Isidore Isaac Rabi, winner of a Nobel Prize for physics, when asked why he became a scientist, replied, “My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked, ‘What did you learn today?’ But my mother used to say, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?’ That made the difference. Asking good questions made me into a scientist.”
Inquiry encourages students to be actively involved in and to take responsibility for their own learning. Inquiry learning allows each student’s understanding of the world to develop in a manner and at a rate unique to that student. The starting point is students’ current understanding, and the goal is the active construction of meaning through:
- exploring, wondering and questioning
- experimenting and playing with possibilities
- making connections between previous learning and current learning
- making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
- collecting data and reporting findings
- clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
- deepening understanding through the application of a concept
- making and testing theories
- researching and seeking information
- taking and defending a position
- solving problems in a variety of ways. (Making the PYP Happen)
Here’s my take on it…
The more we plan, the more teacher directed it becomes. If we have a very detailed idea in advance of where the lesson (or the unit or the semester) will go then it’s not inquiry. What we do need to plan is really strong provocations to get students engaged in the big ideas, so that they’ll be motivated to question, wonder, inquire, explore… and learn.
Still thinking… please join me.
“If we don’t know where we’re going, all roads lead there.” Roman Proverb
I think it’s important that we plan the big picture, the understandings we are trying to get our students to reach. If we don’t make some decisions, try and understand it ourselves, we end up randomly selecting activities, doing things the way we did last year, going on field trips that mean nothing and ultimately not guiding our students through meaningful inquiry.
We need to know and understand where we’re trying to guide students to, we don’t need to (and actually can’t) plan how exactly we will get there.
I agree. In a unit of inquiry, we need to know what enduring understandings we’d like the students to take away and the conceptual lens that will guide the inquiry. And yes, we need to make decisions about all sorts of factors to help make the inquiry meaningful. I certainly wasn’t suggesting doing random activities or (heaven forbid!) doing what we did last year.
But if inquiry is your stance, there will also be times when spontaneous conversations, unplanned questions or learning experiences will lead to unexpected places entirely… Sometimes… “We don’t know where we’re going, but the road we choose takes us somewhere magical” (Ed’s proverb)
I’ve learned that asking good questions is a much more complex skill for students than I had realized! It’s a skill that requires practice, confidence and a lack of fear of recrimination. We have to establish that culture in our classrooms for the genuine curiosity of all students to come out.
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