Inquiry-based learning. It’s learning that is inspired by and modeled on inquiry, the students’ inquiry to be specific. They get curious, ask a question, and you (the instructor) answer it. This type of natural engagement bolsters academic performance because it involves students in school without them looking at classwork and homework as responsibility. If they are asking about it, it’s something they want to know about. It’s something they find fascinating. It’s something they will want to research more about when they get home, not because they have to, but because they want to.
But inquiry-based learning is difficult to inspire. It requires fostering curiosity in each and every member of the classroom. The curiosity has to be the students’, because it is ultimately they who will learn or not learn. It’s their choice, but the curiosity starts with you. The next time you stumble upon a new piece of information, and find yourself naturally perusing the basis behind it, remember the moment so you can reenact it to students.
Often times, this new piece of information can be so intriguing because it triggers a fresh perspective. It forces you to reevaluate something you thought you already knew about. Take the musical Hamilton for example. It has exploded with popularity, broken record after record and has left countless theatergoers endlessly extolling it. Despite its newfound place in Broadway history, the story is in fact an old one.
It’s about Alexander Hamilton, a man we all learned about in our middle school civics/government class. We learned about him again with the Revolutionary War. He has and has had a place in American educational curriculum since the advent of American educational curriculum; and yet, audiences are blown away. Shocked. Astounded.
It’s because the information is presented in a new way. It’s rapped. It’s musical. It’s engaging, and as the show goes on, the audience wants to know more. They form questions of their own, and the story answers them. This is the same idea that could foster curiosity in the classroom. Bring a fresh take to an old story, and the aftermath will coax questions out of otherwise less than engaged students. They will be forced to reflect what they thought they knew, and this will appropriately lead to the beginning of inquiry-based learning.
After finding a way to present old information in a new way, there are four fundamental steps to inquiry-based learning. Teachers can use these in order to formalize a lesson plan stemming from inquiry-based learning, so as to fan the flames of students’ curiosity:
Students form their questions
Once students have brainstormed their questions or requested additional information, have them write up a problem statement that will naturally force them to use a constructed response, conduct additional research, and form further conclusions. The statement should be broad enough that it cannot be answered with a simple statement, but concise enough that it requires them to use analytical skills.
Research using class-time.
Not all the research has to be on class time, but some must be. The kids must be able to ask you questions if they need to. You are, after all, the head-researcher. You can give them direction and help them hone their search. Plus, allowing class time for research shows kids that this research is important. It matters. It matters so much that you are dedicating your own time (and some of their time) to the cause.
Have students present what they’ve learned.
After students have learned what they set out to, have them present it to the class. Students can use the presentation as a benchmark for what they discovered. It will allow them to sift through relevant and irrelevant information, and articulate what they found interesting. The presentation does not have to be extensive by any means. It could even just be a powerpoint. The real point of the presentation is so the kids have a rubric with which to compare what they’ve learned.
Have students reflect, aloud or through pen and paper, on what they learned.
This will not only help to cement the information in their minds, but it will naturally teach them to think about how they just learned what they learned. They will think about the process of learning itself, and will realize that that process is applicable to nearly everything in life. By teaching them the proper research skills, and to answer their own questions, you are showing students how to continue education for the rest of their lives.
Learning is not confined to the classroom, so why should education be? Inquiry-based learning is more reflective of real-world education, and it is worth both your and student’s time to implement it in traditional schooling.