Learning by doing: An inquiry into inquiry

IB Workshop Leader Training Day #3

We spend the morning exploring concept driven curriculum, an area I have discussed before on this blog. I’ve summarised Lynn Erickson’s ideas and I’ve shared examples of concept driven learning in the classroom.

Today we sum up our understandings, distilling the essence via a Frayer’s model, which has us creating a definition of a concept, describing the characteristics, listing out examples and non-examples.

The rest of the day is devoted to a concept driven inquiry of our choice, into almost any aspect of Thai culture, via personal exploration of  the Chiang Mai area and communication with local people. It’s not a fact-finding mission, the focus is to be on the process. We spend some time in our groups deciding where to go, what to explore, what conceptual lens to use, which inquiry model will suit our purpose and how we will go about our inquiry… and then we’re off on foot, bicycle or bus.

The presentations the next day are inspiring. You can see more examples here and here.

Each group shares their discoveries and their challenges. Participants have realised that inquiry is not a linear process, and rarely even a cyclical one. The process moves back and forth between asking, investigating, reflecting, connecting, constructing meaning … Some groups find they are even shifting between more than one ‘model’.  This is true inquiry. It has no map, no set pattern and it can be messy. Some of the high school teachers in particular, less familiar with this kind of learning, admit to feeling a degree of discomfort. But it’s the kind of positive tension that leads to authentic learning.

People have learned a great deal today… not just about Thai culture, but about inquiry, about concept driven learning, about working in groups with other strong, passionate people, about ourselves as learners and about the process of learning itself.

Craig is wondering how he can adapt this process for his Grade 4 class. I’m wondering how to recreate it back at my school for the teachers! Perhaps gaining a deep understanding of inquiry learning involves experiencing  it yourself…

20 thoughts on “Learning by doing: An inquiry into inquiry

  1. HI Edna. I just stumbled onto this through my current, fascinating inquiry into the twittersphere. More on that later. You have shared THE most potent form of professional learning available for helping teachers understand the nature of inquiry as a process. I have had some very powerful experiences with groups of teachers where we have taken the ‘big idea’ and spent time as adult learners immersing ourselves in an investigation as learners prior to planning for students. It’s a rare treat… but worth devoting a pupil-free day to experience. We’ve explored the diversity of Melbourne for a day, danced in the CERES African village, talked to the Elephant keepers at the zoo….all with the view to immersing ourselves both in the big idea AND the process of inquiry. Works a treat every time. Sounds like you’ve had a great workshop.


    1. Hi Kath. So glad your inquiry into Twitter brought you to the live #pypchat today! Email me if you want tips for coping with the speed 🙂
      I loved the IB workshop leader training, as you may have noticed in the last 3 posts, in particular the inquiry day described above.The post-inquiry reflections were so revealing. Thanks for sharing some examples, I definitely plan to do it with teachers at my school. Wish that it could include the high school teachers too…. They seem to think in such a different way about learning, not always by choice, of course.


  2. I have used the experiential inquiry model with my staff in 3 schools now and each time the outcomes have been different but so so rewarding. The power though comes from the de briefing especially when the conceptual lens for the inquiries change. On each occasion it has been a turning point in teachers understanding authentic inquiry but as a side bonus it does so much for collaboration, team building and general morale. Learnig really can be fun!


    1. Hi Helen

      Interesting that the outcome is always different. That’s why we hope that even with collaborative planning, the inquiry will look different in each class… If the teacher is letting go somewhat and allowing the inquiry to take its course. What kinds of inquiries have you had the teachers do?


  3. Twittersphere, still figuring it out too! I am really enjoying the enthusiasm to learning about the importance of ‘big ideas’ and the process of inquiry. It is such a powerful way to engage kids, and when they do connect, as they construct their own knowledge and understanding, you can see their sparkle of learning. As a WSL, I agree, this is also transferred to adult learning. I continue to love facilitating IB PYP workshops as adults, including myself, inquire, construct and collaborate. As an experienced and ‘mature’ teacher, I still get inspired with the teaching and learning for this every changing world. I could go on, but enough for now. Keep the posts going.


    1. Thanks, Heather. I’m a ‘mature’ teacher too (very!) and I agree that this approach keeps us motivated and excited about learning. I feel sorry for mature teachers who have been doing the same things year after year and are even bored by their own teaching! (have heard people admit to this!)


  4. Thank you kindly. I love the idea of using the inquiry model as suggested. As an autonomous lifelong learner I have so much to explore and learn. This morning I was learning more about my ipad. I am beginning to tweet and oh how sweet it is to be in the mix of great “ah ha” moments. “May God bless you abundantly, richly, and wisely.”
    Mary Berna Jones


    1. Thanks, Mary. I like your description of how sweet it is to be in the middle of a great aha moment’ . If teachers have a love of learning, we can readily pass this on to the learners!


  5. We’re doing something similar in our 7th grade LA/Literature class, but it’s individualized. My Twitter pal, @gallit_zvi explained it well here: http://gallit.weebly.com/2/post/2012/06/what-is-genius-hour.html and another, @mrsdkrebs, created a wiki for Genius Hour, as we call it: http://geniushour.wikispaces.com/ . I’ve blogged about the triumphs and tribulations of mine from the beginning, here: http://geniushour.blogspot.com/ . I think almost any grade can incorporate this type of learning… If the teacher is willing to let go of some control! Thanks for this blogpost to inspire more teachers to let the kids own their learning! @JoyKirr


  6. Learning is not linear – well, it sort of is (in parts) but there are so many tangents (twists and turns) that the overall or big picture perspective is messy. I think what scares people off are primarily the risks of dead-ends (eg loss of motivation, purpose and info) and getting lost – those who like inquiry don’t mind, even embrace such risks! So, in telling others about inquiry, I think it worthwhile to acknowledge such risks and learn to embrace them.

    Cheers again Edna for a wonderful post. 🙂


    1. Hi Malyn!

      To me, it’s that surprise element, the twists and turns, the risks and failures, that make the learning exciting and real… And MORE motivating, not less so…



  7. This sounds like an interesting way to engage staff into thinking about the messiness of inquiry. As you said, ” inquiry is messy.” That is why my students often find inquiry frustrating. I always tell them when you are frustrated you are on the verge of learning something new as you sort out and reflect on why you are frustrated. Although they sometimes roll their eyes at me when I say that, it motivates them to continue and push forward to create new meaning and new learning.

    I also teach this unit in my grade 4 class and I am now starting to think how I could adjust what you have done here to my classroom. You have also inspired me to inquire into the different rituals, traditions and beliefs I encounter on my journeys and travel this summer. If I am an active inquire won’t it then enable me to facilitate inquiry better?


    1. Hi Rosemary

      I’m convinced that teachers who are active inquirers can better facilitate inquiry in their classrooms. I like the way you explain the discomfort to your students… Being on the verge of learning something new. It means the learning is never boring….


  8. Hi Edna,
    Thank you so much for sharing this journey of inquiry. As I am still in school to become a teacher, it is so exciting to gather ideas like this one that make learning fun. I love the idea of having the teachers do it as well. This is a great way for students and teachers alike to open their minds to creativity and see where their questions can take them, to have an open way of thinking rather than the common structure. We watched a video for class this week by Sir Ken Robinson and one thing he said was, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” I think this applies to this inquiry method because if we are wrong, then we can just continue to ask questions and see where it leads us.


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