Session 5.1 - Introduction to enquiry-based learning
"'You can't teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it."
Seymour Papert, MIT
1 Review of follow-up activities from last session
- Did you find that the use of the assessment inventory helped you to reflect on how you have made use of AfL in your classroom? How?
- What techniques did you try out to maintain an effective pace in your lesson? Did you find that your lesson was still over or under-running? Why was that?
- How did your students respond to the sequencing activity on the computers (if you have tried it out)? Were there any difficulties in using it? How would you prepare better the next time?
- Were there any challenges in preparing your portfolio?
2 A Taste of Enquiry-Based Learning
In this unit we will explore a way of teaching and learning that encourages students to take the initiative to pose questions and explore their curiosity about the world around them, through a process of enquiry.
Whole class dialogue (5 min): Positives, Minuses, Interesting. In this Positives, Minuses, Interesting (PMI)(a) activity there are no correct answers. Doing a PMI activity involves considering the positive, negative and interesting points related to a specific scenario. It was originally developed by Edward de Bono, father of the “thinking skills” movement. It encourages learners to look at both sides of a situation and also to be creative when considering the interesting possibilities.
Consider the following imaginary scenario: Plants can now walk in our world!
(It is important to realise that plants do not need to move because they make their own food by photosynthesis – animals have to move in order to forage for food.)
What would be some positives, minuses or interesting points you can think of, if this scenario was actually true?
Whole class dialogue (10 min) on enquiry-based learning. You may have heard of “enquiry-based learning” (EBL) being practised in other subjects (e.g. geography) or in higher grades through farming or industry projects. For instance, you may have heard of teachers bringing their students outside the classroom to learn about commercial and subsistence farming. The quotes below show two Zambian teacher's thoughts about enquiry-based learning; read the text, then offer your own understanding of EBL as a group.
3 What is Enquiry-Based Learning?
Observing, thinking, reflecting (20 min) Video and discussion. Watch the following six clips showing three different teachers trying to introduce some form of enquiry in the classroom. Think about these questions as you are watching and discuss them when you have finished watching all of the clips:
- Did the three different teachers introduce the lesson in a way that is similar or different from a usual maths or science lesson in your classroom? How?
- Do you think that such a way of ‘setting up’ the lesson can engage the students productively over time? Why? Do you think your own students will enjoy this kind of lesson?
- What questions did the teachers pose to arouse the curiosity and interest of the students?
- What kinds of classroom organisation or resource are needed to support this way of teaching?
- What new skills do you think your students might need to enable them to work in this way?
Try to focus on these specific questions above rather than on the teaching style of the teacher (e.g. the classroom management/mannerism)!
Teacher 1/Clip 1: An activity on 3D shapes.
Teacher 2/Clips 2 - 5: The Power of 2: What would you choose?
These four clips show Pindi introducing a problem involving exponentials and then taking the students to the school hall to draw the graph. Why do you think they went to the school hall?
Teacher 3/Clip 6: How can we learn mathematics through using used plastic bottles for building a house?
Additional video clips of ways to introduce EBL lessons
The previous video-watching activity could be run as a group activity rather than a whole class one, with groups watching different videos and reporting back their thoughts on them along with an outline of their contents. These additional clips could then be used to augment the previous clips. The clips may also be useful during private reflection after the session to give additional insights into how to start off an enquiry, with participants bearing the questions in mind.
Teacher 4/Clips 7 and 8
These clips show a Zambian teacher introducing the topic of air with a view to doing various enquiry-based learning activities with the students. In the clips she is arousing their curiosity by asking, 'Why do trees shake?'
Later on, she does the following demonstration:
There are a number of different enquiry questions that could be asked using the 'jar over a lit candle' demonstration as a starting point. Have a think about what some of these might be.
4 Benefits of Enquiry-Based Learning
Observing, thinking, reflecting (10 min) on benefits of EBL. Read the following summary texts on the benefits of EBL and think about whether you are convinced by the claims of the authors? Make notes or annotations on the page if you have a paper copy and want to do so.
