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Inquiry-based Learning

inquiry posterIn inquiry-based learning environments, students are engaged in activities that help them actively pose questions, investigate, solve problems, and draw conclusions about the world around them.

As independent thinkers, children become researchers, writers, videographers, and activists rather than passive receivers of a textbook's content. They do meaningful work that addresses essential questions and important standards. It's critical that learners take ownership of the inquiry process.

Questioning is at the core of information inquiry and drives the teaching and learning process. In an era of "one answer" standardized tests, this idea of opening a student's mind to questioning and exploring many answers is essential.

According to Barbara Stripling in Curriculum Connections through the Library (2003, p. 3-4), "inquiry learning follows a fairly standard process that involves starting with what the learner knows, asking intriguing questions about what is not known, investigating the answers, constructing new understandings, and communicating the share those understandings with others".

The poster on the right comes from an elementary classroom that supports inquiry-based learning.

Quality Inquiry Environments

According to Karen Sheingold (1987), inquiry is a complex process that includes:

What makes an effective inquiry experience? Consider the following elements of a quality inquiry environment. Students have the opportunity to:

try itExamine The Montana Heritage Project: What We Once Were, and What We Could Be from Edutopia. Does this project seem to contain the qualities of an effective inquiry environment? Why or why not?

Barriers to Quality Inquiry Environments

Inquiry involves students in active rather than passive activities. Learners are engaged in questioning, exploration, discussion, and reflection. Many factors can impact the effectiveness of an inquiry-based learning environment. These include:

Information Age Learning Environments

Developing an effective learning environment in the information age, requires drawing on a wide range of teaching concepts, methods, and strategies. For example, building a rich environment for inquiry involves an understanding of literacy, problem and project-based learning, critical and creative thinking, problem-solving, and constructivist learning theory. It also requires teachers to reach across content areas an apply strategies such as the socratic method and scientific method.

Technology and Inquiry-based Learning

Technology has become a popular tool in inquiry. No longer do students simply explore encyclopedia, magazines, and books to collect information. They use web resources, electronic databases, and email. No longer are products restricted to term papers or posters, students can now create videos or be published on the web. Although new challenges are identified with each new tool, the process of information inquiry remains the same.

videoView Inquiry with Young Children (0:46).

In this video, young children form questions about deserts and where they might seek out information. – Excerpt from “Primary Learners – Introduce Learning Skills in the Early Grades,” Pt. 10 of Know It All Series by GPN / Univ. of NB series. Use of this video clip complies with the TEACH act and US copyright law. You should be a registered student to view the video.

exploreWork your way through Inquiry-based Learning, a free, online workshop from Disney Learning Partnership.

OPTIONAL: Read Chapter 1: Inquiry-based Learning in Curriculum Connections through the Library edited by Barbara K. Stripling & Sandra Hughes-Hassell. This chapter does an excellent job defining inquiry-based learning and differentiating it from other approaches and strategies. It also connects inquiry-based learning to the subject areas and explores the role of the teacher librarian.

Learn More

An Introduction to Inquiry-based Learning from YouthLearn. This article provides a great overview.

Center for Inquiry-based Learning from Duke University. A group developing exercises and training teachers in the use of multidisciplinary, hands-on, minds-on, discovery methods for teaching science.

Hudspith, Bob. Teaching the Art of Inquiry. Overview to inquiry and teaching the art of inquiry.

Inquiry Page from University of Illinois. Resources, ideas, and lessons related to inquiry.

The Keys to Inquiry from Harvard. Provide opportunities for students to learn that inquiry and their own experiences can help them achieve a deeper understanding of their world.

McKenzie, Jamie. From Now On. Articles on a range of topics in educational technology related to engaged learning and literacy.

McKenzie, Jamie. Questioning.org. Articles and activities related to questioning.

MindTools. Career-related skills and resources.

Sheingold, Karen (1987). Keeping children's knowledge alive through inquiry. School Library Media Quarterly, Vol. 15, Issue 2, p80-85.

What Teacher Educators Need to Know about Inquiry-Based Instruction by Alan Colburn. The author defines inquiry, reviews research about the topic, and discusses classroom implementation of inquiry principles.

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