INFOhio IMatrix: A Tool to Enhance Deep, Rigorous Learning!

What keeps you up at night?  Educating students to be college and career ready? Incorporating inquiry into your teaching for the very first time?  Shifting your instruction to explore topics in greater depth and at more rigorous levels of learning?  Or are you struggling to incorporate formative instructional assessment?

In Ohio, teachers face the arrival of the Common Core State Standards and Ohio Learning Standards and the new emphasis on teaching inquiry skills. In order to help teachers implement the standards in the area of inquiry and use appropriate resources, INFOhio developed the IMatrix, an online tool that supports integrating inquiry with instructional practice.

How Was Imatrix Created?

INFOhio, Ohio’s K-12 digital library, has long supported inquiry and research.  So logically, the next step was to create an online tool that merges information and resources needed to effectively implement inquiry in instruction. Using the shared services partnership with Hamilton County Educational Service Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, a development team was formed to design a tool that would combine Ohio’s New Learning Standards with inquiry learning skills. This tool had to be easy to access, extremely user friendly, and combine the three major elements of grade level, subject area, and inquiry standard. The design team also wanted teachers to be able to easily see cross- curricular connections and have instant access to both assessment and instructional resources. The new tool must also allow teachers to drill down to a specific skill set in a specific grade level for a specific subject area.  And, to add to the complexity of designing this tool, the development team felt it was crucial for teachers to see the progression of skills through the grade levels. After many weeks of discussions and diagrams, the IMatrix structure — basically a three-dimensional grid, was created as the design for the new tool, and INFOhio’s technical services team went to work to build the online tool.

What Is the Imatrix?

INFOhio’s IMatrix helps educators practice inquiry-based instruction that aligns to skills embedded within the content standards of the four core curriculum areas: English/language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. By searching the IMatrix, educators can easily see how skills are scaffolded across grades for students and find resources that will help them teach those skills, find interdisciplinary connections, and help plan quality instruction.

The IMatrix uses the six Dimensions of Inquiry as its unifying instructional model. The Dimensions of Inquiry, first identified through an environmental scan of various inquiry models, include the following skills:

  1. Questioning
  2. Locating Information
  3. Evaluating Information
  4. Applying Information
  5. Sharing Knowledge
  6. Reflecting on Learning

The IMatrix uses the Dimensions of Inquiry for two main reasons. First, the new nationwide Common Core standards for ELA and math and Ohio’s updated standards for science and social studies demand that teachers help students develop the critical research skills they need in college and on the job. Second, inquiry is common to all four content areas and to all grade levels. Therefore, coordinating lessons across subject areas and building on skills from grade to grade is easier.

Who Should Use the IMatrix?

Educators at all levels can use this tool both in the classroom and in school-wide and district-wide curriculum planning. IMatrix provides a comprehensive way to view key skills as they scaffold in a student’s learning from kindergarten through the end of high school.

Why Use the Imatrix?

One of the main objectives of the standards movement is to ensure students learn the essential skills and knowledge that are keys to college and career success.  The IMatrix helps teachers identify the key skills in the standards that support the development of thinking skills. Inquiry-based instructional practices, in particular, help students develop thinking skills, provide them with authentic content with which to practice the skills, and ask them to demonstrate their ability to use these skills as they discover connections, develop insights, and learn to articulate their understandings about what they learn.

Students develop those thinking skills—how to form questions, how to work with information, how to share their knowledge and evaluate their own learning—best through experiences embedded in all of the content areas across all grade levels. Therefore, IMatrix correlates standards from the four core content areas to demonstrate not only interdisciplinary connections among those skills but also to show more clearly the scaffolding of these skills from simple tasks in the early years to more complex assignments in later grades.  By helping teachers develop a clear understanding of how these skills align to all of the content areas, IMatrix provides them with a deeper insight into how student learning in their classroom meshes with learning in other classes and builds upon learning from earlier years.

