Sitting in neat little rows, dutifully copying the teacher's notes from the board is the vision many parents may have of education. But that's not what you find when you walk the halls of SIS where we engage children through inquiry based learning. I am often asked by parents, if students are learning as much as they would in a conventional classroom where the teacher is the centre of attention and is lecturing students. Well, I encourage parents to think back to their school days and the question they were asked daily by their parents, "What did you learn in school today?" Undoubtedly the answer was the same that I gave my mum, "Nothing!"
I only have to use my own children as a reference to see that inquiry based learning inspires curiosity and a love of learning. Rarely, do my children claim to have learned "nothing" in an entire school day. Most of the time, they are excited to share the projects they are tackling in school. So, what is it about inquiry based learning that encourages children to share their day? By design, inquiry based learning is intended to spark curiosity, motivate and engage while very importantly, at the same time, teach students a variety of skills they will need in the workplace.
Inquiry based learning is broken down into four different types of inquiries; free, open, structured and guided. Each different type of inquiry allows students to learn or improve upon skills that is context specific. Students learn how to analyze a problem or a question, think about the resources they will need to solve the problem, the type of research they will have to do and in the end come up with a solution which can take on various forms. Students work in both groups and alone, learning and practicing valuable approaches to learning (ATL's). Sounds a bit like the work place doesn't it? And that is what makes inquiry based learning so effective and beneficial. Students are actively engaged in their learning, not passively copying notes, but instead learning and practicing skills that they will need as they advance in school and eventually enter the workplace.
Does that mean that the fundamentals of reading, writing and math are not being supported? Absolutely not! These necessary skills are often embedded and therefore developed out of necessity at a deeper and more complex level because children are not just memorizing formulas, math tables or vocabulary words but instead learning and applying skills learned during problems that are posed.
The SIS First Lego League Team, coached by Grade 5 teacher Kathy Diaz, uses inquiry based learning to teach young students many skills across disciplines. First Lego League has a project component in addition to robot design and competition. Watch the video below of our students explaining their projects and think about all the skills that these Grade 5 students learned and used to create their project. Both the SIS Rock'N Robots and the SIS Hydro-Bots won awards at the regional tournament in Guangzhou in early November. The Rock'N Robots received the Presentation award while the Hydro-Bots received the Teamwork award.
After watching the video on SIS Facebook or SIS website, ask yourself how students could eagerly and passionately tackle this project if they were sitting in a neat little row, passively listening to the teacher standing at the front of the room.