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Afterwords on Inquiry-Based Education: Practicing What We Preach

Welcome Back to Week Two!
Any relevant (place-based/inquiry-based) weekend experiences?

We agreed on Friday morning that Inquiry-Based learning
  • means “getting out of the fact box,”
  • w/ a focus on process, relations, and “charm”
  • if not starting w/, then getting to, AND keeping student interest
  • with teachers as the "primers of the pumps."

We also went on to acknowledge the

very strong challenge that inquiry-based learning offers to conventional content-based and standards-based education: it's

  • not about socialization, but about exploration;
  • not about covering what others have agreed is important,
    but about making your own map--
  • AND collaborating with others to make a fuller one
    than any of us could possibility construct alone;
  • helping everyone both find their voice AND
  • learning to ask questions and be skeptical about what that voice has to say.
A rich discussion of this tension continued on the forum:

Rosemary: practice what we preach...a summer institute that is inquiry based looks like a room where people are involved in inquiry-based explorations...students did need to be guided

Mary Ellen: My education background was mostly listening with very little questioning. I don't want to be that type of's important to begin at some level in our own classroom setting...Questioning techniques would be modeled by the teacher...the teacher would capitalize on opportunities to encourage inquiry ... in various lessons.

Syreeta: As human beings, we need the opportunities to explore....This is how I see a classroom...there are chances to explore... I can...ask them what questions do you have and through their explorations, and my instruction, my goal is that those questions are answered.

Diane: with the Core Curriculum, it is getting harder& harder to implement inquiry learning. This symposium has encouraged me to re-try inquiry learning... I promise to give it a try!

Jacob: as teachers we don't always have freedom to teach how we want to teach. Last year I guided students in many of my classes to explore science by themselves- to inquire through hands-on exploration.... I still had to try as best as I could to make sure these students were meeting the science standards.

Ben: it is important to remember that teachers do have a lot of power...If we believe that inquiry is important, I think it is crucial that we incorporate it into the classroom. This is also a gradual process.... I still want my students to do well on standardized tests, but I don't think that desire necessitates buying into a system I don't believe in.

Victoria: Inquiry based learning...can be implemented, but only in moderation...I was very impressed with the undergraduate students, they have great insight and a bright future to follow!!!

Ian: I was glad to have Victoria’s voice heard in the discussion today, as I feel her perspective on this issue is an important one for us to recognize....It’s easy for me to tell Victoria to screw teaching for standardized test numbers, but that’s because my job isn’t on the line....I want to emphasize the importance of recognizing the different places from which we are all coming.... I ask that we consider what it means for someone in Wil’s position, a professor at Bryn Mawr who attended a “hippie school,” to be telling an inner city public school teacher that he/she has an obligation to preserve an important aspect of human nature (inquiry)....we must ask if the teacher’s obligation is to preserve creative and inquisitive minds, or to offer students their best chance to climb the social ladder...the problem of education as it relates to social organization/hierarchy is a very involved one...

Paul: Among the things that stick in my mind is Rita Stevens' story of a successfully persisting in adapting the "system" over many years to her own sense of what makes sense, and Syreeta Bennett's story of recognizing the need after one year in the classroom to fit the curriculum to her student's needs...I'm not...persuaded that "cultural" factors should be the dominant basis of deciding what educational methods to employ....I...would like to talk/think more about the notion that "inquiry education" might be not a luxury for the well off but a more effective and cost efficient way to empower everyone...a way to impact on existing socio-cultural inequities. Thanks to Victoria for being sure this issue was out in the open....

Or, if "doing science with a sense of place"--
attending to the place where we do science
(schools with limited resources,
a state with a strong standards-based curriculum)--
limits the science we do and the inquiry we engage in,
what can we do?

"Limitations are good...they let you know where you are."
Schools: Studies in Education.
A Journal for Inquiry into the Subjective
Experience of School Life
4, 1 (Spring 2007)

Introducing Catherine Riihimaki, Post Doctoral Fellow in Geology @ Bryn Mawr,
who will lead us out of the social and back to nature...!(?)
into further awareness of the links between the social and the natural...?(!)


Mary Ellen McGinnity's picture



Our morning was very well-spent and an ideal format for all of us to experience inquiry learning. I found myself constantly relating the activities to my own situation, and envisioning how I could incorporate and/or adapt them to my grade level. It was quite revealing that we weren't really aware of our sense of place after being in class together for a week (ex. where are we on the campus, what is the shape of our building, etc.) I would suggest that this session should be at the beginning of the first week next summer. Sense of place should begin with where we are physically, and then move on to the historical, social, and biological perspectives.

The video related very clearly to our symposium on Friday. Teachers have a responsibility to stimulate, motivate, and engage their students. For that to happen, teachers must have that same sense of wonder that they wish to instill in their students.

Angela Bryant's picture


I really enjoyed todays lesson on watersheds. I liked going to the pond and measureing the water. I know my students would like to experience what we did today. The problem I would have is to have more support from staff to make somthing like what we did today happen.
Judith Lucas-Odom's picture


Today was very exciting! Catherine's explanation of the watershed was very hands-on! It is something that can be used in the classroom. I have taken students out in the grassy areas of my school and I think it is a good reality check for them to understand that there are consequences for the actions they take and that everything eventually affects the watershed! This was a good story!
Rosemary Krygowski's picture

Another Look at Watersheds

Today was another opportunity to experience learning through inquiry.I haven't done much monitoring of  the water near our school mostly because I don't have the equipment. I was amazed at how thought provoking just hypothesizing the temperature of the water could be. I do have thermometers and I do have metersticks and timers.I now have some new lessons that will include heat transfer, motion of water and measurement. 
Patricia Mundy's picture

Water Sheds

I enjoyed participating in the hands on activities about watersheds this morning. Placing myself in the environment I could observe the pond and watershed physically, visually and used prior knowledge. It was a perfect example of inquiry teaching partnered with traditional teaching.It is so important our students get out of the box ,(classroom).
J Parks's picture

Watershed Resources

The exploration of watersheds this morning was very informative. I'm looking forward to working these ideas and concepts into a yearlong service learning project.
Rita Stevens's picture


Being outside this morning was rewarding as well as an experience. It reminded me of years ago when I took a class at the Schuylkill Valley Envrionmental Nature Center. We spent a lot of outdoors time at the watersheds in the Roxborough area. I am going to check to see if the Cobbs Creek Environmental Center has any information about the watersheds in our area as well as any classes they offer. I think this would be an area that you can really get students into. The only obstacles would be obtaining permission to take the students on such a venture, especially since there would be walking involved. There is always the safety issue in Philadelphia.

Syreeta Bennett's picture

Teaching about watersheds

I really enjoyed this morning's presentation. It was nice to go outside and experience watersheds doing hands-on activities. I will definitely try some of the lessons we did today. I'm also going to contact Awbury because they offer lessons on water and watersheds

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