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Framing the curriculum for inquiry-based learning: An inquiry into division

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Ignite your students' curiosity and turn your lessons into captivating inquiries!

Inquiry-Based Learning Introduction Image

I recently participated in a transformative professional development program that spotlights 'powerful' learning practices. A crucial part of this experience centered on inquiry learning and fostering curiosity in students - a nod to Ken Robinson's visionary approach to reshaping education for the future​.

For the longest time, inquiry seemed like a daunting, even frightening prospect; something I could never fully grasp. However, this professional development experience presented the concept of inquiry in a digestible and pragmatic manner.

Here's a game-changing takeaway:

Treat your curriculum like a question.

It doesn’t have to be an exhaustive unit overflowing with unavailable resources. At its core, inquiry is about giving students the room to explore a question, develop their unique answers, and then share their discoveries​.

Inquiry Learning Concept Illustration

Embracing this simplified perspective on inquiry has sparked numerous changes in my teaching methods. I've been implementing an inquiry approach even in the smallest of lessons, and the results are nothing short of astounding! It fosters independence, encourages cooperative learning, and kindles genuine curiosity in the students. The level of engagement and motivation it brings to the classroom is truly mind-boggling​.

Allow me to share an example:

Take a standard Maths lesson on the relationship between division and repeated subtraction. Traditionally, this would involve a lecture followed by a pen and paper activity. But what if we turn it into a simple question instead?

How is division similar to repeated subtraction?

Whiteboard instructions of framing division concept as an inquiry.

Students then formed their groups, ensuring each had a 'confident' maths person. I provided counters for them to experiment with and encouraged them to recall our multiplication unit to draw a connection with 'repeated addition'.

Hands-on Mathematics Experiment Image. Student engaged in inquiry based learning

The students set off with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. In their small groups, they engaged in lively discussions, exchanged ideas, learned from each other, and then decided on the best way to articulate their explanations and findings.

Student work example - poster explaining repeated subtraction as division. Inquiry based learning

Upon completion, each group presented their findings to the class. It was heartening to see that all groups opted to create posters to assist with their presentations. By the end of the lesson, every student had a firm grasp of the concept.

The inquiry-based approach ignited their curiosity, allowed them to build their own understandings, and most importantly, they had fun in the process and gained control over their own learning journey​.

Tips for Reframing the Curriculum for Inquiry-Based Learning:

  • Identify Key Concepts: Start by identifying the key concepts or topics in your curriculum that you wish your students to understand. These concepts can serve as the starting point for your inquiry questions.

  • Frame Concepts as Questions: Instead of presenting these concepts as facts or statements, try rephrasing them as questions. For example, "What are the effects of climate change?" instead of "Learn about the effects of climate change."

  • Encourage Open-Ended Questions: The best inquiry questions often don't have a single correct answer. They encourage exploration, discussion, and multiple perspectives. For instance, "How does technology impact our daily lives?" provides more scope for inquiry than "What is a computer?"

  • Connect to Students' Experiences: Questions that relate to students' own experiences or to real-world issues can spark their interest and motivation. Try to find ways to link curriculum topics to these areas.

  • Experiment with Scales: Don't be afraid to vary the scale of your inquiry questions. Some questions can be broad and far-reaching, such as "How did World War II shape the modern world?" Others can be more specific, such as "What was the impact of World War II on our local area?"

  • Iterate and Refine: Your first attempt at an inquiry question might not be perfect, and that's okay. As you see how students respond, don't hesitate to iterate and refine your questions. Remember, the goal is to ignite curiosity and engage your students in deeper learning.

  • Include Multiple Curriculum Areas: If possible, try to design inquiry questions that touch on multiple curriculum areas. This not only creates more rich and complex inquiries, but also helps students to see the connections between different fields of study. For example, "How has immigration shaped the culture and economy of our city?" could involve elements of history, geography, economics, and social studies.

Examples of Inquiry-Based Learning Questions:

Inquiry-Based Learning Questions Examples Image
  • Math: Instead of teaching formulas, ask, "How can we use shapes to find the area of this figure?"

  • Science: Instead of lecturing about ecosystems, ask, "What would happen to our local ecosystem if bees disappeared?"

  • History: Instead of detailing the causes of a historical event, ask, "Why do you think this event happened, and what were its consequences?"

  • English: Instead of analyzing a character in a novel, ask, "What motivates this character, and how does it influence their actions?"

  • Art: Instead of explaining a style of art, ask, "How does this art style reflect the time period in which it was created?"

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