A Tale of Two Inquiries

Authority is aimed at maintaining equilibrium.

Leadership, in contrast, facilitates a continual movement from equilibrium

to new, deeper, more fluid expressions of community identity.

- Larry Daloz, Whidbey Institute Senior Fellow

(L): Diego Rivera Holding Paint Brushes c. 1944, (R): Museo Casa Diego Rivera, Guanajuato, México - Birth Home of Diego Rivera

(L): Diego Rivera Holding Paint Brushes c. 1944, (R): Museo Casa Diego Rivera, Guanajuato, México - Birth Home of Diego Rivera

When I was a student at La Universidad de Guanajuato in 1996, I lived near a boarding school. On my daily walk home from university, I often paused by the boarding school's gate to watch the children play. The caregivers noticed, and invited me inside. After some weeks, I pitched the idea of an art taller (workshop). The caregivers agreed, and two dear friends joined me in twice weekly multimedia explorations with children, ages 3 - 18.

Our students were keen to venture beyond the school grounds, so we chose an off-campus location for our culminating project: Museo Casa Diego Rivera (Diego Rivera Museum & Home). We viewed Rivera’s work, and then created our own renderings at easels in the open-air patio. Though the outing was enjoyable, I have reflected many times on the role I chose: authority. This was the children’s first time away from the school, and my sense of responsibility and desire for it to “go well” shaped a one-sided plan - my plan.


The children’s feedback made clear their experience.

¿Maestra, lo he hecho bien?

(Teacher, have I done it right?)

The above-mentioned question haunts me, and spurs me to catalyze my intention toward deeper, more fluid expressions of community identity. The hopeful news: each moment offers new choices.

Fast forward to Durham, U.S.A. in 2019.

Recently, I met local celebrity Ed Moore of Sandy Feat Sand Sculpture. Ed and his friends have been carving geographically relevant figures at the Festival for the Eno River for twenty-five years.

Ed Moore of  Sandy Feat Sand Sculpture , Eno River Fest 2019

Ed Moore of Sandy Feat Sand Sculpture, Eno River Fest 2019

I think Ed’s artistry is an interesting provocation for outdoor learning, and I share it with some students and teachers. Instead of showing the children the photo of Ed and his string-plucking cranes, I invite the children to consider Ed’s process. He packs wet sand into stacked wooden forms of various sizes, lets the sand set, gently removes the forms, and then creates with his hands and tools. We begin with three cardboard boxes. A four-year-old notes,

This is our form.

It holds the sand and water together

until they can stand alone.


Already, I can see that my role invites partnership (versus a plan which encourages a comparison). I want to stay in this lane, and employ the following rubric to keep me from getting lost.

Our inquiry-based approach affords time to

  • be curious and playful,

  • try our ideas in the ways that we choose, and

  • experience relevant feedback that makes sense, and further inspires our research.

I keep this rubric in mind as I watch and partner with the children.

Below: Relevant Feedback that Inspires Research


Child muscles up the basket of sand.

The basket slides down the box flap.

Child chooses a tool that works for him.

Below: Playful Curiosity


Oooo… I know!

Let’s hide this treasure

deep in the sand

so we can find it later.

Below: Try Ideas in the Ways that We Choose (This Includes Pace of Time)


Children pat and rub the sand while they chat.

This sand feels soft like a wolf.

The same child invites the wolf again.

In my last blog post, the wolf was soft like flower petals.

This time, the softness theory is further nuanced.

A wolf is full of sand.

That’s why she is soft.

When she dies, she opens up

and shares her sand with playgrounds.

Below: Try Ideas in the Ways that We Choose


Drainage Holes for Water

Smooth and Tamp with Bowls

Big Body Weight for Final Tamp

Below: Try Ideas in the Ways that We Choose


How Best to Gently Remove the Form

Organizing Ideas for the 3D Sand Structure

It’s cracking! What do we do?

Below: Relevant Feedback that Inspires Research


Pull the loose box toward the sand to hold it together.

Support the fragile corner with cupped hands.

As the sand continues to crack and slide out of shape, there are varying opinions about next steps. I partner with the children by facilitating a conversation. I ask questions, offer an idea if we’re stuck, hold space for everyone to listen and talk well, and reflect what I hear to ensure that we’re on the same page.

Together, we decide to remove all of the boxes, and let the sand do what it will.

Two essential agreements:

  1. Don’t break the sand structure by kicking, stomping, or punching it.

  2. Check in with the group if you want to do anything besides carve and dig.


Digging to Other Worlds + Wondering About the Toys There

Finding Treasure

Note: THE yellow treasure was found, but I was celebrating instead of photographing.

Below: Relevant Feedback that Inspires Research + Try Ideas in the Ways That We Choose

When the cardboard boxes lay splayed under tumbling sand, a friend offers,

The boxes were big. They got wet.

We can try a small thing that is hard… like this bowl.

Thus, the metal mixing bowl becomes a new form for shaping sand. As it turns out, it is also an effective road builder. The inquiry continues, and, with each iteration, friends stay, leave, and join for the first time.


Sandy Feat.JPG

How might the sand inquiry have been different if I started with the photo of Ed’s masterpiece?

If my partnership with the children at Museo Casa Diego Rivera had been anchored in open inquiry, how might our experience have been different?

How can we adults support ourselves and each other with grace and possibility?

What is our Community Identity?

How do we want to express it?

If you’d like to share your thoughts, please comment below.

Jodi Wert 

July 30, 2019

Wert Knowing

Quote: Larry Daloz, Mentor: Guiding the Journey of Adult Learners (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012)

Photo: Diego Rivera Holding Paint Brushes c. 1944

  • Source: https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/news-photo/515469080

  • Credit: Bettmann / Contributor

  • Editorial #: 515469080

  • Collection: Bettmann

  • Date created: January 01, 1944

Photo: Museo Casa Diego Rivera, Instituto Estatal de la Cultura de Guanajuato

Source: https://sic.cultura.gob.mx/ficha.php?table=museo&table_id=621

Jodi WertComment