Drop in a Bucket

Inquiry, is a drop in the bucket.


As I made my way through the four modules, my understanding around this analogy became more apparent. Though I have not taken direct references from these readings they have certainly shaped my understanding. Perhaps my view will shape yours.

A drop in the bucket.

At first glance, a small drop doesn’t seem to be very insignificant. However, this is not the case, especially when you take the time to question and think about it. One drop can cause a dramatic difference, so too can an inquiry question.


Image Source: LadyDragonflyCC, Dripping Maple Goodness (Flicker: goo.gl/rx8BnF)

The drop.

A question. Not just any question. The type of question that when it falls will create an initial upset to the learning system. It is chaotic and unpredictable, and yet beholds an immense beauty.


Image Source: Anthony Roderman, Cylinder Splash (Flicker: goo.gl/wMLqoT)

The beauty is in the unknown.

How is the splash going to impact the environment around it?

Will it make an impact at all?

Based on my new understanding, I can answer it most certainly will.

Once the initial impact is absorbed (the question), and its power is harnessed (linking to prior knowledge and initial guidance), the real beauty is revealed as it ripples outward.

The ripples.

The pursuit of understanding. The active engagement in the process of discovery. As the ripples move outward, understanding is broadened. So too are the ripples.

But why the bucket?

The bucket is key.


Rarely is a bucket filled for a lack of purpose.

They are often filled out of necessity or desire. For sustaining life or for fun. They have a clearly defined purpose.


Image Source: Bex Walton, A drop in the bucket (Flicker: goo.gl/W8zZfK)

I have come understand that the inquiry is grounded and attached to a meaningful purpose. A purpose that must be directly connected to the person who holds the bucket.

In our current education system, far too often the purpose is rooted in the necessity or desire of someone else.

Sadly, when that is the case, the learner is restricted and has difficulty holding on to the information being conveyed. As a result, our learners are working with strainers. (Reflecting on: Robinson, K. (2013). Ken Robinson: How to Escape Education’s Death Valley. TEDTalks. Youtube.). It is imperative that educators providing students with the appropriate tools and opportunities to learn how to learn. Strainers need to be sold and replaced with buckets.


Image Source: MyEyeSees, Strainers (Flicker: goo.gl/sBGFFm)

Some may argue however, that a bucket is too confining. Inquiry is not something to be confined. I would agree. However, when it comes to inquiry is my understanding that a certain degree of confinement is necessary to force the ripples back to its original source.


The return allows the learner to reflect upon and question all that was acquired on the journey outwards.

All the while, drop after drop continue to fill the bucket creating a natural ebb and flow. Ultimately making the learning and understanding much deeper than it was the drop before.

At this point, one might argue that the bucket is still confining.                                   Eventually it will be full.                                                                                                                 Then what?

This is a good point. One must look at the bucket through the lens of a growth mindset.

When the water nears the top, this does not indicate that the inquiry is over. It merely indicates that the learning is now ready to splash over or be poured into new areas of understanding and questioning.

Transfer. The deepest level of understanding.

As mentioned previously, our system is broken. Instead of allowing our learners to interact and play with their drops using the ebb and flow that comes naturally to them. They are being sheltered and confined by the adult in charge (Reflecting on: Robinson, K. (2016). How Schools Kill Creativity. TEDTalks. Youtube.)


Image Source:  Roy Sinai,Watching The Rain (Flicker: goo.gl/SWzW6O)

How unfortunate.

Millions of drops.

Locked away.

Learners of all ages, and in all areas of learning, must be provided the opportunity to explore areas which holds meaning and purpose to them. When provided the opportunity to explore these areas their true potential of learning will be unleashed.

Image Source: Tom Driggers, Splash Play (Flicker: goo.gl/yrkW9u)                                                                                                      Image Source: Natalia Medd, Paper boat. When all is  possible… (Flicker: goo.gl/eYSZ76)

As I have been working my way through the readings, I have been made aware that I have a lot of work to do. As do many others.

It is hoped, that I will find a way to allow my drops (questions around the implementation of inquiry) to fall into a bucket, so that the waters will not only deepen but perhaps “flow” out of the bucket and into a water table. Ultimately allowing a community of participatory learners to flourish.

