Session 5.2 - Starting the enquiry-based learning process
"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
Review of homework: The project day or field trip
- What is a suitable topic and for which level of students?
- What is a suitable lesson objective/success criteria?
- Where would be a suitable venue for the event?
- What kind of questions could you pose? Can you phrase some sample questions that ask learners what they know/think about some aspects of your chosen topic? What might they like to know/find out?
Review of homework: Use of ICT in Enquiry-Based Learning (EBL)
Whole group discussion (10 min) on ICT use in EBL. Discuss how the use of OpenOffice spreadsheet and/or Geogebra can be a useful tool for teachers to make use of EBL. You may like to refer to the resource databases you have created for homework to suggest your insights.
Watch this clip of Abel, a Maths teacher in Zambia, demonstrating the relationship between area and perimeter. Think about how GeoGebra can be useful for this lesson.
Now watch how Abel talked about why he thought the use of Geogebra would be helpful for his lesson. Was his view similar or different to yours? Do you think your students can make use of Geogebra for this kind of enquiry lesson?
2 Overview of Enquiry-Based Learning (EBL)
Observing, thinking, reflecting (10 min): Reading about EBL. The essence of EBL is asking good investigative questions and that the students participate in the planning, researching and presentation of responding to these questions through projects and activities. It may be the case that the field trip activity you have thought about earlier can be a catalyst event for helping students to think about good enquiry questions!
Teachers can take many approaches to crafting an enquiry-based lesson, but Dr. Cornelia Brunner of the Center for Children and Technology (http://cct.edc.org/) breaks it into four main parts: Posing Real Questions, Finding Relevant Resources, Interpreting Information and Reporting Findings.
Same-task group work (10 min): discussion in small groups. Get into your previous group of 3-4 teachers again (as in last week’s ‘Planning an outdoor’ activity). Look through the questions in the diagram above in each of the four parts of the enquiry process. Think about how useful they are for the field trip you are planning to organise.
Discuss these questions:
- What questions will you select to use during the field trip? Did you use some of them already in your homework planning task?
- How will you structure the field trip such that students can go through the four main steps of enquiry learning?
- You will realise that for the students to complete the whole process of enquiry, it cannot easily happen within a single lesson! (Although you can do a mini-enquiry in one lesson.) How does this challenge your current thinking and practice of teaching?
3 Posing Real and Productive Questions
In this section, we introduce the idea that it is important students know what a good enquiry question is and are willing to pose them. We suggest that it is very important for the teachers in the first stage of an enquiry-based lesson to help students to pose real questions and productive questions i.e. questions that are worth answering. Ultimately, these will be questions that when answered will move the student's learning forward and deepen their understanding.
Whole class brainstorm (5 min) on asking questions. Look at the following image and come up with as many enquiry type questions as you can relating to it. (Hint - think about the variables.) Record the questions on the blackboard/on a large piece of paper/on ether pad for use later:
- questions that students are curious and very interested to answer or particularly interested to pose (rather than just pursuing what the teachers want them to answer).
- questions that generally do not lead to simple yes/no answers (or just one possible answer). Instead, they are open-ended in nature to stimulate discussion and invite further investigation.
- questions that must ultimately be answerable through enquiry. Questions like "What colour is God?" or "Can I become a national leader?" are valid questions, but they are partially belief-based and not normally subject to the scientific methods that are at the root of enquiry-based learning in the current context. Similarly, questions that are highly personal (that are based on opinion), typically do not lend themselves to an enquiry for science and maths topics. (It is possible in other subjects and require other techniques of enquiry).
Some possible real questions coming from students may be: Why is the colour of the sky blue?, Why is the colour of the sea different at different points of the day in different places?, How do I actually see colours around us? How many soccer balls can fit in our classroom? A sample design task they might engage with is “Design a new school on the same site as yours and for the same number of students as your school.”
Productive questions can be used by the teacher to help students think about a problem in a desired direction. These types of questions are open enough to give opportunities for students to consider new ways of thinking. They usually involve questions like:
- What differences and similarities do you see between these objects (or situations)?
