Sunday, 25 November 2012

Process of Inquiry…..

“Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand” is the foundation for why inquiry based learning is so important. Inquiry based learning involves seeking truth, information, or knowledge by questioning.

What is the process for inquiry? This question may in fact not be a straight forward answer. As I will share there are a few common features of all plans and a variety of models being used in schools.

Inquiry involves the human senses: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. Infants make connections to the world by inquiring. They observe faces that come near, they grasp objects, they put things in their mouths, and they turn toward voices. It is natural. Although it is most often associated with science, inquiry-based learning is used to engage students of all ages, in all subject areas, to learn by exploration and discovery.

Memorizing and regurgitating information and facts is not a critical skill in the world today. Facts change and will change rapidly and information is available anywhere, 24/7. Inquiry based learning allows students to learn how to build their own understanding of a problem and thus produce deeper connections. Because the connection to the learning is deeper the chances are that the student will remember the concept and then be able to apply the understanding to new situations as they arise.

There are a wide variety of models for what “Inquiry” looks like in the classroom. It seems that most have five things in common, questioning, planning and predicting, investigating, recording and reporting and reflecting.

Here is an example from the Inquiry Page .

This diagram based on John Dewey’s model uses a spiral path of asking good questions, Investigating solutions, creating new knowledge, discussing and sharing our discoveries and experiences and then reflecting on the new-found knowledge.

There are many models for inquiry learning. Great inquiry learning will never be linear. Inquiry by its very nature is all about insights and making connections. The learner will revisit steps along the process and scaffold as they build the learning.

This model from has similar steps to the process that Dewey uses. The observation that they make that I find interesting is:

“If the question, investigation, and outcome(s) are truly meaningful to the learner, she or he will apply this newly-acquired knowledge in her or his own life by sharing knowledge and by taking concrete action in the world.”


Great questioning is the key to inquiry. To start the inquiry cycle the question, or questioning is key. Asking the right questions at the right moment in a lesson or activity will turn up the learning, or slow it down. The art of questioning is an area that one needs to explore further to really build a successful inquiry project. Here is a great wiki that I find has some fantastic information on questioning.

So in the true spirit of inquiry we should continue to ask, "what are the questions we need to be asking to become the inquiry based, science and technology school we dream of?"

Boldly going where only a few schools have gone before.

Larry Hartel


  1. Great insights Larry. I've noticed that many graphic representations of inquiry are non-linear. The picture in my mind has always been the initial question in the middle with infinite pathways leading outward which are refined questions, feedback loops, reflections, collaborations etc. What I see is an infinite number of possibilities initiated by the core question that needs to be re-visited over and over again, even when it leads to more questions. That core question is the central foundation from which all other elements are derived. I like both these graphic models because they represent loops that in my mind repeat perpetually creating an inward and outward spiral if we view them as three dimensional. This creates so many variables and choices in learning and teaching when compared to a straight line approach.

  2. Nice post, Larry. You summarize the inquiry model nicely. Such a model requires us to rethink curriculum and assessment. While its true that individual teachers can make a go at this, they are too often either worn down or found out by an education system that places rote memorization and standardization at a premium. Ultimately, this is unsustainable.

    The point I"m trying to make is that we need whole schools to make a go at this. Have you seen the ATA's document A Great School For All?