Image Source: Iowa Digital Library, Boy playing with boat in preschool (Flicker: goo.gl/7B1BI1)                                                                                                                                Image Source: Iowa Digital Library, Boys playing with toy boats, (Flicker: goo.gl/7gZCBV )                                                            Image Source: Iowa Digital Library, Girl playing with toy boat (Flicker: goo.gl/AcBdf6)

Inquiry is a drop in the bucket.

It is a catalyst for change.

I understand that and can see its value.

That awareness aside, I feel that I am still very much in “strainer mode”. My days are often filled with surface level teaching. Teaching that I currently feel is not filling buckets. Instead, what is taught falls out the holes my practice has constructed.

I found comfort in Selma wassermann’s article Teaching for Thinking Redux: A Curriculum Model for Classroom Practice. It stated “Not every classroom activity needs to be, or should be, an activity in which rigours thinking is applied (2010, p.84).”

I took this to mean that a certain level of surface learning (teacher directed) needs to be covered in order to provide the foundational skills required. As a result, I grapple at the idea of implementing inquiry learning and finding the balance between the use of the strainer and the bucket approach. Furthermore, I am working on defining the parameters of how I would structure inquiry learning within the restraints and confines presented by the changed curriculum and the disconnect between grade appropriate resources. The readings painted a very clear process. However, I feel that some key information on actual organization and implementation was missing. Therefore, I will conclude by posing my wonder.

While orchestrating an inquiry learning program, do each of the students actively pursue their own inquiry topic? More specifically are they open to selection and direction that reaches outside of the confines of the curriculum topic or theme of the week or time? Envisioning 22 different subject topics and the need to adequately guide and support seems like a teacher nightmare and a fast track to management disaster.

Or is it structured in a way whereby the teacher provides content knowledge on the big idea and theme, and then within that umbrella the students define personalized inquiry question to pursue further?

At the elementary level, I feel that the first scenario would result in a strainer like collapse of understanding. I would also find it difficult for student collaboration to dig deeper in conversation if they were all working within different subject matters.

As such, I hope to continue to grow in my understanding. Im now on the market for a sturdy bucket.

I have some drops to catch.

Ashlee Deairn

Resources that shaped my thinking.

Module 1 Readings

Altman, A. (2014). Skipping Out. Time 183(15): 12.

Coatney, S. (2015). Essential questions and answers for implementing inquiry. School Library Monthly 31(5): 11-13

Stripling, B. K. (2003). Inquiry-based learning. In B. K. Stripling & S. Hughes-Hassell (Eds.), Curriculum connections through the library (pp. 3-39). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Stripling, B. K. (2004). Using inquiry to explode myths about learning and libraries. CSLA Journal 28(1): 15-17.

Stripling, B. K. (2008). Inquiry: Inquiring minds want to know. School Library Media Activities Monthly 25(1): 50-52.

Wiggins, G. (1989). The futility of trying to teach everything of importance. Educational Leadership 47(3): 54-59.

Module 2 Readings

Ekdahl, M., Farquharson, M., Robinson, J. & Turner, L. (2010).                                              Points of Inquiry: A Framework For Information Literacy and The 21st Century Learner. Vancouver, BC: BC Teacher Librarians’ Association (BCTLA) and BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).

Module 3 Readings

Gainer, J. (2012). Critical thinking: Foundational for digital literacies and democracy. Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 56(1): 14-17.

Knodt, J. S. (2010). Teaching for creativity: Building innovation through open-inquiry learning. School Library Monthly 26(9): 41-44.

Moreillon, J., Luhtala, M. & Russo, C. T. (2001). Learning that sticks: Engaged educators + engaged learners. School Library Monthly 28(1): 17-20.

O’Keefe, P. A. (2014, Sept. 12). Liking work really matters. The New York Times, p. 12.

Robinson, K. (2013). Ken Robinson: How to Escape Education’s Death Valley. TEDTalks. YouTube.

Robinson, K. (2016). How Schools Kill Creativity. TEDTalks. Youtube.

Wassermann, S. (2010). Teaching for THINKING Redux. Phi Delta Kappan 91(5): 81-84.

Whalen, S. P. (1999). Finding flow at school and at home: A conversation with Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi. Journal of Secondary Gifted Education 10(4): 161.

Module 4 Readings

Hamilton, B. J. (2011a). Creating conversations for learning: School libraries as sites of participatory culture. School Library Monthly 27(8): 41-43.


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