- Why do you think these results are different from the other experiment?
- In your opinion, what would happen if...?
- How do you think you could go about...?
- How might you explain...?
- How can we be sure...?
- How many...?
- What is the temperature...?
The “In your opinion...?” and “What/why do you think...?” are very important here as they do not ask the student for the right answer, rather they ask what the student is thinking. In this way, teachers can progress and support the students’ enquiries. Teachers may use productive questions to help students delve more deeply into their chosen enquiry area with the hope that once students have become open to thinking this way they can begin to ask productive questions of their own.
If teachers decide to give students the option of searching for good enquiry questions, they must help them identify and refine their questions for exploration and help them realise when a question is not appropriate for a given enquiry project. The process of refining questions includes helping students identify what they know and don't know about the subject, identifying sub-questions that may be part of the larger question and, most importantly, formulating hypotheses about what the answer might be at an early stage.
Look back at the list of questions from the brainstorm on the candle with jar over it image and try to classify them using your knowledge of the following question types:
4 A questioning game
To start with, decide on a topic to pose questions about to your colleagues. One person starts with an open-ended question that can be either real or productive. The next person could either comment on the previous question (e.g. how can we answer that question? Is it possible to find answers to that question?) or respond with a related open-ended question. This goes on as long as there is no repeating of a previous question. For example, the topic might be on light:
- Teacher A: Why is it important to have light?
- Teacher B : What would happen if there is no light?
- Teacher C: Where/when do you think light is used in particular?
- Teacher D: Who or what do you think particularly need light?
- Teacher E: How does light help or not help people?
- Teacher A: How does light come about?
- Teacher B: What kind of process is involved in seeing light?
- Teacher C: What is the speed of light?
- Teacher D: I think the previous question does not lead to a productive discussion since it only has one correct answer, so how about changing it to: ‘How do we find out about the properties of light such as the speed?’
So now, choose topic, and start asking questions! After you have gone round the group once or twice (depending on the size of the group) you might want to do another round with another topic.
Observing, thinking, reflecting (10 min) on bigger and smaller questions. You will realise that some of the questions are ‘bigger’ than the rest in terms of the possibilities that the question can be ‘broken down’ into ‘smaller’ ones. It is probably easier to respond to the ‘smaller’ sub-questions than the ‘bigger ones’. Therefore, responding to the smaller questions will give clues to answering the bigger questions. Bigger questions might frame a whole enquiry whereas smaller, sub-questions might collectively structure that enquiry.
- Why is it important to have light? (‘bigger’ question)
- What would happen if there is no light? (‘smaller’ question)
- Where/when do you think light is used? (‘smaller’ question)
- Who or what do you think particularly need light? (‘smaller’ question)
It will be useful for the questions to be written out on the board so that everyone can see how the questions evolve (and to see the ‘size’ of each question) as each person poses a question.
5 Posing real and productive questions - video watching
Observing, thinking, reflecting (10 min) on posing real and productive questions Watch the following clip on Abel trying to get students to understand the relationship of area and perimeter. Pay attention to the questions he posed:
- What other questions could be asked to elicit the students' ideas on the concept of area?
- How might a 'think pair share' approach to the class discussion have affected students' learning?
- Consider the question, ‘How do/can we measure area?’. How might this question be developed into a useful enquiry activity for students?
Continue to watch in the next clip, how Abel set up the class for students to explore the relationship of area and perimeter. What kind of probing questions did he use to help students in their learning?
The next clip shows how the students made use of Geogebra in their enquiry process. How do you think such an approach of learning would be helpful for the students? Do you think it helped them to become more engaged and confident? Why do you think so?
What can you say about how confident the students seem in using this new technology?
6 Four Levels of Enquiry
Whole class dialogue (5 min) on the four levels of enquiry Read the following examples of teachers trying to start an enquiry-based learning lesson for a maths topic on angles of polygons. According to Douglas Llewellyn, the different approaches of enquiry-based teaching require teachers and students to play different roles in the enquiry-based learning process.