5 Planning an outdoor activity
- large white piece of paper
- different coloured markers/pens
Imagine that you are very interested in bringing your students outside the classroom to learn certain maths or science concepts using an authentic ‘real-life’ approach. Up to now, the ideas have just been ‘lingering’ in your mind. You are curious to know of the possibilities and what other participants think about it! Let’s call this learning experience a “field trip” or “project day”.
Nominate a leader in your group who will read out the instructions and facilitate the group work by writing down the ideas on the sheet of white paper.
5.1 Identify Possible Objectives
Take a coloured marker/pen and write "Objectives of Field Trip" in the centre of the paper. Now circle it, as shown in the illustration below. Brainstorm on one or two maths and science topics that you would like to focus on and write within the circle. Write down as well what are the possible lesson objectives of the field trip – to help all of you to focus on generating more ideas later.
5.2 Identify Possible Sites of Learning
Use a different colour marker/pen and draw a bigger circle around the previous circle. Write down “Where to go?” at the top of the circle. Brainstorm and write down within the bigger circle, where are the possible sites you could bring your students to learn about the maths/science concepts outside the classroom. You may need to consider the practical issues of whether the site is safe for the students and whether it is easy to bring a class of students to that particular venue. (You can choose the school grounds if you want or it may in fact take place just within your classroom!) Also, consider whether the sites will be able to help students learn the objectives of your lessons.
5.3 Advancing Ideas of Possible Activities
Draw a rectangle around the previous shapes (outside the outer circle) using a different coloured marker/pen. As shown in the illustration, brainstorm and write down within the rectangle, what can we do at the various sites? Again, consider the safety and convenience issues, and whether the activities can actually serve to help students achieve the learning objectives (or whether the classroom will be actually be much better!)
5.4 Mapping and Presentation of Possible Ideas
Try to follow the different paths of ideas by connecting the ideas in different logical ways:
On our field trip which I intend to help the students to learn ___________ (topic and objective of field trip?), we could bring the students to ___________ (where to go?) where we can ______________ (do what?).
In your group, try to come up with as many different ideas as possible and decide on what are the ideas that you feel would be most workable/not so workable. State your reasons for saying so. Identify some resources that you will need to prepare for the field trip.
Present your outcomes to the rest of the participants. It will be helpful to be as specific as possible so for instance, “a lesson on a science topic on plants in the school field outside the classroom for students to explore the plants there” will be much too vague!
6 ICT practice: Making use of ICT in Enquiry-Based Learning
Same-task group work (20 min) on making use of ICT in EBL. Go to the ‘Balancing Act’ simulation by following the link below. Play with the simulation for a few minutes and think about how you might use it in an EBL lesson. Can you come up with one or two enquiry questions that could be investigated using the simulation? Discuss with your colleagues how students would record their answers to these questions.
If time permits, think about reviewing the two gold star rated resources (Teaching Ideas) that accompany the simulation to see how they could be good exemplars for your EBL lesson.
These are some possible extension activities you can choose to do in your own time:
1. Study other simulations that have been developed in the web page:
2. Come up with some headings under which to review the simulations and resources that this website pages could offer for an EBL lesson. For instance, you could assess the simulations and resources in terms of:
- the level of enquiry they promote
- ways of extending/differentiating the level of enquiry
- how user friendly is it for yourself and students
- how engaging will it be for the students
- the relevance to your teaching subjects or curriculum in general
7 Connecting with overarching goals of the programme
Open space (10 min). It's now time for the "open space", that gives you an opportunity to discuss issues that have arisen, and to relate those to the broader context of the programme. Do not just gloss over this section, but make time to raise issues, and probe the progress that you are making. You could use this space to:
- Remind yourselves of the of the Most Significant Change Technique, and e.g. collect more of your stories.
- Discuss your assessment portfolios: Is there anything that you are unsure about? Is it going well? What could be done better?
- Check on the work with the classroom assistants: Is this going well? Are there any tensions? Any observations or tips you can share?
- Reviewing individual ICT practise (such as typing practise).
- If you are preparing a presentation for other teachers, you could work on the presentation (about what you have been learning, stories emerging from MSC).
