in this science and are physically building their own systems. This project was possible with help from a non-profit company Spark-Y that Miss Jess works with. The peppers will be coming in this Spring!

                                                                   Miss Jess & Miss Leah-2      SparkY_logo_final-300x157
                                                                        Miss Jess! 


Coming up…


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Animals Inspire Deep Wondering

IMG_2204In the I-Zone, a list of 5 expectations sets the tone for every class:

Talk Quietly

Move Calmly

Work Safely

Wonder Deeply

Gather quickly

Most of these expectations are nothing new; even just a couple weeks into the year, Kindergartners have been taught to speak with inside voices, walk and not run, and clean up after themselves. The stumper on this list is the 4th one down. What does “Wonder Deeply” mean, and how do you explain it to a 5-year-old? Even though the words might leave kids scratching their heads, it is, in fact, the only one of these expectations that kids do naturally. Children’s heads are full of deep wonderings, constantly. Why are the leaves changing color? How does the clock tell time? What would it taste like if I put this in my mouth? What will the teacher do when I poked the kid next to me? The litany of questions in any child’s mind is infinite.

The trick is to tap into this natural curiosity in a way that facilitates scientific thought. In the I-Zone, we want students to make careful observations that lead them to ask questions. Then we can seek answers to those questions through investigations. So what gets those thoughts flowing? What piques a child’s natural curiosity and gets them asking those delicious questions? Animals.

The I-Zone is currently the home of a box turtle, a painted turtle, 3 varieties of cockroach, mealworms (darkling beetles), some minnows, and a brown anole. Inevitably, as soon as a class enters the I-Zone, the children begin asking about the animals. Where’s the lizard? Why is the turtle hiding? Can I hold a cockroach? It is instantaneous, unprompted, and authentic. They just can’t help but wonder deeply about these critters.

Whenever students ask me these questions, I try to make the connection between their curiosity and the work that scientists do when they observe, wonder, and investigate. We use the animals as a window into the world of science through which each child is eager to peer. The animals become a sort of bridge that gives children access to the scientific work we want them to do in the I-Zone. They are the greatest teachers our students can have.

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Setting Up a Space for Discovery

At the heart of Crossroads Elementary, an intricate maze of free-standing walls provides the structure within which young minds grapple with science authentically and imaginatively.  Through breaks in the walls, passersby catch glimpses of a turtle’s terrarium, a large microscope, and tubs of building materials, hinting at the magic constructed here. This is the Inquiry Zone, or I-Zone, a network of over 60 material-filled stations that invite students to pursue their own scientific quandaries. Every station is designed to provide materials that spark the scientific imagination: how can you classify these objects? What do you notice about these seeds? What happens when you roll a ball down different ramps? The possibilities are as endless as the students’ curiosity.IMG_2192

This unique space was created at the school’s inception, and over the years, it has seen learning materials built and destroyed, ideas innovated and replaced, and teachers come and gone. So when I visited the I-Zone for the first time in July, it’s no wonder that decades of history lay strewn about in simi-chao, layers upon layers of station iterations stacked and mingled on every surface. So much potential in every nook and cranny, and yet, the space lacked… something. What is it about a space that invites children in, that hooks them with tantalizing promises of adventure, discovery, and fun? This was the challenge set before us, and one that we are perpetually trying to address.

One part of the solution was clear: we needed to declutter the I-Zone. Many days were spent sorting, cleaning, organizing, and removing. The rest of the answer wasn’t so obvious. As we began to set up stations for students to use, more and more questions arose. How many stations should we have open? What materials invite creativity without being too directionless? What will hold the attention of both a kindergartener and a second grader? How much mess is acceptable? What do these stations have to do with science?

Through many conversations, and a bit of trial and error, here’s what I can say with confidence:

  1. IMG_2191Sometimes, less is more. A station need not have 25 moving parts in order to engage young learners. One of the students’ favorite stations thus far consists of a critter keeper full of mealworms, 2 plastic spoons, and some bug boxes.
  2. What interests one student will likely have no appeal for another, though certainly th
    ere are favorite stations. Depending on the student’s age, personal interests, and attention span, they will take joy in stations ranging from leaf-rubbings to top-spinning to bean-sorting.
  3. The younger the student, the more task-oriented the station needs to be. This isn’t to say that there should only be one “correct” task per station; indeed, kids will find ways to use the materials
    in ways you never imagined. However, our very young learners had difficulty staying engaged with stations where they were not constantly manipulating materials with some sort of goal in mind. (ex. They love the stations where they use small units to build big structures, but they have no idea what to do with the station that consists of many rock samples and magnifying glasses.)

As more and more students use the I-Zone, we will continue to watch and listen, letting our students teach us what works and what doesn’t. Afterall, they are the experts in designing a space that engages them.

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