In inquiry based education, the student asks the questions….and answers them.
There are many scholarly and not-so-scholarly articles about inquiry-based learning online but they go a long way to say something very basic: It is when the students ask questions to guide their own learning. That’s how I explain inquiry-based learning based on my own research and experience within the International Baccalaureate model and in my Master’s program at UVa.
A contrast to Inquiry-based education begins with a completely over-generalized statement about education: “traditional school models rely on the teacher to be the center, resource, and provider of knowledge.”
We know this isn’t true anymore…don’t we? I think a lot of people who graduated in the years before widespread use of the internet (we’ll put a high school graduation year of about 1989 here) have a residual educational image of high school as a series of expert or inept teachers making students read a text book, conduct labs, or dissect literature with the occasional trip to the library for extra research (including microfiche) and extensive use of encyclopedias for knowledge acquisition. In this model, the teacher so frequently sets the tone for any educational investigation that a student can be positively frozen when asked to “choose his or her own topic”.
Though a lot of industrial education models still subscribe to this practice in one way or another, students are given more freedom now to direct some aspects of their own education. The inquiry-based model is part of this.
Here is an example of how Peace Valley will use this method:
The International Place Station: A corner of the classroom (out of earshot) will have a medieval style tent erected with a comfy chair within it…. (doesn’t that sound lovely?) At the beginning of the inquiry, one simple statement pertaining to some part of the world will be pinned on the inside wall of the tent such as: “My nickname is Tegus”.
Throughout the week, each student will be required to generate an inquiry about the mystery city, the life of the people there, its industries, its idiosyncrasies, the common slang phrases, and the like. They will need to investigate and find that answer. Students get better at asking questions the more they practice, and better at finding answers the more dead-ends they reach. The trick will be to ask a question that hasn’t already been asked and pinned to the tent. At the end of the inquiry, when everyone has found out what they want to know and pinned their questions and answers inside the tent. A team will contact a school there and start a Peace Valley Inquiry exchange, where we answer all the questions kids at that school wish to ask and maybe even plan a visit someday.
That is inquiry in a very pure form. Other ways we do this is to have students develop their own inquiries based on the cultural universal [link to cultural universals] we are studying, or in direct connection to a skill they are practicing (like: why do I need to memorize the different angles of right triangles?)The end result is that the student takes ownership of the learning. They are not answering someone else’s question, they are answering their own. And in the end, that is what life-long learning is about.