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Inquiry-Based Learning

Inquiry Based Learning

"Inquiry" is defined as "a seeking for truth, information, or knowledge -- seeking information by questioning." Individuals carry on the process of inquiry from the time they are born until they die. This is true even though they might not reflect upon the process. Infants begin to make sense of the world by inquiring. From birth, babies observe faces that come near, they grasp objects, they put things in their mouths, and they turn toward voices. The process of inquiring begins with gathering information and data through applying the human senses -- seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling.

The Essence of Inquiry …

"Inquiry ... requires more than simply answering questions or getting a right answer. It espouses investigation, exploration, search, quest, research, pursuit, and study. It is enhanced by involvement with a community of learners, each learning from the other in social interaction."

(Kuklthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007, p. 2)

Importance of Inquiry

Memorizing facts and information is not the most important skill in today's world. Facts change, and information is readily available -- what's needed is an understanding of how to get and make sense of the mass of data.

Through the process of inquiry, individuals construct much of their understanding of the natural and human-designed worlds. Inquiry implies a "need or want to know" premise. Inquiry is not so much seeking the right answer -- because often there is none -- but rather seeking appropriate resolutions to questions and issues. For educators, inquiry implies emphasis on the development of inquiry skills and the nurturing of inquiring attitudes or habits of mind that will enable individuals to continue the quest for knowledge throughout life.

Content of disciplines is very important, but as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. The knowledge base for disciplines is constantly expanding and changing. No one can ever learn everything, but everyone can better develop their skills and nurture the inquiring attitudes necessary to continue the generation and examination of knowledge throughout their lives. For modern education, the skills and the ability to continue learning should be the most important outcomes.

The Application of Inquiry

While much thought and research has been spent on the role of inquiry in science education, inquiry learning can be applied to all disciplines. Individuals need many perspectives for viewing the world. Such views could include artistic, scientific, historic, economic, and other perspectives. While disciplines should interrelate, inquiry learning includes the application of certain specific "ground rules" that insure the integrity of the various disciplines and their world views.

Outcomes of Inquiry

An important outcome of inquiry should be useful knowledge about the natural and human-designed worlds. How are these worlds organized? How do they change? How do they interrelate? And how do we communicate about, within, and across these worlds? These broad concepts contain important issues and questions that individuals will face throughout their lives. Also, these concepts can help organize the content of the school curriculum to provide a relevant and cumulative framework for effective learning. An appropriate education should provide individuals with different ways of viewing the world, communicating about it, and successfully coping with the questions and issues of daily living.

While questioning, and searching for answers are extremely important parts of inquiry, effectively generating knowledge from this questioning and searching is greatly aided by a conceptual context for learning. Just as students should not be focused only on content as the ultimate outcome of learning, neither should they be asking questions and searching for answers about minutiae. Well-designed inquiry-learning activities and interactions should be set in a conceptual context to help students accumulate knowledge as they progress from grade to grade. Inquiry in education should be about a greater understanding of the world in which they live, learn, communicate, and work.

Evolution of the 21st century classroom to Inquiry Based Learning 

In general, the traditional approach to learning is focused on mastery of content, with less emphasis on the development of skills and the nurturing of inquiring attitudes. Our classrooms are evolving from teacher centered, with the teacher focused on giving out information about "what is known." Students are the receivers of information, and the teacher is the dispenser. Much of the assessment of the learner is focused on the importance of "one right answer."

The inquiry approach is more focused on using and learning content as a means to develop information-processing and problem-solving skills. The system is more student centered, with the teacher as a facilitator of learning. There is more emphasis on "how we come to know" and less on "what we know." Students are more involved in the construction of knowledge through active involvement. The more interested and engaged students are by a subject or project, the easier it will be for them to construct in-depth knowledge of it. Learning becomes almost effortless when something fascinates students and reflects their interests and goals.

Assessment is focused on determining the progress of skills development in addition to content understanding. Inquiry learning is concerned with in-school success, but it is equally concerned with preparation for life-long learning.

Inquiry classrooms are open systems where students are encouraged to search and make use of resources beyond the classroom and the school. Teachers who use inquiry can use technology to connect students appropriately with local and world communities which are rich sources of learning and learning materials. They replace lesson plans with facilitated learning plans that account for slight deviations while keeping an important learning outcome in focus.


Understanding Inquiry Based Learning

Click on the various links below as resources towards a fuller understanding of what inquiry based learning is all about.


