As I began this inquiry-based learning course, I thought it would be pretty similar to project-based learning (PBL) with some slight modifications. However, I am discovering that inquiry-based learning is quite different as students are more in control of their own learning through critical thinking, problem solving, and research. It seems the process of discovery is among the primary focus as students seek out answers to essential questions in real world applications, which they have established, as compared to product creation being the focus of PBL. Yet, a similarity seems to be in creating something, be it a project or presentation, to demonstrate learning. My overall impression of inquiry-based learning is that explicit explanations of this model and its implementation is quite vague due to the fluid nature of the circle of inquiry: ask, investigate, create, discuss, and reflect. Therefore, while I am intrigued to learn more about inquiry-based learning, I simultaneously imagine a loud, chaotic classroom of learners (though our reading said otherwise), which makes me slightly nervous being a “control-freak.”
I now see that inquiry-based learning is not for the faint at heart. Teachers need to put in time and effort to guide students in developing essential questions for research and creating some type of end product to disseminate their discoveries and make learning visible. Most importantly, inquiry-based learning is designed to allow the child to control the direction of their learning within the framework of given curriculums. Students will not take risks if teachers don’t first establish a classroom community that is respectful and supportive so establishing a well-balanced classroom is a critical component to successful implementation of inquiry-based learning. My initial impression of this model of teaching was that it was quite informal and unstructured. However, I believe that inquiry-based learning could ignite a fire in students and become an intrinsic motivator as they seek out answers to their own questions. Yet, I am positive structure is needed when first introducing students to this open way of learning, at least on a primary level. I would imagine that many students might struggle without knowing specific expectations or outcomes while others; especially more advanced learners may thrive under such guidelines. For this reason, teachers need to be available and ready to guide students in the right direction on their path of discovery, which is never stagnant and meanders like a flowing river.
My most burning questions about inquiry-based learning are how is it effectively implemented and managed while addressing curriculum content and standards. The new interactive science textbook series my school district recently purchased appears to take on an inquiry-based approach though the “fast track” curriculum cuts out a lot of the self-guided opportunities for learning. Will there be enough time in the school day to cover necessary standards while allowing time for students to seek out answers to their own questions? How will lower level students develop the critical thinking and problem solving skills essential to this modality of teaching? I look forward to discovering the answers as well as creating a unit of instruction following the inquiry-based learning model to be used in my class. If you have any suggestions for inquiry-based units in science, math, or reading that I could use in my fourth grade class, please feel free to share. I would love to hear your thoughts.