How and why I encourage Inquiry-Based Learning with my class

 

Inquiryprocess

I am a huge fan of Inquiry-Based Learning. I have been developing an inquiry template over the last two years that I am forever tinkering with, and I use this with my year 10 students. We generally do one inquiry per term (approx. 10 weeks), so the students are able to look into a topic that interests them in depth.

What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

  • Inquiry can be defined as a seeking for truth, information, or knowledge. Essentially it is seeking information by questioning.

What are the benefits of Inquiry-Based Learning?

  • Inquiries make learning authentic. Students are not replicating something that has been done before, they are creating something new based on what they are interested in. It is not simply regurgitating secondary information.
  • Inquiries are engaging. Because students are encouraged to choose a topic that interests them, they are more likely to be engaged in their work.
  • Inquiries are student-centered. If set up correctly, students can work at their own pace. Inquiries are driven by the students, rather that being dependent on information from the teacher.
  • Inquiries promote life-skills. In life, we often need to look into a topic in depth. We need to look at both the positives and negatives of an issue before making an informed decision.
  • Inquiries promote 21st-century skills. Students are required to think critically, collaborate, communicate, and create.

How do I set up Inquiry-Based Learning in my class?

My class is 1-1, and while this isn’t a necessity for inquiry learning, I would argue that it greatly enhances the process. Having access to the internet means that students can access any data/information that they need, and most importantly they are easily able to access experts. My school year is broken into four terms, which means I do four inquiries throughout the year. This way I can scaffold the process. By this I mean that the first inquiry is family based, the second one is based on our town, the third one is based on our country, and the fourth one is based on anything in the world. Each inquiry template is essentially the same, apart from these themes. My theory is that students gradually feel more comfortable interviewing someone that they know (hence the family inquiry in the first term), and by the fourth term they will have enough confidence/experience to interview anyone from around the world (via Google Hangouts or Skype). Each theme is very broad, thus giving the students every opportunity to research something that interests them and keeps them engaged in the process. For a more detailed look at how I set up the inquiry, click on the link below for the same template that I share with my students.

Click here for my template of our Inquiry for “It’s a Small World”

Reflections from our inquiries 

  • It is critical that students choose the inquiry themselves. Sometimes students struggle to come up with a topic, so, as a teacher, it is tempting to give them some ideas. Usually, these students will just choose what they teacher told them, even though they are not really interested in that topic. In this case, the inquiry falls flat straight away as the student is not as engaged in the process as they should be.
  • Inquiries are more about the process that the content. While the students do learn some neat things content-wise, as a teacher I am more concerned about the process that they have to go through to get their information. This process really reflects the 21st century learning skills that I am trying to promote (collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creating)
  • Students get such a buzz when they get replies back from ‘experts’. This is so much more rewarding for them than just simply finding information from the internet.
  • I am continually blown away by some of the work my students do when they are able to essentially choose a topic to research. Inquiry-based learning is so much more engaging that a ‘one-size fits all approach’.

I would love to hear ways that other teachers are implementing Inquiry-Based Learning with their students. Feel free to comment below to share your ideas.

 

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  • Karyn White

    We have been amazed at the confidence our Yr 9 learners have had to go outside of school to find ‘answers’. Emails to Judith Collins, inviting local community board reps into school, etc! Also the range of sources consulted especially data collection/stats analysis. And that was just our first I-learn project.

    • Sam Gibson

      Great to hear Karyn. Our students have also had some great replies from politicians and other prominent New Zealanders. It seems like most people are more than happy to help! Primary sources of information are much more memorable for the students in my opinion.