In essence, there are two ways to learn. The first is to be taught. The second is to discover for yourself. Inquiry based learning is the second.
What’s the difference?
In the most informal sense, inquiry based learning can happen anywhere at any time. A child tosses a pebble in the water and watches it sink. He wonders, “what will happen if I toss in a twig?” It floats. The child has discovered that some things are more buoyant than others. He may pursue his discovery with more experiments (what about a pine cone? what about a very small rock?), with research (let me find out why this happened by checking Google), or with nothing at all.
In more formal settings, such as museums or zoos, inquiry based learning is the difference between a recipe-based activity and an experiment-based activity.
For example, you want a child to know that mixing vinegar and baking soda will cause a huge fizzy reaction. You could simply say “add one quarter cup of vinegar to two tablespoons of baking soda. Stand back and watch the fun!”
But if you prefer inquiry based education, you’d set out vinegar, baking soda, flour, oil, water, and a variety of other “kitchen chemistry” equipment — along with a pile of bowls, spoons, and paper towels. You’d say “See what happens when you mix these things!” Then YOU’D stand back.
Which is better – inquiry-based or recipe-based? As with all types of education, it depends upon the situation
For more about inquiry based learning, explore:
Thirteen.org is a website created by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. There, you’ll find information about inquiry-based learning in the classroom and beyond, including a full explanation of the place of inquiry-based education in the formal academic setting.
The Miami Museum of Science offers a website about constructivism, a more academic term for inquiry-based learning. Get a fuller understanding of how to help learners construct an understanding of the natural world by getting hands-on and minds-on.
For inquiry-based activity ideas, check out:
The Exploratorium is a hands-on museum in San Francisco – but its website is much more. Start here for a variety of inquiry-based try-its, and then explore the site to find many more resources and ideas for families and teachers interested in inquiry-based learning.
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