In addition, many experts of the Common Core for Reading and Writing recommend that students have a minimum of three or four, rigorous research experiences, embedded in multiple content areas, throughout each school year. Doing that requires coordinating assessment plans and identifying appropriate content across subject areas. IMatrix helps schools identify key vertical alignment and interdisciplinary alignment for essential student skills.

How to Use Imatrix–http://imatrix.infohio.org

Step 1 — Explore the IMatrix Cube

Click on each of the six navigation buttons on the IMatrix home page to walk through the structure of the matrix cube and the various relationships it represents. Click Introducing IMatrix in the left menu to learn more about how and when to use it.

Step 2 – Brush Up on Inquiry if Necessary

Understanding inquiry is crucial to making the best use of IMatrix. The brief material listed under What is Inquiry on the main menu includes links to help expand your knowledge. There are many inquiry models and structures for teaching the inquiry process. INFOhio has identified six Dimensions of Inquiry that encompass most of these, so any model you use can be correlated to these dimensions.

Step 3 — Explore the Components

INFOhio has completed the correlation of resources, standards and inquiry dimensions for grades K – 8. Remaining grades will be added in the near future.

Step 4—Examine Curriculum Areas

Each of the subject areas links to resources for that field, such as the state or national subject area standards, organizations, and other high-level resources.

Step 5 — Search IMatrix

In its search, you see the real power of IMatrix. Select the subject area, grade level, and inquiry dimension to drill down to specific skills and resources. You can also search by specific standard if you know it.

Searching the IMatrix by Block, Standard Code or Standard Progression

Searching is easy. To search by block, select a grade level, subject, and dimension of inquiry. For example, a seventh grade social studies teacher who is concerned that his students need more practice evaluating information, can click 7th grade, Social Studies, and Evaluating Information on the search screen. IMatrix returns every applicable standard along with dozens of websites, articles, lesson plans, and activities he can use to help his students.

To search by the standard, simply type the standard code and select Search IMatrix. An example would be CC.6.W.1 which shows it is a Common Core Standard for sixth grade writing, standard statement 1.  A word of explanation—When IMatrix was first designed there was no uniform coding for the Common Core Standards or Ohio Learning Standards in Social Studies or Science. When standardized coding is available, IMatrix will revise the coding to the national standard.  It is also important to note that IMatrix is the integration of the standards with the Dimensions of Inquiry.  Only the standards with inquiry integration have been included in IMatrix.

The newest search strategy for IMatrix is a search by standard progression. This search uses an asterisk as a wildcard and will allow you to select any grade levels above and below your current grade or you may select all the grade levels, and then enter a standard code using the asterisk to replace the grade level (CC.*.R.L.1).  The result will be a progression of the standard for all the grade levels selected.  Or when entering a standard code use the asterisk to get a more global search of how many standard statements aligned with the Dimensions of Inquiry there are for a grade level.  For example, CC.6. R.L.* will show results for all the reading literature standards for sixth- grade that are aligned to inquiry.

Search Types and Search Results


It is important to note that IMatrix includes both Internet based resources as well as INFOhio resources for the assessment and instructional strategies and resources section.  The INFOhio resources are available through a statewide strategic partnership, Libraries Connect Ohio (LCO), made up of school, public and university libraries under the leadership of the State Library of Ohio. All of the content, including the premium research databases, is available at no charge to all Ohio citizens, including all K-12 students, educators, and parents. Licensing agreements between LCO and the database publishers mean that some resources might be blocked for people outside of Ohio, but many states have similar statewide digital libraries where educators can find classroom resources at no cost.

Library and Classroom Application

Creating an environment of inquiry in a classroom requires skill, practice, and encouragement. For many teachers, this is a new way of thinking about their teaching. First and foremost, teachers must understand and believe in the value of inquiry across all subject areas and be comfortable with the inquiry process. The school library media specialist and teacher working together can best teach inquiry skills in concert with the content.

The IMatrix gives teachers and librarians easy access to resources that not only help explain inquiry, but also help teach inquiry skills to students. The Dimensions of Inquiry provide a ready-made scaffold that helps teachers better understand the skills students need to acquire in order to master each aspect of the process. Teachers can pace their own learning, using resources provided, or library media specialists can team with district curriculum leaders to create professional development that meets the needs of a small group of teachers, a grade level, a building, or the whole district.

