Watson Chronicle


Support for Educators in the Field

Master Teacher Program Brings Inquiry-Based Learning to Murrayville Elementary

Thursday, March 02, 2017

On the morning of Feb. 8, a sign outside the door of Dorian Barnes’ classroom at Murrayville Elementary School read, “Now Showing Brilliant Minds at Work.” Inside, students stood ready to share posters, timelines and multimedia presentations of their research on a variety of events in U.S. history.

Barnes is a fifth grade teacher at Murrayville Elementary and a participant in WCE’s Professional Development System Master Teachers Program. As a PDS Master Teacher, she is collaborating with WCE Ed Lab director Brian Brinkley to research the impact of inquiry-based learning in the classroom.

In January, Barnes introduced the first inquiry-based project to her fifth graders. She asked students to conduct research on a topic of interest in U.S. history from early exploration to Reconstruction, and to prepare a presentation to share what they learn with others.

“The open-ended nature of the assignment was new,” Barnes said. “And the hardest part was getting started.”

Brinkley visited the classroom to help Barnes queue up the project. “Inquiry-based learning begins with questions,” he told students. “What events have you learned about in history that interest you? What more would you like to know? How did the events affect people at the time and how did they alter history?”

As word of Barnes’ assignment spread, other fifth grade teachers expressed interest. In all, more than 100 Murrayville students participated in the fifth grade’s first inquiry-based project.

On Feb. 8, presentations that students showcased included a timeline of Civil War facts (the youngest soldier was a nine-year-old boy); letters imagining what Harriett Tubman and Rosa Parks might say to each other about their respective lives and places in history; an assessment of the quantity and value of tea lost during the Boston Tea Party; an analysis of the Wilmington Race Riots of 1898; a comparison of the 16th and 45th Presidents of the United States; and a dramatization of Viking explorers. “Fear and intimidation were the Vikings’ strongest weapons, because Scandinavia had few natural resources,” the students concluded.

Barnes said it was challenging as a teacher to “give up control and trust the kids” as she moved from project to inquiry-based learning, but the results were worth it. “This project was so motivating for students,” she said. “They worked so hard on the projects and the work is all theirs. They went above and beyond my expectations.”

Barnes holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in language & literacy education from the Watson College of Education. A nationally Board Certified teacher and site coordinator for Murrayville teacher interns, she has a passion for teaching and mentoring people of all ages.

Barnes and Brinkley are partnering to share results of Murrayville’s inquiry pilot with other teachers this spring. They shared a presentation titled “Inquiry: Making it Happen” at the PDS Partnership in Action conference on March 31. The synopsis is, “Find out what happens when a teacher decides to stretch her limits and allows her students to ask and answer their own questions about American history… and, in the process, changes the way her whole grade level approaches social studies.”

An article authored by Brinkley and Barnes titled “How a Master Teacher Began Her Inquiry Journey”  was published on the National Association for Professional Development Schools website on March 13.

About the PDS Master Teachers Program

WCE’s PDS Master Teacher Program is a three-year initiative that serves to highlight and strengthen the work of partnership teachers and WCE faculty. The mission of the Master Teacher Program is to collaborate with professional educators to reflect on current practices and impact the educational environment.

In fall 2016, the second cohort of PDS Master Teachers paired with faculty Master Teacher Associates and began discussions highlighting shared interests and shared opportunities for growth.

Over the next two years, each pair will implement a shared professional growth opportunity impacting their students, school, district and/or broader professional community.

Projects range from the exploration of inquiry in a project-based classroom initiated by Brinkley and Barnes, to a study of global-ready schools in the southeast region of our state, to the implementation of STEM lab kits in a local elementary school. 

Master Teachers commit to a three-year term during which they take part in 36 hours of face-to-face professional development with WCE faculty Master Teacher Associates (MTAs) on topics designated by Master Teachers and MTAs. In addition, Master Teachers collaborate with MTAs to design and implement one or more professional growth and enrichment opportunities in their classrooms. Master Teachers mentor beginning teacher Promise of Leadership Award recipients to design and deliver professional development at a Beginning Teacher Professional Development Day and are often called upon to provide lesson demonstrations, serve as guest speakers/panelists at selected Watson events, and/or serve as an Advisory Board member to the PDS Office or Dean.

2015-2018 Master Teachers and Master Teacher Associates are:

Dorian Barnes, Murrayville Elementary; Brian Brinkley, director of WCE’s Betty Holden Stike Education Laboratory

Carrie Barrett, Belville Elementary; Sue Combs, professor of Health and Applied Human Sciences, UNCW College of Health and Human Services; Jessica Croson, Heide Trask High School; Angie Reid-Griffin, associate professor, Department of Instructional Technology, Foundations and Secondary Education; Craig Mann, Topsail High School, Shelby Morge, associate professor, Department of Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle Grades, Literacy and Special Education; Victoria Minshew, College Park Elementary, Lynn Sikma, assistant professor, EEMLS; Bailey Oelslager, Dorothy B. Johnson Early Childhood Center; Hengameh Kermani, associate professor, EEMLS; Katie Snyder; Hoggard High School; Amy Garrett Dikkers, associate professor, Department of Educational Leadership; Jennifer Waring; Noble Middle School; Eddie Caropreso, associate professor, ITFSE; Bridget Wortman, North Topsail Elementary; Robert Smith, professor, ITFSE