- Remind those who are doing audio diaries, to upload them.
- You could discuss any other issues that have arisen.
You will find notes and summaries of various techniques and concepts on our reference page, and you might want to refer to those for clarification during this activity if needed.
8 Follow-up activities
Part 1: PORTFOLIO. Continue collecting evidence for your OER4Schools portfolio by keeping track of your planning and implementation of an enquiry project, and reflecting on what you are learning as you go through the unit. Collect paper/electronic documents to show the whole process, beginning in this workshop session and throughout Unit 5. Please include copies (e.g. photographs/photocopies) of student work throughout the stages they go through (not just finished outcomes). Your reflections can be oral using the dictaphone, you don't need to write them out, but please remember to include challenges you faced as well as benefits of new approaches you trialled.
As we are nearing the end of the year’s programme, we would also like to return to the 'most significant change' technique and ask you to use your portfolio to create a story illustrating the biggest change you feel you have made in your thinking and practice over the year.
Part 2: Start planning for an enquiry-based ‘project day’ or ‘field trip’ for your own classroom and share your ideas in the next session. The questions (similar to the small group activity just now) below should be a useful starting point for your planning. Remember that the project or field trip should allow the students to explore an enquiry idea in some depth (and not just answer some closed and surface questions).
- What is a suitable topic for the grade(s) of your students?
- What are suitable lesson objectives/success criteria?
- Where would be a suitable venue for the event?
- What kind of overall enquiry question or task could you pose? Can you phrase some further sample questions that ask learners what they know/think about some aspects of your chosen topic? What might they then like to know/find out? (Remember what ‘open-ended’ and ‘deep’ questions are (see Unit 2 on questioning and table below).
As your planning progresses, consider how you think your enquiry project might be extended to do this.
- Can you make use of the OpenOffice spreadsheet to create a database on the possible resources that you require for such an event?
- Consider also what are some administrative requirements you need to attend to to organise such an event (e.g. Do you need permission from an authority/parents? Do you need to invite a specialist speaker to talk about the topic?)
Part 3: Complete the ICT tutorials. Consider and be ready to share in the next session how the OpenOffice spreadsheet and/or GeoGebra can be a useful tool for enquiry-based lessons.
9 Additional reading for part 2 of the follow-up activities
Guiding questions to help you plan an enquiry task
|‘Open-ended’ Questions||‘Deep’ Questions|
| Questions have many answers.
What could be the consequences of water contamination? How does a balanced diet help us? How could we use flowers of plants? Suggest ways to prevent spread of malaria in your community?
| Questions elicit relations between ideas and extended ideas.
What would happen if only inorganic fertilizers are used for growing plants? What connections do you see between climate of a region and its vegetation? Why is the water in the nearby pond not safe for drinking?
These questions will according to Dr Benjamin Bloom be ‘higher-level’ thinking questions. The levels (“taxonomy”) of questions that Bloom has developed form a framework used by many teachers across the world to develop questions that help students progress from concrete to abstract thinking. You may remember it was introduced in the VVOB handout “Questioning the questions” as part of the homework for Session 4.1. The taxonomy classifies learning into six progressive levels of complexity and abstraction:
- Knowledge – students should: describe; identify; recall.
- Comprehension – students should: translate; review; report; restate.
- Application – students should: interpret; predict; show how; solve; try in a new context.
- Analysis – students should: explain; infer; analyse; question; test; criticise.
- Evaluation – students should: assess; compare and contrast; appraise; argue; select.
- Creation – students should: design; create; arrange; organise; construct.
On this scale, knowledge is the lowest-order thinking skill and creation is the highest. Enquiry-based learning aims to help students learn to analyse, evaluate and create.
We thank YouthLearn Initiative at Education Development Center (http://www.youthlearn.org/learning/planning/lesson-planning/how-inquiry/how-inquiry inquiry) and Futurelab (http://www.enquiringminds.org.uk/terms_of_use/) for kindly allowing us to use the material from their website. We also thank Professor Katja Maaß for permission to use the Primas video on the impact of inquiry-based learning on students and teachers.