Sunday, August 11, 2013

Why Inquiry?

The simple answer is that inquiry lessons are a good use of class time. The real answer is a little more complicated. With the flipped learning model, lecture time has been traded for time to really work with students helping them learn, apply and practice. For the last two years the lessons have been changed and improved to take advantage of the time with students. Even with better activities, the majority of students are still focused on completing the work and grades rather than the learning. After conferences, professional development and a couple graduate courses, I finally got the message, the assigned work is designed to be completed and graded. Overall the level and contend of the assignments are fine, but the style of the assignment needs to change. The focus has to shift from answering a series of questions from the teacher to something more meaningful to the student. Inquiry has the potential of shifting the goal to learning and thinking. 

I have tried a few inquiry lessons before with mixed results. The lessons that turned out well were accidentally designed correctly. There was also an element of luck to go along with the curious nature of the students doing the work. The lessons that missed the mark were due to my misunderstanding and lack of knowledge regarding creating an inquiry lesson. With years of assigning labs with well-defined procedures, I have seen inquiry as more of a method for the ideal science class full of future scientists. For an on-level course it appeared to be an invitation to a free-for-all with expensive equipment, a big time drain in an over-full curriculum and have the tendency to provide more play time than real learning. What I have learned is that more inquiry is exactly what the on-level, non-science students need to learn and enjoy science. Students will need time and training to learn how to participate in inquiry successfully. The naturally curious and confident students will adapt quickly. Those that are unsure or intimidated by science will need encouragement to become comfortable with the open nature of this method.

I have to become more comfortable with creating inquiry lessons. The abilities and understanding of inquiry learning provide a frame work for designing quality lessons and activities. Using those to analyze, adapt and create labs will ensure that learning is part of the lesson in which the focus is shifted to the student.  I have found that inquiry lessons are far more flexible than originally thought. They can range in depth as well as the amount of teacher direction. One of the requirements of inquiry is the assessment of learning throughout the activity. It is important that the students are helped to stay on track with their learning. They should also be asked to show what they understand at different points during the activity. With the checks in place students can be lead through the process with varying amounts of intervention depending on the needs of the students.

There is more to inquiry than just posing a problem and letting students create a question then find the answer. Work must be done in advance to set the student up for success. They need to be familiar with using measuring tools, creating an investigable question, designing an experiment, analyzing results for evidence and using the evidence to make a valid conclusion. For the student who has only seen labs that are procedure and question driven, this will take some adjustment and modeling. Since the students do the creating and designing the ideas come from their experiences and prior knowledge and are at a level that matches their abilities and understanding. This gives the student a comfortable starting point to build upon. It is also using the curiosity of the student to create meaning and a reason to learn more about the topic. Students have the freedom and opportunity to learn at a deeper level. 

I should say that the title is an example of a non-investigable question. For inquiry purposes the question should be “How will inquiry lessons change the learning in my physics class this fall?” The change should help the student change focus from completion to learning. I hope inquiry will lead individuals to find meaning in the work they are doing and they will be excited to show their understanding of concepts not just memorized fact and processes. I am excited about assigning and facilitating the inquiry lessons this fall. Inquiry lessons will be the starting point of a new unit. Since students already have some experience with motion, forces and other physics concepts it makes sense to have a way for student to start from what they already know. This will create interest in the upcoming learning and provide an opportunity review prior knowledge and to correct misconceptions. Students will be encouraged to create a question of their own that goes beyond the initial inquiry and can be answered with the learning throughout the unit. I would love it if students arrived in class wondering what they were going to learn today.

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