The media specialist is well situated in schools to play a key role in helping teachers discover ways others are teaching the same skills, allowing everyone to maximize efforts, develop deeper learning, or even expand the scope of a project to bring rich interdisciplinary connections to the table.  For example, working in a learning team with their school library media specialist, teachers might bring content topics they want students to master, along with their own ideas for inquiry topics for students to research. The learning team can then use the IMatrix to search for content standards that align to specific content areas, grade levels and the Dimensions of Inquiry. By searching similar skills in earlier grade levels, teachers and media specialists can easily see how a specific skill has been scaffolded in earlier grades, or explore how the skills will develop in later grades. The ability to see skill standards across grade levels also makes it easier for educators to differentiate projects to meet the needs of all their students. Planning templates within the IMatrix provide a framework that helps a learning team plan around a wide range of design criteria, including content standards, Common Core alignments, essential questions, assessments, instructional strategies, and appropriate uses of instructional technology. The research template can be used as a planning guide by teachers and media specialists to gather their thoughts prior to working on final project design, and by the team during planning work. Completed forms provide a framework for easy dissemination of project ideas with colleagues, administrators, parents, and students.

Once a project has been completed, the team can review opportunities for reflection to strengthen future learning – both for students and their own professional development as they consider what they have learned about designing inquiry-based projects and how future projects can benefit from this learning.

Looking Ahead

Since launching IMatrix in August, INFOhio has already begun work on improvements and expansion of the project. Alignments for grades K-5 have been finalized and background work is underway to complete alignments for grades 9-12. The development team is working to expand resources that support professional development about the Dimensions of Learning, effectively searching the IMatrix, and planning inquiry-based projects.

Developing model lessons to support teachers as they learn to create effective inquiry-based instruction is also being considered. Part of this process would include expanded planning templates for teachers, media specialists, and district administrators charged with guiding professional development plans for the district. Altogether, these enhancements would provide districts with resources that will help everyone better understand how best to design a scope and sequence of the Dimension of Inquiry skills across the curriculum, ensuring that all students receive this important instruction.

As the IMatrix is being seen and used by more educators, additional ideas for expanded resources and innovative tools are already coming from the field and being studied by the development team. Possibilities range from expanded web-based capabilities, increased connections to other INFOhio programs, and even the possibility of additional technology-based tools to support the work.  For any inquiries about use of these materials outside of the state of Ohio, contact INFOhio at central@infohio.org.

Development Team

IMatrix was developed in a partnership between INFOhio and Hamilton County Educational Service Center. The INFOhio IMatrix design team was:
Tom Shessler—Hamilton County ESC Education Consultant
Ann Tepe—Education Consultant
Linda Johnson-Towles—Education Consultant
Mike Ridinger—INFOhio Web Designer
Gayle Geitgey-INFOhio Instructional Specialist

INFOhio, one of the country’s largest and most comprehensive information networks, serves Ohio K-12 schools with library management software, digital content for the classroom, and professional development to support academic content standards and effective instruction. INFOhio offers a full range of programs to help educators better understand the expanding definition of literacy and how to use tools and technologies to support digital learning, To deliver those resources and services, INFOhio has forged strategic partnerships with Information Technology Centers (ITCs), The State Library of Ohio and other statewide library networks which combine federal, regional and local dollars to make cost-effective group purchases to save the state millions of dollars. Using these strategic partnerships enables all Ohio K-12 students and educators robust access to the research resources they need for rigorous academic study.

IMatrix is copyrighted by INFOhio. IMatrix was created with the Joomla CMS, version 2.5.x.  IMatrix consists of hundreds of individual documents containing detailed information about each content standard, dimension of inquiry, grade level and subject area.  Content is stored using Joomla’s core content organization tools, making the content portable and easy to access.  Each document’s content is indexed and made searchable via the IMatrix web interface.   The searching mechanism behind the web interface was custom designed and written in PHP by INFOhio’s technical services team.

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