Sometimes I think we forget what inquiry really is. We talk about “levels of inquiry” and give equal time to practices that are not really inquiry. We talk about open ended inquiry as if it were an ideal to aspire to, instead of a reality to choose whenever possible. People say, “we need to prepare them for college” as if students were vessels that must be full to some minimum line before they can advance.
Inquiry is letting students’ questions guide their learning. It really is that simple. If there isn’t room in the classroom for students to explore their questions, then there isn’t inquiry.
Inquiry is engaging for students of all ages because it naturally meets them where their interests and prior knowledge intersect. We teachers then must give them access to the skills and associated knowledge that they need to move forward productively.
Inquiry is not just for science! Students need to have the opportunity to pursue their questions at least part of the time in all classes. Inquiry is a great way to integrate science at the elementary school level, even for a teacher who feels uncomfortable with their science content knowledge. By modeling curiosity and acting as the “inquirer-in-chief,” any teacher can inspire inquiry.