Friday, March 7, 2014

Reflection on Inquiry Based Learning

As my exploration of Inquiry Based Learning (IBL) comes to an end, I am left feeling excited about the possibilities that await me and my students.  The information that I have gathered will allow me to better educate my students while preparing them more for the real world problems they will face upon graduation.  Gone are the days where my class will learn in a clean sterile environment where I disseminate information to students who greedily consume it.  Instead, my class will be a dynamic learning environment that will allow students to struggle with bigger concepts while developing the soft skills necessary to succeed later in life.  To achieve this goal I will make a number of changes in my room and philosophy.

First, I will start each unit with the end results for the students planned out.  This backwards planning allows me to make sure that my educational goals for the students are actually being taught and measured.  I have to admit, that once or twice I have reached the end of a unit and realized I missed an important concept.  Well no more!!  The standards will drive my instruction, because everything I teach to my students will be in an effort to reinforce that concept to them.

Second, by using the 5E model (discussed in a previous post) I will know that my students will be engaged and learning in the assignments for each unit.  While it would be naive to think that all my students will be engaged all the time, by purposefully building in engagement activities I will have a higher level of involvement.  By using the 5E model, I have a blueprint to follow to make sure that I am not missing something vital for the students. 

Third, technology is a part of our society today and must be included in lessons for today’s students.  When they reach adulthood they will be expected to know how to use technology in ways that I cannot even think of today.  By exposing students to technology in the classroom, I am allowing them the opportunity to learn and explore what is out there in a relatively low stakes environment. Using technology will allow me to motivate my students, and allow others who struggle in more traditional school activities, to perhaps shine.  As technology continues to develop the possibilities that are made available for teachers is only as limited as ones imagination.

Finally, I will make a purposeful effort to change the type of questions that I ask to my students.  It will be a goal of mine to shift away from the simple fact based questions to more concepts based.  This will allow me to still assess the facts the students have acquired, while allowing me the ability to see the bigger connections they are making with the material.  If I have learned nothing else about IBL at least I know that the soft skills and ability to make connections that is learned throughout this process is the most important skill I can provide to my students.  Anyway can look up the date of an event on their phone, but only a few can tell you it’s importance in the context of history.

I will leave you with this final thought.  While IBL is at first a scary idea, and seems out of place in today’s schools were we rely on high stakes testing far too much, let me assure you it is more appropriate than traditional teaching.   Learning information out of context, or in a box, does not allow anyone to remember it forever.  It is learned for the test and then promptly forgotten.  However, IBL provides the same learning but in an authentic environment that the students will be able to remember.  While the facts might be lost over time, the process they used to reach their goals will stay with them forever.  It is for that reason, and the others I have mentioned today, that I will be shifting my classes over to a more inquiry based environment.  After all, these students will be the ones leading us only a few years.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Strategy to follow

            Throughout this week I have been looking at ways to guarantee that my Inquiry Based Lesson appropriately engage my students, why also challenging them.  With that in mind I stumbled across an instructional model published by the Biological Science Curriculum Study.  This study boils down every lesson to five simple ideas, called the 5E’s.  These 5E’s are Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate.  If you develop a lesson with the specific purpose of incorporating all 5E’s, then your lesson is on its way towards being Inquiry Based.  This educational model has been proven scientifically to work.  On a number of different studies significant increase have been shown when teachers use this model as the basis for their instruction.  To see the actual results that I am referring to click on this link and examine page 35 of the report.

            In today’s digital world the use of technology in any lesson allows for you to more easily engage the students in the lesson.  By purposefully choosing technology that targets your goals at each of the 5E’s you can guarantee your students will be interested, at least somewhat.  With engagement the academic goals you are trying to achieve are easier, because the students want to learn.  This means that even if your lesson is not the best you have ever taught, your educational goals can still be achieved because your students will take ownership of their learning.  I know that to me this is a relief, especially because I am the type of person that is hyper focused on always completing steps in a process.

