November 5-7 was the Bring IT Together Conference in Niagara Falls. Here are some of the most discussed key words. This graph shows how many times these words appeared in presentation write ups. For what it is worth, innovation came up only 18 times at 7% of key words found in session titles and descriptions.
I attended 6 totally different sessions on Inquiry
I attended six sessions on inquiry and they were all different. In fact, if you were to get all these people and put them in the same room but ban them from using the word inquiry, I bet they would have no idea that they were interested in the same topic.
What is counter-intuitive, perhaps, is that each of the sessions was excellent and compelling.
But, if each group had a different take on inquiry, then, what is inquiry?
I am unsettled by how differently each presenter perceived inquiry. What does it mean that each of these sessions was so completely different? Is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing? What is inquiry in Ontario schooling today?
What is inquiry?
According to a paper in the Journal of Science Teacher Education by Barrow (2006) and another article in ZDM Mathematics Education by Artigue and Blomhøj (2013) inquiry can be any of the following:
- a teaching strategy (teacher posing questions for inquiry)
- a set of student skills
- knowing about inquiry
- being inquisitive and taking action
- engaging students
- hands on and minds on
- manipulating materials
- stimulating questions by students
- learning to act like professionals in the field
Why is inquiry important?
From the same articles, the purpose of inquiry can be:
- helping students prepare for a world of work and careers
- fulfilling a personal need
- fulfilling a societal need (critical thinkers)
- helping prepare students academically
- generating greater awareness
- experiencing the discipline like real mathematicians, scientists, sociologist etc.
Inquiry as hands on investigations
Louise Robitaille and Peter Douglas presented on their classroom work about inquiry-based learning. They have compiled lots of resources here. Peter described spending a couple of weeks going deep into one theme or building project such as go carts. While he keeps his math separate, he lets the students engage in extended periods of creating, building and hands on learning. From what was shared at the session, these two take the perspective that inquiry is about hands on to get the minds on. It seemed like the purpose for inquiry was to engage and fulfill a personal need. Here learning is a bi-product of a busy, unstructured and bustling with activity classroom. The advice was to relax, let go and embrace where the students take you once you have provided a guiding question or a bunch of materials to inspire.
Read their session description here.
Fabulous session. Lots of honest talk about Peter’s classroom and the wonderful opportunities he provides.
Inquiry as a teaching strategy and a mindset
Aviva Dunsiger and Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper presented a half day session on inquiry. What a great opportunity to go deep! They brought tonnes of examples of teacher work and student work.
They curated resources here and invited participants to crowd source even more information in the documents! Their session was called Inquiry into Action and the description can be found here.
With a focus on the new social studies curriculum in Ontario, Aviva and Jo-Ann took inquiry to be a teaching approach that would leave students into thinking and taking action. They saw their role to prompt and provoke. Next, they would guide students to ask their own questions and seek to find answers. They were comfortable with letting students ask questions they did not know the answer to and then made it their mission to support the students in finding out. I love that their was an emphasis on taking action and social awareness. Another impressive session. But, a totally different take on inquiry.
It is clear to many, including the thoughtful and nuanced thinker and educator Brandon Grasley, that engaging students can be achieved by inviting and supporting students own questions. His thoughtful blog post on engagement is also, as a side note, another write up on how challenging it is to grapple with these hot words of the day.
Then there was Inquiry Based Learning and E-Portfolios in FDK (session description here) by passionate teacher-librarian Ray Mercer. Students dressed up as astronauts and told stories of their learning journeys with the use of technology.
His presentation can be found here. He has just received technology to augment inquiry learning with FDK students. I wonder how that might change his approach to inquiry?
Learning to act like professionals in the field
Inquiry Science Incorporating Technology was a session by secondary teacher Colin Jagoe. The session description is here. Among other things, his students used Minecraft to do investigations to measure force of gravity in a Minecraft world by having Steve jump off towers. Here is an example I found online. Colin presented his student’s work and shared how it was important that he let go and allow students to conduct investigations in contexts that were personally meaningful and interesting, like real scientists! Did he plan the minecraft thing? Apparently not. But did he support it? Yes!
Amazingly, his students had done the same thing as a legitimate physics researcher. The only difference? The physics researcher has a PhD and published his findings in a peer-reviewed journal, here.
Impressive. Also, another totally different take on inquiry.
Inquiry in Ontario?
How important is inquiry in Ontario? Below is a chart representing the number of times the word appears in each of the most recent curriculum documents.
The mathematics curriculum word count is low. So, I checked problem solving (28 times) and solve problems (83 times). It would seem that problem solving and inquiry are perhaps synonymous. Are they?
In closing, I am uncertain about what inquiry is and what it should look like in Ontario.