The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Inquiry-Based Learning

One of my preferred methods of teaching is inquiry-based learning. There are many aspects to this, but the one that I like to focus on with my students is simply the process of asking questions and then finding answers.

I have been tying this into our science work during the past few weeks, and plan on continuing to do so for the rest of the year. As you may know, I had recently placed an order that resulted in four large boxes ending up in my classroom.

Today was our first day back after Spring Break, and I was very pleased that the students were immediately captivated by the four boxes stacked up on our reading table. I made sure they knew that no one was allowed to touch the boxes, but they were allowed to look. On the board, where I write a message to get them started each day, was the assignment to take out a piece of paper and write about what they thought was in the box and why they thought that.

After getting through the first part of the morning, I donned my lab coat and asked the students to share their predictions. Many of them immediately knew what was coming next: observations, more observations, and then an explanation. I didn’t ask the students to share their predictions with the class. What I did do is allow them to make further observations of the boxes by watching what I could do with them. I lifted them, demonstrated how tall they were in comparison to me, and shook them around a bit. The students then amended their predictions. Then I looked inside the boxes and told them that the boxes contained items that were red, yellow, green, and black.

After predicting and observing, I introduced two new elements of the inquiry method. The first is consensus. I had the students go around and find others who agreed with their predictions and observations. I pointed out that scientists often share their findings and methods so that others can try to replicate them and see if they come up with the same results. If everyone agrees, it is quite likely (although not guaranteed) to be a strong theory. After the students reached a consensus (of the 22 who were present in the morning, 21 of them agreed the boxes contained the same thing), I revealed the last element of the inquiry method: results. I wanted the students to know what was in the boxes and then be able to share the results with others (in this case, their class members). And so I stood up on a chair, flipped the boxes over, and dumped out their contents:

Our new beanbag chairs will, of course, be used on a regular basis as we move into a new approach to literacy instruction in our classroom. But more on that, later.

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3 responses

  1. Natasha Robertson

    Wait- you didn’t say- did the 21 have the correct answer? What did the other kid guess?

    March 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    • Yes, they did. The one who didn’t decided not to tell me what she had predicted, except to say that it was silly.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm

      • Natasha Robertson

        I bet her guess was awesome.

        March 26, 2012 at 11:11 pm

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