Inquiry Based Learning Videos


Joe Exline

Joe Exline is an educator, educational reformer, and private consultant; his work focuses on building environments for active student learning and on educational system analysis. He is the founder of Exline Consulting Services, which is involved in broad aspects of educational reform, particularly community involvement. He was the Director of Science in the Virginia Department of Education for 21 years, and from 1992 to 1995 he served as principal investigator and project director for the statewide systemic initiative Virginia Quality Education in Sciences and Technology (V-QUEST). He has served as the president and executive secretary of Council of State Science Supervisors. In addition, Exline has been a science teacher and has authored INDIVIDUALIZED TECHNIQUES FOR TEACHING EARTH SCIENCE (Parker Publishing Company, 1975).


Arthur L. Costa
Arthur L. Costa is an emeritus professor of education at California State University, Sacramento, and co-director of the Institute for Intelligent Behavior in Berkeley, California. He has served as a classroom teacher, a curriculum consultant, an assistant superintendent for instruction, and the director of educational programs for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He edited the book DEVELOPING MINDS: A RESOURCE BOOK FOR TEACHING THINKING (ASCD, 1985) and TEACHING FOR INTELLIGENCE II: A COLLECTION OF ARTICLES (Skylight Professional Development, 1999); he is also the author of THE ENABLING BEHAVIORS (General Learning Press, 1976), and THE SCHOOL AS A HOME FOR THE MIND (Skylight Publishers, 1991). Dr. Costa served as president of the California Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and was the national president of the ASCD from 1988 to 1989. 

Lesson Plan Developers Bios 

Chris Collier
 Chris Collier is an educator and an educational program developer. She co-designed the Center for Inquiry, a magnet/option school, and has acted as a consultant to the National Gardening Association's Growing Science Inquiry program. She has also been featured in science inquiry video projects, including SCIENCE IMAGES and SCIENCE LINE. Collier has also served as an assistant principal in Decatur Township. 

Advisor/Reviewer Bios 

Cyndi Kerr
 Cyndi Kerr works with schools as a staff developer, using a project-based approach to model in-class uses of digital tools. She has been support manager with a team of progressive educators at the Center for Collaborative Education; she has also helped to launch the Eiffel project, a five-year initiative that integrates wide-area networking technologies into the public school curriculum in New York City. In addition, she has worked with the Institute for Learning Technologies to provide support for teachers. 

Anthony Petrosino, Ph.D.
 Anthony Petrosino is a professor whose research focuses on science education, with an emphasis on technology. He has been an assistant professor of Mathematics and Science Education at The University of Texas in Austin, and was a member of the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt's Learning Technology Center. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including: Otto Basser Award for Outstanding Dissertation in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Vanderbilt University, 1998; Cognitive Studies for Educational Practice Post Doctorate Fellowship (competitive), 1998-2000; Tennessee Space Grant Fellowship (NASA), Vanderbilt University, 1991-1996; Peabody Super Student Scholarship. (competitive) 1991-1994; New Jersey Governor's Teacher Recognition Award, 1990 

Anna Chan Rekate
 Anna Chan Rekate is an educator with a special interest in literature. She serves as a high school English teacher at Trevor Day School in New York City, teaching ninth grade English along with electives for Juniors and Seniors. She has also been Upper School Coordinator at the Manhattan School for Children, and has taught all subjects for the sixth and eighth grades at the City & Country School in New York City. All three schools are known for their progressive philosophies and educational practices. Rekate has a master's degree in Educational Policy from Columbia University's Teachers College and a master's degree in Leadership and Supervision from Bank Street College of Education. 

Thirteen Ed Online Staff Expert Bios 

Brigitte Magar Matsuoka
Brigitte Magar Matsuoka is an educational media developer. She serves as Director of Thirteen/ WNET's Educational Technologies Department and Executive Producer of Thirteen's Ed Online Web site. She also develops, produces and distributes new educational technology projects for teachers, students and parents/caregivers. Her projects include: CONCEPT TO CLASSROOM, WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT?, the companion Web site to a post 9/11 three-part series for the PBS IN THE MIX series, THE NEW NORMAL, TeacherLine mini-courses, and STANDARDS IN ACTION: MAKING REAL WORLD CONNECTIONS WITH MATHEMATICS. She has also worked at Teachers College, Columbia University as an instructor, online content and tool developer, and K-12 consultant, and has received an Emmy award for her work in television production. 


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