A Fresh look into the web of inquiry

There are lots of inquiry models out there, and a lot of them require you to follow a step by step process from finding a question, researching that question, and then spitting out a presentation showing what you've learnt. 'Doing' research isn't that straight forward though, we know that simply from our own lives.


I was at the Louvre in Paris today, and being artistically and historically incompetent, I was looking at all the statues and thinking "how did they make those? What tools did they use? How long did they practice?" But the overwhelming urge for me was just to have a go at doing one.

Just to have a go...

Then I might do some research on better ways to do it...

and then I might have another go...

Then I might show someone, do some more research and maybe have another go.

Some models try to cover for this kind of fluidity of research projects, and as they do, get extremely complex and confusing for both adults and students. In fact, people working with some of these models can lose interest pretty fast, and the learning becomes a chore. The intrinsic motivation of exploring something is lost and it becomes 'work'.

This model aims to change this. It's not so much of an inquiry process, as an inquiry web. It has general direction for students and teachers, but also lets them range very wide in the process, so they have control of their own independence, self direction and self motivation.

There's four steps to this web;





I'm going to use the statues from the Louvre Museum as an example.

Experiment: The first thing anyone needs to do, when initiating a "research project" or "inquiry project", is to experiment. Not 'ask questions', they come later. They may have some questions at this stage already and that's great, but the prime importance is to experiment.

Get a rock, use what you think they used (probably a chisel and a hammer?) and see what you can do. Try it out.

This is also great for kids to do self-diagnostic assessment. Where are they? Where do they want to go from here? Do they want to be a Michelangelo? What do they want to aim to accomplish? What are their goals?

Engage: This stage is imperative. Students must engage with the topic here, they must understand what they're doing and why they're doing it. I don't mean just knowing the WALTs and WILFs, I mean actually understanding what they're doing and wanting to do it because it's what they want to do.

They must want to keep going. If they don't want to keep going, my advice would be to go back to experimenting and find something different that they actually want to do. Remember, 'inquiry' isn't necessarily about the topic you're studying or the content the students need to learn about, it's about the students learning the 'process' or how to 'navigate the inquiry web'. Learning how to learn.

This stage is also where, if they are engaged, they will have some questions. They will naturally develop questions from the experimenting phase, for example, "how did they get the stone so smooth?" "How did they make such fine cuts without cracking it?"

[It might be a good idea for students to record their questions as they are experimenting. Sometimes students just say these out loud and forget them when it comes to researching.]

Explore: This is the logical next step after the students have engaged with the topic. Students need to explore their topic and find out the answers to their questions.

http://www.google.com is a useful tool for this. This also might be where students organise field trips to places of interest, or seek out experts on the topic through different mediums.

Explain: Most students, having found out something new about a topic will want to go straight back to experimenting and try out their new ideas (In fact, so would I) but in order to track learning, it is really important for them to record what they have found out. Even if it's just notes in a scrap book.

Eventually, after going through this process possibly a number of times, they will 'finish'. Explain is also the stage where they can start a presentation to show their learning. Blogs, movies, cartoons, written reports, websites, a series of photos with explanations, dramatic pieces, a display of their finished product with a museum plaque beside it, a comparison of their product before their research and after their research, the options are endless, and are growing larger with each year, and each new development of technology.

Presentations should be shown to people who matter. Teachers, other students, parents, the public. Other people out there researching into things are probably asking the same questions, on the same topics. Maybe your students' presentations could help answer them.

There are certain situations where the order of steps may be switched around or even removed completely. Some spheres of learning, especially practical ones adhere to the previously mentioned model. More academic or possibly more specialised ones may require a different approach. For example making a path or garden may require some exploring into how to do it before actually experimenting. Looking into the use of castles in the 11th century may actually cut out the experimenting phase all together.

This model keeps things simple, but allows for a large amount of adaption and modification by both students and teachers.

Remember, without engagement there can be no real learning.

I would love to hear from you if you are thinking of trying this in the classroom or have some suggestions or feedback. Leave a comment here or follow me on twitter @cleansweep_


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