Inquiry Based Learning

I understand the concept of inquiry based learning and see all the benefits, but I seem to be stuck hovering on the edge and not knowing how to jump over the hurdle and land on my feet on the other side.  The whole idea of asking good “rigorous” questions and allowing students to move forward with investigating answers  through various sources,  choosing their own pathways to get there and representing their learning in different ways all makes sense to me.

How do I make sure I am confident enough to know how to help when students need guidance and suggestions on their journey to answer questions?  How do I make sure that I am pushing my thinking beyond the obvious so that I can help them stretch their thinking as well?

As I am looking at various inquiry based learning projects and resource guides for my ECI 834 course, I am still wondering if I am able to support my students quests even with the guides in front of me.

The process of inquiry seems simple enough:

  • Ask questions
  • Investigate solutions
  • Create new knowledge as we investigate
  • Discuss our discoveries
  • Reflecting on new-found knowledge

The questions for me seems to be how to put theory into practice at this point.  I think inquiry is the way to prepare our students for today’s fast paced and fast changing world.  I also feel that they are so lucky to have so much information available to them instantaneously.  It is our job to guide them in using that information.  Inquiry based learning is not a passing phase and the reason I feel that way is because it  makes sense that students taking charge  of their learning and going beyond basic information gathering requires higher level thinking and who can argue with that.  This process is illustrated in the following short and simple video on inquiry based learning.

We spend a lot of time considering and wondering why many of us in education are having difficulty moving from our tried and true methods of teaching  to inquiry, student-based methods of learning.  Let’s face it though, we are not the only ones that struggle with the transition.  We have created learners that are used to being fed and some of them expect to get answers with very little work on their own.  It seems to me that to move toward inquiry learning will take a great deal of effort on the part of both teachers and students.

I don’t think anyone can argue the benefits of this style of learning for our students.  Research and our practical knowledge of learning tells us this would be the better way.  I see every day students sitting in classrooms not really engaged in some of the things they are doing because they are so far away from their personal experience and interests.   I have successfully applied for a Stirling McDowell grant for the next school year so that we can do a project on using web 2.0 tools in middle years social studies to try to improve student engagement.  We are very excited about this, but of course we know that the tools are only part of what we need to do.  We also need to move to the inquiry method of learning so that our students will be engaged in what they are doing and use the web 2.0 tools to help them investigate, create, discuss and reflect on new learning.

Perhaps the best way, as it is in most cases, is to just quit talking about it and jump in and do it!

“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”
James Thurber