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Benefits of Inquiry-Based Learning
Sharon Longert

Our 21st Century students will enter a job market that is different from the traditional workplace of the 20th century of their parents and grandparents. They will need to be prepared to collect, synthesize, and analyze information; they will need to be prepared to work cooperatively with others to respond to changing social, economic, and global conditions. They will also be using technology to communicate their ideas, thoughts and final products. The traditional approaches that employ narrow tasks, rote memorization, and simple procedures will not develop critical thinkers or effective writers and speakers.

When students take part in complex and meaningful projects they are preparing for engagement and collaboration that will sustain them in the future workplace. Engaging learning activities require application of classroom–gathered knowledge to real-world problems. An old adage states, “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.” Inquiry-based learning gives students the tools to understand and to work cooperatively so that a small group supports the learning environment.

Project based learning enables students to transfer learning to new situations, but five elements are necessary for that happen:

The project must meet the needs of the curriculum and the local standards.
Project-based learning supports flexible problem solving, reasoning skills, generating hypotheses and explanations. These skills are necessary for understanding in literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, art and architecture, and technology.

The project must leads students to central concepts so they can understand the connection of the standards in terms of the world in which they live.
They learn more deeply when they create products that require understanding and application of their knowledge. Students need teacher leadership to make connections and balance the benefits of the project as a learning tool, not just on completing the work.

The project must function as an investigative tool that involves inquiry.
Project-based learning is a process of generating meaningful questions, using background and prior knowledge, utilizing information resources, learning to work in a group, managing time, sustaining motivation, and facing setbacks and confusion. A careful plan to support student learning for each of these items needs thoughtful consideration. The students also need to track and defend their thinking and their movement on their project to connect the learning to the original plan

The project must be student-driven not teacher driven.
Shifting roles is a huge challenge for  teachers. They  need to find extended time for inquiry and new classroom management techniques. These techniques need  to match with the goals of less direct instruction and more facilitated learning among groups as well as developing assessments to guide the learning process.

The project must pose authentic problems that the students care about in their own real world.
Students need a vested interest to spend their time working with a group towards a common goal. Anticipate lessons that include some of the cooperative learning processes:  positive interdependence, individual accountability, structures that promote face-to-face interactions, social skills and group processing.

Research shows that inquiry-based, collaborative approaches benefit students in learning 21st century skills, the ability to work in teams, solve problems and apply knowledge from one situation to another. Teachers need the support of their own learning communities to make this a success; it is powerful teaching and learning for students and their teachers.

Barron, Brigid and Darling-Hammond, Linda, “Powerful Learning”, Edutopia, Oct/Nov 2008.
Darling-Hammond, Linda et.al, Powerful Learning:  What We Know About Teaching to Understand, Jossey-Bass, 2008.

Do you have a question or comment about this article? E-mail me.


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