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Inquiry Based Learning

In keeping with our school-wide theme of critical analysis, yesterday the entire faculty of Saint David's participated in a dynamic professional development program on inquiry based interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

In opening the day, I asked the faculty how long do answers really last?  Isn't learning and life more about the question?--what questions to ask, when to ask them and of whom to ask.  Learning what, how, when and of whom to ask questions is the key to learning.  Questions can last a lifetime, answers, however rarely do.  Learning--It's all about the question.

The session was facilitated by educator Carolyn DeCristofano, whose 25 years of experience in science and STEM education includes working with Project Zero at Harvard's Graduate School of Education and the Museum of Science in Boston. The workshop explored ways in which teachers can incorporate inquiry strategies into the design of curriculum, bearing in mind the principles of our Teaching for Understanding framework.

For this hands-on workshop, our faculty first put on their "learner hats," stepping into the experiences of their students as they worked in small groups on a project that involved drawing and building a pendulum. They then hypothesized many properties, including swing duration and velocity, through experimentation with a number of variables such as set-up, drop height, mass and length. 

Following their experimentation, Ms. DeCristofano engaged the groups in discussions about their findings, which often led to insights gleaned from both the similarities and differences in each group's approach to the project. The groups learned from each other, under the guidance of and with the direction of the facilitator.

Afterward, our faculty put on their "teacher hats" and reviewed the five E's, a design model that teachers can use for inquiry based learning: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.  Each "e" represents a stage in the learning process and involves the students and teachers working cooperatively to maximize engagement and understanding.

Inquiry based learning is student-led, involves asking open ended questions and problem solving. By its nature it is an active form of learning, that requires the learner to experiment, observe, and critique.  The teacher, rather than providing answers or facts to the group, facilitates discussions and guides the students through their thought processes and learning, providing clarification and correction.

Saint David's teachers are terrific at utilizing active learning, which research has shown is more engaging and leads to deeper levels of knowledge and understanding in boys. And, as yesterday's workshop demonstrated, this is a method that requires a great deal of critical analysis--of pedagogy, of assessment and evaluation practices, and of design.

Yesterday's workshop was one of several exciting professional development workshops that will explore the year's theme.


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