Teacher A: Demonstrated Enquiry
Teacher introduced new concepts of properties of polygons by showing the pupils different pictures of polygons and asking them to describe what they see (see table below). She explained or demonstrated the sum of angles for each polygon. Teacher asked students to explain the pattern across the shapes.
Example of Question: What is the sum of the interior angles of a regular polygon with seven sides based on what I have shown you so far?
Students attempted to answer questions which teacher assessed according to whether responses were correct or incorrect. Students took down notes for the topic. The lesson on this topic ended.
Teacher B: Structured Enquiry
Teacher B divided the class into groups and provided pictures of regular polygons for each group to investigate the property of their angles. The teacher provided step-by-step instruction and questions about how the students should be measuring and recording the angles of each polygon onto a table (see below):
|Number of sides?||Sum of interior angles?||Shape?||What do you realise about the pattern?|
Example of Question: Can you record the number of sides and sum of interior angles of each of the polygon? What kind of pattern can you see?
Teacher assigned roles to each pupil and asked the spokesperson to report on the group’s findings at the end of their investigation – which can take up to one or two days.
Teacher C: Problem-Solving Enquiry
Teacher posed the following problem for the pupils to investigate in groups. She wanted the pupils to think of ways to find out the interior angles of this regular polygon (see picture below) and to search the internet to find out where in the world such a polygon can exist physically as a building structure or object.
Example of Question: You have come across this rather interesting regular polygon and are interested to find out what would be the total interior angles of it. How can you go about finding this out and be sure that the answer is correct? Where do you think you can see this polygon in the real world?
Teacher directed students to some resources that they could search online. Teacher asked students to present their findings at the end of their investigation – which may span across two or three days.
Teacher D: Independent Inquiry
Teacher asked each student to think of ways to find the general formula of the interior angle (S) of a regular n-sided polygon : S = (n −2) × 180°/ n
Example of Question: You have come across several regular polygons. Can you work individually to find out a general formula to find the total interior angles of it up to 100 sides?
Students worked on their own to derive a general formula. Teacher asked students to present their findings at the end of their investigation – which may span across two or three days.
7 PMI activity on the Four Level of Enquiry
Same-task group work (15 min): PMI activity on the four levels of enquiry. Before having a brief discussion on the differences of the levels of enquiry, it may be helpful to do a PMI (positives, minuses, interesting) activity where you work in groups of two or three and consider the PMIs of each approach. Remember, you can also use a PMI activity to consider the possible pros and cons of a random statement as in the ‘Plants can now walk in our World!’ statement in 5.1.
Do a PMI activity and come up with something Positive about and a Minus point about as well as something Interesting about, in this case, the enquiry levels/approaches used by Teachers A, B, C and D and/or consider the following questions for discussion:
- What do you think are the main differences between the levels of enquiry?
- Where do you see yourself (Teacher A-D?) in terms of conducting an enquiry-based learning activity in your class if you were to teach them today? Why do you say that?
- Do you think there is a possibility that you will consider using a different approach to start an enquiry-based lesson in your class if you are given some time to plan? What and how will you go about trying?
There is no single correct way to teach or to conduct an enquiry. Effective teachers are resourceful and have a whole repertoire of teaching strategies which they draw on as appropriate, according to the topic, task, level of student confidence and knowledge. The diagram below shows how levels of teacher support and student independence might vary.
8 Making use of Enquiry Ideas
Same-task group work (10 min) on making use of enquiry ideas Below are five enquiry ideas (A-E) that could be turned into an enquiry in your class. Please note that these are just enquiry ideas which means that you need to go through substantial thinking and planning for the ideas to be introduced in a lesson to engage students in their own enquiry. It may be that you do not find some of the ideas useful at all, in which case you are welcome to come up with your own enquiry ideas to discuss as a group.
