Update on Inquiry Based learning

 For the past three weeks, I have emerged in STEM and inquiry-based thinking for both courses I am taking this half of the Spring semester.  This has been an intense three weeks of reading various discussions, articles, and videos on what is STEM and Inquiry Based Learning and how are these used in the classroom.  The material has been thought-provoking.  I have spent the last three weeks writing about the material to develop my own knowledge. I have been involved in inquiry-based learning myself as I develop my own knowledge of the topic.

In an inquiry based classroom, the focus is on investigations and answering questions based upon evidence.  Students are learning by doing. STEM naturally leads educators to be inquiry-based. Although this can be done in all classes, the Learning Channel(n.d) has a great video from Urban Academy demonstrating an inquiry-based classroom in both English and History. (Note: Learning Channel is not free but you can watch one video for free with an account).  The goal is to have students engaged in their learning by thinking critically and logically through evidence and communicating how they developed their own thinking.  

This past week in my Inquiry Based Learning class, we looked at a variety of classrooms that demonstrated inquiry-based learning and discussed the level of learning and the abilities.  These classrooms were adapted from BSCS Why does Inquiry Matter? (2006).  The one classroom had students look at fossils of brachiopods and asked if the measurements demonstrated evolutionary change (BSCS, 2006).  The teacher then asked many guided questions to get the students to support their conclusions.  I felt that this demonstrated a classroom where students were learning the process of inquiry.  In another classroom the teacher had students choose from a variety of books, answer questions about inquiry and then develop an oral presentation about Inquiry in science (BSCS, 2006).  I also saw this as a guided inquiry, but many of my classmates saw this as student-teacher.  In the classroom, the students were collaborating on the oral presentations based on the questions the teacher provided.  

This had me thinking as to how do you know when it is teacher-guided vs. student-teacher? I saw both of them as the teacher really guiding the explanation and that the students were collaborating in the first classroom discussion too.  I began to explore some more readings.  

I found this pdf from Discovery education (n.d) to be a good explanation of the difference between directed inquiry and guided inquiry.  It helped me discover that the second classroom is more guided than directed (Discovery, n.d).  The teacher in the first classroom was focusing on both the material and the questions. This is a directed inquiry. Guided provides more choice in the way the material is learned, directed does not (Discovery, n.d). The pdf also provides great tips for inquiry-based learning, you should check it out!

In our second discussion, we were tasked with coming up with inquiry-based learning based on optics videos that had sections for concave, convex lenses, mirrors, reflection, refraction, and Snell’s law (ForunaPix, 2014).  Basically, the optics unit in a basic physics course.  We needed to categorize our inquiry activities to be teacher-directed, student-teacher, or student-directed.  As I wrote these, I reflected that I struggled to get true student-directed. Mostly because I leaned on my physics teaching from my first classroom that was more teacher than student-centered.  That being said, my optics units were all lab-based, we spent two weeks in darkness with candles, lasers, mirrors, and lenses discovering all the information that the videos covered.  I had my students in directed inquiry.  I remember them asking about camera lenses and we spent time researching them on the internet.  I am still thinking about how to make a big open-ended question for the student to look at all of these topics.  Building a camera or simple telescope might work. I have to give it some thought. 

This is where I find a challenge.  How do we reach this level of inquiry? Are we obligated to focus most of our learning so students gain the content expected? How can we design to reach the basic concepts, mastery of inquiry, and have students take control of their learning?  I have been spending time reflecting on my classrooms and thinking about the redesign to assure students are gaining control of their learning.  I am looking at redesigning some of my units to be more student inquiry-focused.   I had that focus when I was designing my STEM lesson for the other class I am taking.

Finally, I found this video from Josh Spencer (2017) about inquiry-based learning.  He mentions another set of educators who categorize four stages of inquiry-based learning that I plan on reading more about.   However, his example at the beginning of the video solidified true student inquiry for me and makes me want to have another movie marathon to categorize all the teaching methods present.  Watch below:


Discovery Education. (n.d). Discovery Education Science. [pdf]. Retrieved January 28, 2022, from


BSCS. (2006). Why does Inquiry matter?. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

FortunaPix. (2014) Optics. [Full Video]. Available from https://www.discoveryeducation.com 

Spencer, J. (2017, December, 5). What is inquiry-based learning? [Video]. YouTube.  https://youtu.be/QlwkerwaV2E 

The Teaching Channel: Inquiry based learning [Video]. (n.d.). The Teaching Channel. https://learn.teachingchannel.com/video/tch-presents-inquiry-based-teaching

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