Inquiry Based Learning: A Practical Introduction for Teachers and Education Workers

Teachers are often interested in inquiry based learning as they have heard that it is a great way to engage their students, and create intrinsic learning opportunities.

However, while many teachers know it’s an important strategy, they have had little exposure to it. Because of this, I am often asked what Inquiry Based Learning, and Differentiated Project Based Tasks look like.

Much like students need to see strong exemplars before they can be successful, so too much teachers be exposed to previously-successful assignments and lessons.

It is for that reason that I put together this task based on the Ontario HFA4U and HFA4C curriculum.

What is Inquiry Based Learning?

It’s important to ensure that we are starting from the same foundational understanding of Inquiry Based Learning.

Teachers will present a theme / concept and students will develop questions that help lead and guide their learning through the education process.

My Understanding of Inquiry Based Learning.

Inquiry Based Learning is ideal for students who are:

  • Engaged with their materials
  • Able to pose their own questions
  • Self-directed researchers
  • Intrinsic learners

Two Forms of Inquiry Based Learning

There are two main forms of Inquiry Based Learning. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. A blended model can be used to combine the two forms.

Teacher Lead

Teacher Lead IBL is when the teacher offers a number of inquiry questions from which their students can select.

Student Directed

Student Directed IBL presents students with a theme, and challenges them to create the specific inquiry question that will guide their learning.

Focusing your Lessons

Once you have selected what form of IBL you would like to engage with, you can begin focusing your approach.

First, you will need to consider a framework under which your students will work.

Choosing an area of focus

One key area of focus is the the United Nations SDG (Sustainable Development Goals). They directly connect with the Global Competencies really well.

For example, you may wish to structure your class around Goal 2: Zero Hunger.

Take a look at the Goal 2 targets. Both you and students can create some inquiry questions that will allow them to focus on solving the problems.

Selecting your Questions

Some sample questions could be:
How can food best be distributed to those in need within Toronto?
What political factors most impact the inability to access food?
How are educational barriers negatively impacting health / nutrition?

If you wish to use a blended model, you can inform students that they can make up their own guiding questions that are in line with the SDGs.

Common Questions

How do I ensure that students choose a good question, and how do I guide that?

Since you’ve begun by providing students with some strong exemplar questions, they will have a foundation from which to build.

In our example, so long as their questions are in line with solving SDG2 they’ll be good questions, because these are concepts and ideas that are being dealt with and considered both inside and outside of the classroom.

What sort of expectations should I have for my students’ research?

All forms of research as great. Students will need to choose something that suits their specific inquiry-based goals.

If students have selected to focus on city-specific issues, they may want to interview corporations, or local grocery stores and markets. If they have selected to look at larger issues, they may need to focus on more general statistics, and research journals.

How will students analyze their data?

Once again, that’s where we as teachers come in. We must ensure that we are giving the students a framework.  Have them show how their learning will impact and improve things for the youth, the middle aged, the elderly.  By taking their question and framing around all life cycles you hit a number of strong areas for learning.

How do they demonstrate their learning and findings? What does it look like?

You can start by providing your students with graphic organizers that will focus both their research and their analysis. This can directly focus their learning to meet the requirements of your specific curriculum.

The best way to have them demonstrate their finds, of course, is through a Differentiated Project-Based Task.

Differentiated Project-Based Tasks

Giving students choice in what they choose to engage with through Inquiry Based Learning is the first step of engaging students on their own terms. Allowing them a Differentiated Project-Based Task to demonstrate their learning is the second key aspect.

By allowing your students to choose how they wish to present their learning, you will allow them to embrace their assessment opportunity to their fullest.

Project-Based Ideas

Below you will find a number of different exemplars for project based tasks. Remember, that you must include a great number of options to allow differentiated choice.

As teachers we don’t need to focus on the format students use to express their learning. Instead, we just need to focus on the learning they express.

Website / Digital Tool

You will be creating a highlight detailed website, or digital tool.  

  • A website focusing on 2.1 that helps “the poor and people in vulnerable situations” gain access to “safe and nutritious food all year round.”
  • A game focusing on 2.2 that helps educate “adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older persons” how to best address their nutritional needs.

Product Pitch

You will create a product pitch, including posters, and infographics, focusing on an idea you have that has practical, real world, use that can aid the UNSDG2, Zero Hunger.  

  • A product that focuses on 2.3, allowing “indigenous peoples” access to “financial services” that will help “double [their] incomes [through] food production.”
  • A product focusing on 2.4 that will “strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change [and] improve … soil quality” in northern Canadian regions.

Research Essay

You will be writing a formal essay that provides a deep and insightful look into one of the UNSDG2 targets.  It will offer practical advice for how to improve quality of life in relation to your selected target.

  • An essay exploring 2.5 that focuses on the importance of “maintaining the genetic diversity of seeds”, using the Millennium Seed Bank as a model for success.
  • An essay exploring 2.A that focuses on the best ways to create “enhanced international cooperation … to enhance agricultural productive capacity.”  The importance of these cooperative undertakings should be fully explored.

Media Package

You will be creating a media package, including both auditory and visual explorations of your specific topic.  You may choose to create short films, documentaries, podcasts, or other multi-modal creations as part of your package.

  • A documentary focusing on 2.B that explores how to best “correct and prevent trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets” highlighting the importance of “the mandate of the Doha Development Round.”
  • A podcast and poster that focus on 2.C exploring how “timely access to market information,… help[s] limit extreme food price volatility.”

The Exemplar Assignment

This is an example of an Inquiry Based Learning Differentiated Project-Based Task.

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