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Inquiry education: When? For Whom?

Paul Grobstein's picture

Minisymposium 2007 on K-16 Collaborations



Should inquiry education replace more traditional forms of pedagogy for all students in all contexts?

Small group reports



Group 1.


  • "one way" is orthodoxy, not inquiry
  • inquiry is diverse, inductive and deductive
  • need balance between moments of skill building and discovery (learners like artists)

Students are born with inquiry capability, it should be nurtured, but there are problems

  • standardized tests
  • need for people to be at same place at same time
  • need for skills
  • culture, social system
  • value of scripted performances

Group 2.

  • Inquiry learning should not replace traditional learning 100%, should work in conjuction with it
  • Its more of an attitude towards how people teach and learn
  • Needs a framework to allow the students to learn, create synthesize, apply, evaluate information
  • This will allow students to distinguish important information from minutiae
Problems curriculum time testing teacher and learner freedom confidence to teach/learn in an inquiry manner not every student will be interested in the inquiry problem

Group 3.

Classrooms should have a balance of traditional and inquiry learning. Different student learning styles have to be considered. At the current time, teacher training is necessary for gradual and smooth implementation of this method. Transition and evaluation should occur over a number of years with allotted time for use in the classroom. ˇhere has to be investment in appropriate and necessary resources and materials. Teachers should be willing to experiment and share their successes as well as challenges. Most of all support from all levels of administration is required.

Group 4.

No.  Not replace all subjects at all levels.  It can complement all subjects at all levels – it should be in the toolbox for all levels.  BUT, for this to work, the resources need to be provided – more staff, more money, more space, more time.  In a Philadelphia public school classroom, with all its restrictions, what can be done?  In little ways, the scripted lessons can be bent into inquiry.  But, for example, students come into a particular public school chemistry classroom  dreading it from the start.  If they had field trips, if they had a lab – these are things that would get students excited.  But they don’t, and the students don’t relate to it, so they’re not excited and there are discipline problems.  With discipline problems, inquiry learning is hard to achieve.

Another issue has to do with providing foundations from which inquiry can develop.  For example, for a student to learn how to write, she needs to be in touch with her passions, to explore ways of expressing herself – but she also needs to learn that every sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a final punctuation.  Inquiry, integrated into a more traditional approach, allows for student-centered moments to be integrated in content that the teacher thinks is useful – they need to work in tandem, simultaneously, not one before the other.  You’re looking to create a process that starts to sustain itself – the student starts to love writing and begins to push herself further, to write more experimentally because she has learned how to express herself – both according to rules and according to heart.





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