Divide yourself into groups of three or four teachers. You should read through all the enquiry ideas and eventually pick one or two ideas for the group activity that you will be working on together in this session and in the next two weeks. As you are reading through these ideas, think about the following:
- Are the ideas interesting and engaging for my students?
- Are the ideas relevant to the curriculum? What subject will it be most relevant to introduce them to?
- What can be an appropriate lesson objective(s) if you do make use of the enquiry ideas?
- What kind of resources will you need and are they easily accessible to you and your students?
- How will you introduce the ideas in the first lesson (recall what are some of the ways to present your questions that you have learnt in the previous session) and how many lessons do you think you will need to complete the enquiry process?
8.1 Idea A: Investigating paper airplane design
There are many different designs of paper aeroplanes. Some of them have a very plain design but can fly a longer distance whereas others can have rather interesting designs but do not fly as well. What are the factors that affect how far a paper airplane can fly?
You may like to refer to the following web references for more information:
- Examples of airplane designs imitating flying and gliding animals:
- Examples of airplanes with instructions and videos on how to fold them:
- Examples of the actual lessons on investigating the flights of paper airplanes using scientific method as an extended project:
Tip: Students could use what they have learned from their enquiry to design their own enhanced airplane.
8.2 Idea B: Investigating the process of hand washing
We have been told that washing of our hands is an important part of maintaining hygiene and preventing the spread of germs and viruses. How do you know that you have spent adequate time washing your hands each time?
- Example of lesson plan on investigating hand washing
- Example of youtube video on emphasising importance of washing hands
- Video of a Zambian teacher doing this enquiry with her students
8.3 Idea C: Investigating the vegetables and trees within our community
What are some of the vegetables and trees that are grown in our community? Why are they being grown here? (e.g. consider tomatoes, rape, onion, cabbage, nimu tree, holy fiso, malaina, mango)
Some possible areas of investigation: location of vegetable/trees (e.g. type of soil and availability of water source like a stream), medicinal properties (e.g. is it used as a traditional medicine?), nutritional properties, economic consideration (e.g. source of fuel/income), ecological and environmental concerns, personal and spiritual values. You might like to select one or two areas of investigation for a start.
- Example of youtube video on tree planting in Zambia
- Example of website on ‘treevolution’ in Zambia
- Video of a Zambian teacher doing an enquiry on water retention in different soil types with her students
Imagine you have two overseas visitors who have just arrived in [-][Z][K][R][S][U][G] and would like to visit a game reserve near [-][Z][K][R][S][U][G], plus the [-][Z][K][R][S][U][G] and one other interesting site by car. The two visitors only have one day to visit these three places by car. Can you inform the visitors about the distance to these places from [-][Z][K][R][S][U][G] city centre? Can you also suggest an itinerary that will take into consideration the shortest distance of travel to and between the three places, starting and ending at [-][Z][K][R][S][U][G] city centre? Please state the distance of travelling to each place and the approximate time required to travel.
Make sure that you do consider the practical arrangements for this trip! In the itinerary: decide on the length of your imaginary journey and work out the travelling time, but also think about the practical arrangements: how much luggage (water, food, equipment) will you need to take and how will you be able to carry this? Are there any elderly people or young children in your party, who might need special provision, such as extra food, or more frequent stops?
8.5 Idea E: Investigating my body and how it works
Children are naturally curious about how their bodies work so this is a rich area to draw on for enquiry ideas. A simple and straight forward enquiry into pulse rate and how it varies with exercise requires minimal equipment, just a stopwatch (or a clock with a second hand) and some accurate counting. Students can come up with different types of exercise such as running on the spot/sprinting/going up and down stairs and see how these affect their pulse rate. They could also look at whether or not their pulse rate is different when they are lying down.
Here are some short videos of Zambian teachers working on an enquiry topic centred around how our bodies work:
- lung capacity and how it varies with height/sex/pulse rate/chest circumference
- BMI and being healthy
9 Discussion of Enquiry Ideas
Whole class dialogue (10 min) on enquiry ideas Nominate one or two representatives from each group to share the enquiry ideas they have discussed in the previous activity. In particular, highlight the reasons for selecting the enquiry ideas that the group has chosen and share ideas on how the teacher should present the enquiry ideas and questions in the first lesson. Share any possible challenges that the teacher may face. The rest of the participants should provide constructive questions or comments to help the group to sharpen their ideas further.
