Sunday, August 1, 2021

Sparking Inquiry in the Classroom

As a kid, I loved nature.  Growing up in a rural part of New Jersey and spending summers at the beach probably played a significant role in developing this interest. My parents would buy me and my brother all sorts of field guides to help support our curiosity and genuine interest in living creatures.  We would venture out on routine quests to either observe or collect specimens for further study.  Each expedition was driven by both observations and questions.  While we loved looking at various creatures, especially those that were hard to find, such as certain salamanders and snakes, questions kept driving us to want to learn more.  

The short walk down memory lane depicted above is a reminder of one of many driving forces that compelled me to become a science teacher.  It also captures vital components of the scientific method, of which inquiry is the most critical component.  While making observations is the first step, it is the questions that are developed during the initial stages of the process that are the most important, in my opinion.  Without these, it is challenging to establish a working hypothesis to test out.  

No matter the subject taught or concepts explored, questions are more important than answers if inquiry is the goal. The reason being is that the process of developing them on behalf of the learner is typically driven by relevance.  Or a teacher can use a scaffolded approach to spark deeper exploration of a topic through knowledge construction and application.  No matter the chosen path, an inquiry-based approach can be used to cultivate ownership of learning through disruptive thinking.  I define this as replacing conventional ideas with innovative solutions to authentic problems.  

While creating tasks that empower learners to develop their own questions is the ultimate goal, teachers can use scaffolded stems to get the ball rolling.  Below is a version of a resource that can be found in Chapter 4 of Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms

Each level has numerous question stems that can assist teachers in developing checks for understanding, performance tasks, projects, and assessments.  The overall goal is to work from the base level 4 as this is where authentic inquiry resides.  In a disruptive world, preparing students for the present and future relies on fostering inquiry in the classroom. Every problem throughout history that has been solved with an innovative solution began with some sort of question that probably morphed over time as an inquiry-based approach was applied. Thus, educators can leverage this powerful catalyst to future-proof learning for all kids.  

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