Inquiry-Based Learning occurs when a teacher creates situations in which students take the role of scientists. In these situations, students take the initiative to observe and question phenomena; pose explanations of what they see; devise and conduct tests to support or contradict their theories; analyze data; draw conclusions from experimental data; design and build models; or any combination of these.
These learning situations are open-ended in that they do not aim to achieve a single "right" answer. Nevertheless, students work under clear standards. They learn to observe keenly and thoroughly and to pose questions that are answerable, in part or in whole, through some meaningful test or exploration. They engage in trial and error, and they learn to analyze and reason carefully.
What Is Inquiry?
Inquiry is a complex idea that means many things to many people in many contexts. A strict definition, if possible, would probably be too restrictive. What follows is a series of snippets to give you the flavor of what we mean by inquiry.
is asking questions. But not just any
questions, good questions. Questions that are
accessible. Questions that can be answered in
part or in whole. Questions that lead to meaningful
tests and explorations.
is the art and science of asking and answering
questions. It involves observation and
measurement, hypothesizing and interpreting, model-building
and model-testing. It requires experimentation,
reflection, and the recognition of the strengths
and weaknesses of its own methods.
inquiry, a teacher may pose a question or cajole
students into posing their own questions.
These questions are often open-ended, offering
students the opportunity to direct their own investigations
and find their own answers (not just the one right
answer), and in all likelihood, they lead to more
Inquiry is what scientists do. They
usually do it in a formal and systematic way,
and in the process, contribute to the collective
body of information we call knowledge.
experiencing science as inquiry, students learn
how to be scientists. Thus, students
learn more than just a body of concepts and facts,
they learn the processes involved in establishing
those concepts and facts.
provides students with concrete, active learning
experiences. Students take the initiative.
They develop problem-solving, decision-making,
and research skills that enable them to become
allows students at different developmental stages
to work on similar problems and even collaborate
in finding solutions to those problems.
Each student gets to bring his or her own special
talents into play.
allows for the integration of multiple disciplines.
As students explore, they will tend to
ask questions that will involve both science and
math, social studies and language arts, technical
and artistic skills.
Students must ask coherent, meaningful questions.
And they should report their results, orally or
in writing. In this way, they both teach and learn
from each other.
Inquiry allows teachers to learn about
their students -- who they are, what
they know, how their minds work. These insights
will enable teachers to be more affective facilitators
in their students' pursuit of knowledge.
using inquiry, teachers must bite their tongues.
Too many hints, too many questions, and too many
answers take all the learning out of the process.
And all the fun, too.
requires students to take responsibility for their
Inquiry and Teaching Skills
Inquiry creates opportunities for teachers to learn how their students' minds work. Teachers can then apply these insights to set up appropriate learning situations and facilitate students' pursuit of knowledge. Some of the skills that teachers learn when using inquiry include:
- knowing when to provide a nudge
- knowing what hints to give each particular student
- knowing what not to tell students (not to give away the answer)
- knowing how to read student behaviors as they work through challenges and how to design meaningful learning situations that take those behaviors into account
- knowing how to help students collaborate in solving problems together
- knowing when observations, hypotheses, or experiments are meaningful
- knowing how to tolerate ambiguity
- knowing how to use mistakes constructively
- knowing how to guide students so that giving them control of their explorations does not mean losing control of the classroom