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Student-Centered Inquiry




Defining Inquiry

What is inquiry? The Exploratorium Institute for Inquiry defines it as

Inquiry is an approach to learning that involves a process of exploring the natural or material world, that leads to asking questions and making discoveries in the search for new understandings.

A Model of Inquiry

Inquiry begins with the learner thinking about his world and asking questions. There is a spiral path which a student would typically follow in the course of discovery.

  1. Ask meaningful questions generated by observation of the world around you; confront a problem or issue.
  2. Investigate the question by formulating a plan of action: gather information through research, or gather data through search of existing databases or through experimentation. This process will involve defining procedures, and evaluating data in regard to its relevance to answering the question.
  3. Create new connections, new knowledge, new meaning through interaction with the data. The process of the synthesis of meaning takes place as the learner shapes new thoughts and ideas.
  4. Discuss and share new ideas with others; the learner interacts with others about their own experiences and investigations.
  5. Reflect on the results of the questioning, investigating, and creation process. Examine the conclusions made, make new observations, and ask new questions.

Other models of inquiry actually start with the reflection node. In actuality, one may start at any point in the spiral path; for example, in the course of investigating data for a particular question, new questions and a new direction may suddenly emerge, and lead to a new path of inquiry.

Supporting Student Inquiry

How can you as teacher support and facilitate student-centered inquiry?

  1. If you start with the Reflect stage, you can supply a hook to spark interest, something for the students to reflect upon.
  2. Encourage students to ask questions; lead them in question-generating techniques (i.e., brainstorming, etc).
  3. As students investigate, help them to define procedures that are rigorous enough to produce valid results. Assist them in locating relevant data sources.
  4. Provide students with knowledge-creation tools (spreadsheets, concept-mapping software, database creation software, etc), and teach them the skills to use these.
  5. Provide for collaborative learning environments to allow discussion of ideas and interaction with others.
  6. Finally, allow reflection to give direction into new areas of exploration.


See the Resources page for additional information relating to today's topics.

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery

The Inquiry Page

Concept to Classroom – Workshops on Inquiry Learning, Constructivism, Webquests, Multiple Intelligence's, etc

Center for Inquiry-Based Learning

Exploratorium Institute for Inquiry

teAchnology's page on Inquiry-based Learning