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Inquiry-Based Projects

Brie Stark's picture

Model for Creation of Open-Ended, Inquiry-Based Projects

Brielle Stark, July 2009

I have been taking part in an inquiry-based program with K-12 teachers, exploring how the brain works, how emergence works and how to apply this knowledge in everyday life, as well as in the classroom.  We like to call this concept open-ended transactional inquiry. 

Throughout this institute, our goal was for the teachers to create an open-ended inquiry-based project that took emergence into account.  However, without having a concrete assignment, many teachers found this difficult.  After much brainstorming, I came up with a simple model that seemed applicable in open-ended, inquiry based projects that can be applied to any subject, not just science.


Necessary Definitions:

Emergence: allowing discussion to grow using facts as a secondary notion, not as ultimate truth.  The concept is that we learn and grow as we develop new thoughts by engaging in conversation with other individuals.  The keys to emergence are group involvement, interest, and ultimately, the willingness to be in uncomfortable situations and to constantly learn. See emergence and emergence II, discussions that resulted between Paul Grobstein, Emily Lovejoy, Wilfred Franklin and myself, to learn more.

  • The teacher: Must be just as much of a learner as an educator in the emergent system.  The teacher is more of a discussion leader, rather than a conductor of the class -- they have several discussion topics in mind, but the direction of the class depends entirely upon the active members of the discussion.
  • The student: Must be an active participant in order to grow developmentally and learn.  The student must be willing to realize that they are from a diverse background and ideas that they have may not have been thought of by other students; therefore, the learning process grows.  The student must also be willing to create their own emergent project which is geared to leading the class in an emergent discussion.

Creation of websites: the creation of websites are important for the growth of both students and teachers.  By creating a website, the student and teachers can research topics of interest and produce emergent discussions about that topic of interest to a very broad audience.  By using websites created by others, students and teachers can engage in a broad number of resources to expand upon their own ideas and learn more.  The web is essentially like an emergent system: a diverse amount of ideas widely available so that these ideas influence others' thoughts.  See Learning, Working & Playing in the Digital Age, Intellectual Exchange [using the web] and Education and Technology for more information.

Original Concept of Project:

  • Create a project to develop/enhance your skills as an interactive, transactional educator and web user/author. Put in blog a summer project: use the web to explore something related to variations in brain and behavior that you are curious about.  Learn/think about/create something that interests/surprises you and that you think will interest/surprise others.  Based on your work, create a web page (or set of pages) that you (and others) can use to encourage further conversation on this topic (perhaps in, among other places, your own classroom).


Goals of Project:

  • Create an open-ended project
  • Take emergence into account (discussion as primary, facts as secondary)
  • Create a website
  • Do not limit yourself to things you understand
  • Engage everyone in a discussion by using your own interest

Let's Make This Concept Clearer:
"Better" Model for Open-Ended Transactional Inquiry Projects



  1. Explain the significance/interest of each link you found of interest.  Think emergence: facts are secondary, discussion/conversation is primary.  Therefore, don't state the facts of the website that you found, but rather, your ideas considering the facts that you read from the website -- explore new ideas, etc.
  2. Think of questions to lead to a discussion about your links and your overall interesting concept
  3. Take constructive/emergent thoughts from today's group discussion to expand on numbers 1 & 2 (above); add to your questions and explanations, if need be.  Where there things you hadn't thought of before?  Did anyone say something that made you think different?  Was there something said that really agreed with your own personal interest?  Again, describe these in the website.
  4. Look at your project idea from other viewpoints (kids, non-educators, parents, etc) and think/comment on it on your project website.  Would a child find this hard to understand?  How could you make your idea more applicable to a certain situation?  How could your interest be applied in certain settings?  Could your interest have implications on education for a certain group of people or perhaps all people?  How would your discussion points/questions differ according to different audiences?
  5. Play devil's advocate --> can you find ideas that do not agree with what you found?  Think about possibilities, look online and comment on those in relation to your project.
  6. Think outside the box.  Is there anything you found that was interesting that changed the way you thought about it?  Do you disagree with some of the links that you found?  Did you have any original ideas when you looked at these links?  Does your researched interest personally affect you or someone you know well?

Actual Appearance of Site

  1. Draw what you envision on paper... and then decide how you can make that on the website using tables, pictures, links and bullet points.
  2. Scroll around Serendip and find other people's websites to use as inspiration.

Why Use Open-Ended, Inquiry-Based Projects?

By using the concepts of emergence and putting emphasis on the development of discussion, open-ended, inquiry-based projects allow students to explore their interests without constraints, to use facts as secondary, to create novel stories about the facts they have read and subsequently spur discussion with their peers about their explored interest.  This, in turn, allows for that student to actively research their interest, to explore their own ideas and create their own stories about facts, while also hearing stories and ideas of other, diverse peers and thus using those ideas to readily shape the student's personal ideas and create a "better" story.  See "science as story telling" for more information about this process.