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Notes on Inquiry Institute 2009


This page is under construction.


Trajectory of Seminar/The Story


  • Inquiry is a search for and construction of meaning.
  • Meaning comes from building mental models or explanations that make sense of relationships between and amoung different components and the context in which they occur. Thus meaning is emergent, dynamic and contextual.  
  • As meaning is fundamentally contextual, collaboartion and social interactions is a key component.
  • Students make meaning when (from Bain, 2004, p.25) 1.) they confront an observation that conflicts with their current understandings/mental models, 2.) care enough to ask questions and inquire about the discrepancy and 3.) are able to handle the emotional upheaval that can sometimes accompany challenges to longstanding beliefs.
  • Cognitive Biology suggest that the human brain constructs meaning by moving through the following four modes: Observing, Reflecting, Theorizing and Acting. 
  • Are there age-dependent developmental steps to this process? (See W.G. Perry. 1970. Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the college years: A Scheme. New York: Hold, Rinehart and Winston.) Four levels of learning that students move through, then jump between and use at different times accordingly:
  1. received knowers
  2. subjective knowers
  3. procedural knowers
  4. constructed knowers

(Use this hyperlink to see a brief summary and links to Perry's Work)



  • Given these assumptions about students and the human brain, what are the implications for teaching?  What is the role of a teacher within this framework?




  • No teacher can magically dump information into the brain of a student.  Knowledge is constructed not receieved (Bain, 2004, p.24). Thus, learning must start in an individual and mature in a social environment.  Learning must start with what a student already knows and can be built up from there.
  • If, we are all different, this means a teacher cannot possible know every student's exact needs.   Every single learner comes from a different family background, culture and genetic ancestry.  What then is a teacher's role.  Perhaps to help a student become an independent, self-regulating learner?
  • Information is easy to access, constantly changing, often misleading and hard to judge.  Thus, teachers should help students learn how to make sense of information, what is relevant and what is not.  Again, teaching students to be indepenant learners and constructors of knowledge seems to be a reasonable approach.
  • Taken all together, it is not enough or perhaps even relevant to teach students content, but rather how to become independent, critical thinking, problem-solving, life-long learners within particular content areas.




Topic/Themes of the Day:

  • Starting where student/participants are.
    • knowing students
    • intersecting with students
    • place-based curriculum
    • community service-based curriculum
    • sustainability-science curriculum
  • Spiraling through important/key themes/skills
    • visit same and similar topics/questions/skills, but at varying levels of difficulty
    • visit same and similar topics/questions/skills, but from different perspectives (ie, in a lecture, a hands-on activity, a discussion or just with reflective questions like, how does what we just learned connect to other topics in this course? ... how does what we just learned connect to you? ... was this easy or hard for you to grasp?  ... was it meaningful to you, why or why not?



  • Creating a collaborative space to learn
    • interaction with others help define self, and define meaning for individuals as they compare them to other ideas from other individuals.


  • Backward Design - Goals, Assesement, Content and Structure


  • Meta-cognitive/self-awareness
    • meta-cognition is a reflective practice that helps one discern general patterns in ones own views and abilities.
      • these more general patterns should help one make connection between specific topics, questions or problems and aid in transfering skills and knowledge to solve new problems.




Presentations and Activities:

Paul Grobstein on "loopiness".  Key elements to include, loopiness of scienetific method, which parallels loopiness of brain comparing expectations to observations... a useful, perhaps essential process of learning.  Will be reinforced by my "biology of learning" that links scientific method to 4 parts of inquiry and hence effective learning.  Also will tie in with the educational theory of "spiral curriculum" of Jerome Bruner.


Alison Cook-Sather on multiple perseptives activity - something you learned (student perspective), then same situation from the perspective of a teacher, then what it means for teaching.  This will highlight spiral curriculum and metacognition as important tools in learning.





Notes on Spiral Curriculum and Bruner: 

Four key themes emerge out of the work around The Process of Education (1960: 11-16):(Bruner, J (1960) The Process of Education, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 97 + xxvi pages.)

The role of structure in learning and how it may be made central in teaching. The approach taken should be a practical one. 'The teaching and learning of structure, rather than simply the mastery of facts and techniques, is at the center of the classic problem of transfer... If earlier learning is to render later learning easier, it must do so by providing a general picture in terms of which the relations between things encountered earlier and later are made as clear as possible' (ibid.: 12).

Readiness for learning. Here the argument is that schools have wasted a great deal of people's time by postponing the teaching of important areas because they are deemed 'too difficult'. 

We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development. (ibid.: 33)

This notion underpins the idea of the spiral curriculum - 'A curriculum as it develops should revisit this basic ideas repeatedly, building upon them until the student has grasped the full formal apparatus that goes with them' (ibid.: 13).




Notes on Backward Design:

Understanding by Design by Wiggins and MacTighe




Notes on Meta-cognition:

Definition and theory of Meta-cognition by Julie Halter Graduate Student, SDSU Department of Educational Technology



Notes on Making Space:

Making Space for Learning: A review of Bain's "What the best college teachers do"


Emergent and Reggio Emilia Pedagogy:

Reggio Emilia

Emergent Curriculum




Teaching as Turning versus Giving Sight:

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“Education is not what the professions of certain men assert it to be. They presumably assert that they put into the soul knowledge that isn’t in it, as though they were putting sight into blind eyes”

“But the present argument, on the other hand,… indicates that this power is in the soul of each, and that the instrument with which each learns – just as an eye is not able to turn toward the light from the dark without the whole body – must be turned around… “

“There would, therefore,…. be an art of this turning around, concerned with the way in which this power can most easily and efficiently be turned around, not an art of producing sight in it. Rather, this art takes as given that sight is there, but not rightly turned nor looking at what it ought to look at….”

-Plato, The Republic



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