For us to explore how inquiry based learning may beincorporated in to SESE curricular areas we must first investigate and clearlydefine what is meant by inquiry based learning. This essay will then examine anddebate the advantages and disadvantages surrounding this approach and itscomparison to problem based learning. Inquiry can be defined as a seeking fortruth, information, or knowledge and seeking information by questioning (WNET).
Inquiry based learning is a process that is a lifelong skill, unbeknownst tomost of us, that we must develop in school. Infants begin to make sense of theworld around them through inquiry based practices. Babies observe faces thatcome near, grasp objects, put objects in their mouths, and turn their headstowards voices. This forms the foundation of the inquiry based learning processby gathering information through the use of human senses; seeing, hearing,touching, tasting, and smelling (WNET).
This natural instinct within us allmust be capitalised upon to effectively incorporate an inquiry based learning approachinto STEM subjects. This approach may serve to underpin high levels of studentengagement, enjoyment, and excellent performance in STEM disciplines (STEM2016). Inquiry-Based Learning puts the focus on curiosity andobservations, which are then followed by problem-solving and experimentation. Usingcritical thinking and reflection, students connect meanings from collectedevidence and date, leading to an understanding and sense sense of the naturalworld around them.
Compared to problem based learning where problems are posedin such a way that students need to seek new knowledge before they can solvethem, inquiry based learning provides a more active alternative. Rather than simplyseeking a single correct answer, students are enabled to interpret the problem,gather the information needed to identify possible solutions, and then evaluateoptions and present conclusions. The revised curricula in SESE allows a timelyopportunity to introduce this new way of teaching, learning and assessment methodologiesto enhance STEM education (STEM Education Review Group, 2016).
This approach isa flexible one that allows the teacher to design different learningenvironments along an inquiry continuum that best fits the context of thelearning situation (Banchi & Bell, 2008). Bianchi & Bell (2008) consider open inquiry as thehighest level of inquiry. This allows students to have the best opportunitiesto act like scientists in a SESE setting. Students are active in lessons andare encouraged to derive questions, design and carry out investigations, andcommunicate their results to each other and the teacher. This level requiresthe most scientific reasoning and greatest cognitive demand from students(Kuhn, 2005). Inquiry-based learning can help make connections within subjectsand through all SESE disciplines and the wider curriculum. Teaching specificcontent such as photosynthesis in science has more relevance for the learner ifset in a larger context of understanding. Students must understand the relationship of the sun, plants, andthe role of carbon dioxide and water.
History content, such as the industrial revolution,set in the context of interrelatingchanges in the human-designed world can add new perspectives to thisimportant natural process. Students can still learn content of both science andhistory, but through a series of well-planned experiences, they will grasp thelarger conceptual context and gain greater understanding of both (Mezirow, 1991).Within a conceptual framework, inquiry based learning and active learner participationcan lead to important outcomes in the classroom. Students who actively makeobservations, collect, analyse, and synthesize information, and drawconclusions are developing relevant problem-solving skills. These skills can beapplied to future situations that students will encounter both at school and inthe workplace (WNET).
The advantages of inquiry based learning lie in itsflexibility and adaptable nature for a variety of projects. Allowing childrento partake in this approach helps to build self-esteem and confidence throughallowing them to be more active in their own learning process as opposed tobeing a passive participant to the teachers’ lesson. Another major advantage isthat this approach can work with any age group within a primary school settingand it serves to reinforce and build student skills from a young age (Gardner, 1983).This approach also builds and reinforces skills of students in the area ofphysical, emotional and cognitive function.
While there are many advantages tothis approach, it is important to balance the argument and exploredisadvantages relating to inquiry based learning. It is important to point outthat this does not work for every SESE lesson. From a teachers’ point of view,it involves far more planning and preparation thus taking away important planningand preparation time from the teacher. This approach can also be rather timeconsuming and may take away vital time from other subject areas within theschool day (WNET). Through the process of inquiry, individuals construct much oftheir understanding of the natural and human-designed worlds. Inquiry is not somuch seeking the right answer, but seeking appropriate resolutions to questionsand issues. For educators, inquiry implies emphasis on the development ofinquiry skills and the nurturing of inquiring attitudes or habits of mind thatwill enable individuals to continue the quest for knowledge throughout their lives.The knowledge base for disciplines is continually evolving (Gardner, 1991).
A primaryschool pupil cannot simply learn everything, rather, they can develop theirskills and foster the inquiring attitudes necessary to continue the cultivationand examination of knowledge throughout their lives. In modern education, theskills and the ability to continue learning should be the most importantoutcomes. While much thought and research has been spent on the role of inquiryin SESE, inquiry learning can be applied to all disciplines (WNET). This inquirybased practice transforms the learner from a passive to an active participantin the learning process. The teacher also moves from being an isolated subjectexpert to an instructional leader and learning architect for full pupil involvement.
The goal of this approach is to improve learning by developing more self-sufficientlearners who become increasingly responsible for their own learning. The visionas pointed out in the quote to provide Irish students with a STEM education experienceof high international quality can be attained in Irish primary schools while underpinninghigh levels of student engagement, enjoyment and excellent performance in the variousways pointed out in this essay. Word Count: 1049READING LIST Banchi, H. & Bell, R. (2008) TheMany Levels of Inquiry. Science andChildren. Arlington VA: NSTA.
Gardner, H. (1983) Frames of Mind: TheTheory of Multiple Intelligences. NY: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1999) The Disciplined Mind.New York: Simon and Schuster. Kuhn, D. (2005) Education for Thinking.Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Mezirow, J. (1991) TransformativeDimensions of Adult Learning. New Jersey: Wiley. STEM Education Review Group (2016) STEM.
Education in the Irish schoolsystem. A report on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education(STEM). Analysis and recommendations. Online. Available at: https://www.education.
ie/en/Publications/Education-Reports/STEM-Education-in-the-Irish-School-System.pdf (Accessed: 29 January 2018). WNET Education (2004) Workshop: Inquiry Based Learning.Available at: http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/inquiry/index.html(Accessed: 29 January 2018).