10 ICT practice: Making use of ICT in enquiry-based learning
Different-tasks group work (20 min) with ICT for EBL. You now have acquired a large range of ICT skills (images, slideshows, the browser, GeoGebra, spreadsheets, Etherpad for collaborative writing, concept mapping, online simulations, typing). You've also had the opportunity to deepen your knowledge and skills within one particular application. We now turn towards using these applications for EBL.
Think about all the applications you have encountered. How can you use those applications in EBL? Think about the concrete projects that you have developed with these applications and consider:
- 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
Continue to develop some new activities for classroom use, bearing in mind the above list. Develop detailed activity plans and share and test your ideas with other participants. As always, try those activities in the classroom.
11 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.
12 Follow-up activities
12.1 Part A: Small group planning task.
Work with the same small group of colleagues to develop the resources (e.g. worksheets and materials) for one or two enquiry ideas that you have discussed just now that will be necessary to carry on the enquiring process by your students. Bring these resources next week (including the materials like the paper for the paper aeroplane) so that you can start the data collection and interpreting process as a group. Remember that you have time to work on at most two enquiry ideas so please choose the idea(s) that you really want to work on! If you think that you have OTHER ideas that you prefer to work on, that is fine but do ensure that you have thought through the questions we have suggested to you earlier. You may find this document useful as it contains some further enquiry ideas that have been developed by students alongside examples of their work:
12.2 Part B: Developing Internet search skills
Internet search skills are very important as the internet is typically the first stop to obtaining information on specific news and topics of interest. You may like to direct your students to specific web sites in the early stage of an EBL lesson.
We suggest that you spend some time viewing the following YouTube clips on internet search skills. This can also be done as a group session using a projector, if preferred.
After you have looked at the video clips above, please try to search for a video clip on the internet on Enquiry-based learning & OER use at the Aisha Project School, Zambia. Can you summarise what the teacher in the clip has said about enquiry-based learning through the use of ICT?
12.3 Part C: Notes for planning 'project or field day'
We hope today's session will help you to develop your ideas for an enquiry-based ‘project day’ or ‘field trip’. Be prepared to share any updates of your ideas in the next session (5.3). In the previous session (5.1) , we introduced these questions to help you plan for your own EBL 'field trip' or 'project day' so be sure to refer to them:
- What is a suitable topic?
- What is a suitable lesson objective/success criteria?
- Where would be a suitable venue for the event?
- What kind of questions could you pose during the enquiry? Is there a main enquiry question and sub-questions? Can you phrase some sample questions that ask learners what they know/think about some aspects of your chosen topic? Are you giving opportunity for the students to pose their own questions? What might they like to know/find out?
- What specific resources (e.g. worksheets, objects, internet links) have you come up with for the event?
- How can the students make use of ICT to facilitate their enquiry process?
- Consider also what are some administrative requirements you need to attend 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?
The table below summarises the different kind of questions that we have discussed so far.
|‘Open-ended’ Questions||‘Deep’ Questions||‘Real’ Questions||‘Productive’ Questions|
| Questions have many answers.
|| Questions elicit relations between ideas and extended ideas.
|| Questions that students are curious and very interested to answer or particularly interested to pose (rather than just pursuing what the teachers want them to answer).
|| Questions help students to delve more deeply into an enquiry area. May be posed by the teacher initially to support and progress students’ enquiries.
- Pollard, A., Anderson, J.,Maddock, M.,Swaffield, S., Warin, J., Warwick, P., 2002. Reflective teaching: Effective and evidence‐informed professional practice, London: Continuum.
- Llewellyn, D. 2011. Differentiated Science Inquiry, Thousand Oaks CA: Corwin.
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.