            The way that I think is pretty straight forward, I need a plan to follow and once that plan is clear to me I can dive in head first and accomplish anything.  With that in mind, I have to tell you that this discovery of the 5E’s has proven to be a real help to me.  Knowing that there is a simple framework for me to follow to guarantee the correct structure to my lesson has proven to be just the thing that I needed to get me going with the development of lessons.  To see exactly the lesson that I am referring to please examine the website that I created to showcase the 5E’s at work.  

                Finally, I will leave you with some sayings that have really struck me as I have progressed through my knowledge of Inquiry Based Learning.  They do not exactly tie into this particular post but instead have come to be a kind of mantra that I think to myself as I work through my lessons. 

They are:
“It is okay to fail, it is even expected”

When people ask how to motivate every student for these types of lessons just respond, “I don’t know, how do you motivate those students every day when you are teaching?”

By keeping these ideas in my head as I try my new style of teaching I am more confident in what I am doing, and after all it is okay to fail.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Web 2.0 and IBL

            As I continue to explore the world of Inquiry Based Learning (IBL) the amount of materials that allow for creative instructional lessons is seemingly limitless.  Over the last week I have been exploring the idea of incorporating Web 2.0 resources into my classroom.  Web 2.0 is, “a second generation of Internet-based learning services that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users.” (Discovery Education) These resources range from simple blogs for the students to share their thoughts, to full on video creation.  What is truly exceptional about these resources is that that they allow the students the flexibility to demonstrate their learning in ways that are not possible with more traditional methods.  Dare I say, that gone are the days of simply writing an essay or giving a presentation to the class.

            Speaking from firsthand experience I have used a number of these resources successfully in my classroom.  The web application Voicethread is one of my favorite resources, because it allows those students who have difficulty writing their thoughts down, use their voice to give their reports.  Students simply upload an image and then record themselves talking over that image.  This has proven especially successful with my ELL students who are fluent in English but still struggle with the written part of our language.  My other new favorite is to have my students create wiki’s for a project topic.  The flexibility of the wiki allows for students to present their information however they see fit, and also to embed a number of other resources that would not be possible in other formats.  This all leads me to the main question, why use Web 2.0 resources for IBL?

            As I have learned, a IBL lesson must engage the student and allow them the flexibility to explore the topic however they see fit.  As they explore and learn the student must be able to communicate their knowledge in ways that are comfortable and authentic to the student.  Today, 96% of all students engage in social networking and 57% of teenagers create online content. (Discovery Education)In all honesty there is only so much flexibility in a traditional project of creating a poster, presentation or paper.  These staples of education allow for the student to present their knowledge, but in a very limited fashion.  As I have found from teaching, students when given the opportunity will more often than not surprise you with what they create.  By providing them the opportunity to create a product using the Web 2.0 resources out there, their creativity is exploited, not stifled.   

            This leads me to the next burning question that I have about successfully using IBL in my classroom.  My concern is, how in this digital age can an educator successfully use the tools available while also staying within a school districts outdated technology policies?  I teach an a very technology oriented district that supports and encourages the integration of technology resources into lessons.  Yet, even my district blocks a number of websites that would be beneficial to students because of security threats.  I am not talking about threats from hacking or viruses, instead these are threats posed to my high school students because they are posting things online.  For example, Google sites and Google docs are blocked from student access because the district cannot control the content being posted to this resource.  Youtube is another resource that students cannot access from school, yet sometimes this does provide valuable resources for the students to use.  My fear is that a great resource will become available, only to find that it is not supported or blocked by my district.  Which, in my opinion, defeats the entire benefit from Web 2.0 activities and hurts the student’s chances and opportunities for IBL lessons.


Discovery Education, . N.p.. Web. 20 Feb 2014. <>.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Changing Views on Inquiry Based Learning

In my last blog post I left you with this statement, “Despite all of this I am still left wondering how successful the IBL process is when it comes to differentiation.   I can picture making the assignments and activities more difficult for your higher achieving students, I just am left wondering how to accommodate for those students who have pretty severe learning disabilities and accommodations on their IEP’s.”  Well I feel as if that question has been answered. 

