Inquiry Learning Introduction

My Teaching Context
For the past two years I have been working as a relief teacher between two schools, each has a different view on inquiry learning. The first school is currently undergoing the process to become an IB primary school and will be undertaking the certification process next year to become and an official Primary Years Planning (PYP) school. PYP requires the school to implement units of inquiry that integrate all learning disciplines and produce one piece of assessment. This process has required the school to address the issue of combining the Australian Curriculum with the units of inquiry outlined by the PYP, as well as defining what inquiry learning actually means and how best to integrate it. Although I was an onlooker throughout this process, it taught me a lot in terms of the value of inquiry learning and how combining different disciplines can make learning experiences more authentic to the students.

The second school I work with has only just started implementing small inquiry learning tasks. It is common for each learning discipline to start with a two week long, short, teacher lead inquiry learning task that is often presented as a group task. After the initial inquiry, the learning disciplines then return to traditional methods of teaching and assessment, culminating in either examinations, short answer questions, and essay questions. As an observer, it became clear to me that the students thoroughly enjoyed the small inquiry tasks, often expressing a desire to do more of these.

What do I already know?
I know that by creating authentic learning experiences, inquiry learning can make students more excited about their learning. I know that inquiry learning can inspire students to pursue information further. I know that when given the opportunity, students can work together effectively to create questions, answer these questions, reflect, and create more questions

When I think Inquiry learning, the following thoughts come to mind:

  1. Always asking questions
  2. Combining different learning disciplines to create coordinated units of inquiry
  3. Allowing students to explore their understanding of a concept
  4. Starting with finding out what students already know
  5. Ending with reflection and asking new questions

What do I want to know?
It is very important to me that we find a way to incorporate inquiry learning into every aspect of learning. Therefore, I want to know how we can go about creating a curriculum that encourages the application of inquiry learning throughout all learning disciplines. I also would like to investigate the connection between meaningful experiences and student understanding. Finally, I think that establishing whether emotions can impact on learning, and how, is very important. I suspect that creating units that students can connect with emotionally will help to create meaningful experiences; I would like to confirm this.

Basic Google Search
When doing an initial Google search, I first started with searching inquiry learning without double quotation marks. This lead to Google automatically adding in “-based” and turning the search into inquiry-based learning. After realizing my mistake, I reran the search and included the double quotation marks to search “inquiry learning.” This search brought back significantly less results, and did not cause Google to add in extra words.

Results from initial search:
The number of hits I received from my initial search was 396,000. Despite altering the my initial search to ensure that only results on “inquiry learning” were returned, the first result remained the definition of inquiry-based learning by Wikipedia:

“Inquiry-based learning (also enquiry-based learning in British English) starts by posing questions, problems or scenarios—rather than simply presenting established facts or portraying a smooth path to knowledge. The process is often assisted by a facilitator” (Wikipedia, 2015).

I find it interesting that the first result would remain the same despite the change, and suggests that Wikipedia is often a go to resource for information, despite its unreliability.

The second result was an article written by Kath Murdoch, “Inquiry learning – journeys through the thinking processes.” I have used this article previously when investigating inquiry learning and found it highly informative. It’s reoccurrence in my initial search tells me that it is highly possible for Google to track our previous searches, thus recycling the results to things we are familiar with.

The third result was a website called Introduction to “Inquiry-Based Learning” and is a highly informative blog for implementing inquiry learning into the classroom. The blog investigates the changing demands for education and how traditional methods of teaching and assessment are no longer relevant to today’s students. It goes on to compare inquiry learning to these traditional methods and provides information on how to incorporate inquiry learning into the classroom. I found the information provided on the blog to be highly informative and good starting point for those unschooled in inquiry learning.

Finally, the fourth and possibly most interesting result was the PDF document written by the Lutheran Education Queensland and is called “Inquiry Based Learning“. This document is complete with instructions on how best to teach the Australian Curriculum within a Lutheran context using inquiry learning. As one of the schools I do relief teaching with is a Lutheran school, I wondered if Google had recorded my searches regarding Lutheran education and teaching, and combined it with my initial search? Or if this was merely coincidence. It certainly makes me want to investigate how Google generates what it thinks are the most relevant results for each search!

A YouTube video
Another interesting and helpful result that was on the first page, was a YouTube video called “Inquiry-Based Learning.” Although a very simple and short representation of what inquiry learning is, it did highlight the basics in a clear manner. I found it to be a great introduction as to why one might want to introduce inquiry learning into their classrooms.

What questions do I now have?
Having done some basic research and allowing myself some time to think it through, I now have the following questions regarding inquiry learning:

  1. In what way do our emotions either support or hinder student learning experiences, and how can we harness them during inquiry learning?
  2. How can we move from teacher directed activities to student directed activities, while keeping in mind those students with differentiated learning needs?
  3. How can we create meaningful learning experiences that can be connected directly with students’ life experiences?

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