Throughout this class I have learned that I use many aspects of inquiry based learning in my classroom on a daily basis. I believe inquiry comes naturally in a science classroom. One of the things I definitely need to work on is the open ended questioning that guide student learning. Too often I find myself telling my students what I want them to learn instead of guiding them there. The readings and projects from the class have reaffirmed the amount of work that needs to go in to a successful inquiry based classroom. I think the best way to tackle this hurdle is one step at a time. Don’t incorporate every aspect at once. Do it slowly and making it meaningful for both you and your students. Each year you can build upon the aspects you’ve already incorporated. Don’t worry, it will be a never ending process. You will always find something to add or change or make better because we’re teachers and we love what we do!
My thoughts of the inquiry based classroom haven’t changed much over the past six weeks. I had a grasp of what the inquiry based classroom was and how it could look different in each teacher’s classroom. I teach 7th grade science and it is not hard to incorporate different types and levels of inquiry. What has changed over the last six weeks is my knowledge of the different tools that can be used to incorporate inquiry into my classroom. I have learned so much from each week’s disscussions and the descriptions of what my fellow teacher’s do in their classrooms. I have learned that there is no one tool when it comes to inquiry. Different tools, especially Web 2.0 tools, can be used in many different ways and at different levels in the classroom. The importance is to make sure that you are meeting the learning objective and that your students are engaged in the process. There is no one right way to incorporate inquiry into the classroom, but that also means there are a lot of wrong ways. I need to remember that when I am planning an activity or incorporating technology that I am keeping the open format for students to learn and make their own connections and learning in a way so that they can apply their new knowledge. Inquiry takes a lot of thought and trial and error. No matter how much I learn, my students are different each year and it feels new again. I do love that challenge!
This week I spent a lot of time thinking about how to integrate different technology into an inquiry based classroom. If used correctly, Web 2.0 tools can enhance and increase the amount of inquiry taking place in a classroom. The teacher must put careful thought into the learning outcome and which tool would help accomplish this goal. Students enjoy using the technology to showcase their learning and often put more thought into a project that they created than a teacher led activity.
Technology can also distract from the lesson objective if you are not careful. The technology tool must not be the entire focus of the lesson but should be used to enhance or explain the content of the lesson. The technology is most effective when it is utilized by the students to explain their own learning. New technology is emerging every day and learning how to use these tools through content exploration gives our students valuable skills for their futures.
This week’s videos and examples of inquiry learning brought up the question, “Can you have different levels of inquiry throughout the same learning experience?” It made me think of the differentiation that goes on in my classroom on a daily basis. As I plan out my lessons each week I know that classroom discussion or activities may change depending upon student needs. I think that the type or level of inquiry can change during the learning experience. A lesson may start as a completely student-directed activity but if we see the students are struggling it may become a student-teacher shared activity. In the same way, a lesson could start out as a teacher-directed activity but could quickly change into a student-teacher shared activity if the students have prior knowledge on the concept and are engaged in questioning and discussion. Inquiry has been described as a fluid process that does not look the same in every situation or classroom. I now believe that this also means it can be fluid within a single lesson. If the student is the center of an inquiry based classroom then teachers must constantly observe their needs throughout a lesson and adjust appropriately.
What is inquiry based learning? I’ve always thought of it as a hands-on type of learning environment where the students are interacting with the content in order to learn. I have not received any formal training or staff development on inquiry learning so I wondered how many of my colleagues have an understanding of this method of learning. I randomly asked 10 teachers at my school this same question. I received a variety of answers including “hands-on learning”, “student-centered”, “asking questions and finding answers”, and “I don’t know”.
After spending the last week reading about inquiry learning I realized that it was the main focus of my classroom last year. I used the flipped model in my middle school science class last year. I wanted to decrease the amount of classroom time where I was center stage. I started creating videos where I quickly explained the key concepts and then students came to class and interacting with that information in different ways. Students spent class time planning and implementing lab investigations, researching and creating presentations, and using different technology tools to enhance their learning experience. I was able to interact with my students in small groups and in many cases one on one almost daily. I also learned about the importance of gauging student learning and finding new ways to meet the needs of my students.
I hope to gain a better understanding of the differences between hands-on learning and inquiry learning and ways to better plan and implement inquiry activities in my classroom throughout this course.