                As I continued to explore and gain a deeper understanding of Inquiry Based Learning (IBL) I stumbled upon the three types of inquiry possible within a IBL lesson.  They are Teacher-Directed, Teacher-Student Shared and Student-Directed.  As I wrote my last post I was unaware of the different types of direction that can go into a IBL lesson.  I was focused entirely on the student directed model, which is why I had my fears and doubts about the use of IBL in a classroom that has a number of different ability levels.  Yet, if the teacher where to develop a lesson that could be both student directed, for those highly motivated and high achieving students and also provide accommodations through the other two models, then differentiation in the classroom would be both easy and highly beneficial to the students.

                In a student directed approach the students could explore the question how they wanted and reach their own conclusions.  However, for this to be successful the students must have the necessary process skills in order to succeed.  These skills have been identified in a number of places, but I have found those skills outlined by the Center for Educational Policy Research to be the most helpful.  This list provides readers with the process skills that are necessary to succeed in today’s colleges.  While these are important skills to have as students, it is necessary to understand that some, if not most, of our students are not at this point yet.  That is why the other two types of lessons available to IBL are so important.

                With teacher-directed or teacher-student shared there is the possibility of differentiating the instruction to fit the individual needs of the student.  This is exactly what my fear was in my prior blog.  By having more guidance from the teacher, or other students, those students who need the extra support will be able to receive it.  This scaffolding approach to IBL allows all students in the classroom to pursue the passion for learning, which all humans have.  The accommodations that can be made could be as simple as a graphic organizer for the student to the teacher picking the resources and providing all of the materials for the student.  Despite the level of accommodations provided, the student is still receiving the benefits of IBL and all of the soft skills that go along with this type of activity. 

                I leave you today feeling that my previous questions about differentiation look silly and childish in retrospect.  With a successful IBL lesson differentiation is built into the activity and required to take place.  So those students who are off and running on every project can race ahead and explore whatever they find, while those who are slower can be provided the resources and support they need to succeed.  Hopefully you have found this entry helpful and I encourage you to try IBL in your classroom.


Conley , D. Association of American Universities, (2003). Understanding university success. Retrieved from Center for Educational Policy Research website:


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My thoughts on "Inquiry Based Learning"

                As I sit here writing this blog many ideas are running through my mind as to what to think about inquiry based learning (IBL).  The possibilities that it offers to students to motivate them and to kindle the desire to learn are awesome.  Yet, the scope of the situation of setting up a lesson is also daunting.  Despite this fear, I looked further into IBL and have decided to adopt the motto of, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  With that in mind I have found out some pretty amazing bits of information that I would like to share with you all here.

                First, in a 1989 study it was shown that, the amount of student learning that occurs in a classroom is directly proportional to the quality and quantity of student involvement in the educational program.  Taking this as truth I wondered how I learned anything at all in school.  I mean for as long as I can remember I sat in a room and took notes from a lecture, this was especially true in college.  Yet what this study is saying makes complete sense.  People learn by doing things, not by listening to people describing how to do things.  I have come to realize that with a structured IBL lesson all of the educational goals are possible AND the students will even remember it, or at least more of it.

                Second, the environment of your classroom is vital to the success of any IBL lesson.  This kind of goes in the category of obviously but it still needs to be stated.  If students do not feel comfortable in your classroom then they will not be able to take the risks that are offered to them in a IBL activity.  There is comfort in taking notes and answering questions on a worksheet, because that is what they have always done.  Asking students to do something new is scary, for them and for you, and will not be successful unless the environment is comfortable.  So teachers rethink that old mantra of “Mean till Halloween.”

                Finally, my understanding of the usefulness and academic relevance of IBL has changed during my research.  I realize that in the world today sitting and taking notes is a skill that you need, but should not be the only thing you are evaluated on in school.  In the real world you need to create something, why should school be different?  As long as the activities have a clear academic relevance and they engage the student’s interests, IBL lessons are MORE beneficial than a traditional lesson in which the teacher talks to the students.

                Despite all of this I am still left wondering how successful the IBL process is when it comes to differentiation.   I can picture making the assignments and activities more difficult for your higher achieving students, I just am left wondering how to accommodate for those students who have pretty severe learning disabilities and accommodations on their IEP’s. 



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