Inquiry-Based Teaching Evolves

My definition of “inquiry” as an educational method: it’s the students’ job to inquire into the material, and while they do that, it’s my job to inquire into their thinking.

So yes, the goal is really “inquiry-based learning”.  I’ve written lots before about what the students do.  But this post is about what I do. I have to inquire at least as much as the students do.

I’ve written that before, more than once… but do you think I can find it on my own blog?  Nope.  Also, I stole it originally, probably from Brian Frank.  Do you think I can find it on his blog?  *sigh*  If anyone finds it, in either place, let me know, would ya?

What’s new about my ability to inquire into my students’ thinking is that I’m treating it more like a qualitative research project.  Someday I’ll go take a qualitative methods course and actually know what I’m talking about (I’m taking suggestions for methods texts, courses you liked, or profs you respect)… but until then, I’m muddling through better than usual.

Activities That Help Me Inquire Into Student Thinking

This year I added a day before light bulbs where they made circuits out of playdough.  It was silly, messy, and fun.  It also yielded lots of new info about their thinking about electrons, voltage, current, charge, etc., which I asked them to record on this handout.

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Record-Keeping

Whatever they write down ends up in a spreadsheet that looks like this:

2015 Intake ideas so far Name Date Context V R I P C Energy Potential
voltage is potential difference amount of potential energy between points XXXXXX 09-Sep-15 Squishy Circuits x x x
Insulators stop energy from passing through XXXXXX 09-Sep-15 Squishy Circuits x
Conductors allow the transfer of energy XXXXXX 09-Sep-15 Squishy Circuits x

.

I just keep adding tags on the right to keep track of whatever topic I need to keep track of.  That way I can sort by topic, by date, or by student.  It also helps me see which activities yielded what kind of curiosity.

My Favourite Ideas So Far

What holds matter together?

Are electrons what power actually is?

Batteries in a row must connect to each other like how magnets connect together to attract each other (2 negatives connected doesn’t work)

Closing the switch should double the power supply, but there was no noticeable difference. Why?

When negative side of battery reaches positive side of other battery, shouldn’t it be a complete circuit?

Put the switch on the other side of the bulb.  Does it matter?

Why did the 2 dim lights light at all, when the path of least resistance was through the 1 light bulb path?  In my “double the wires” circuit, they didn’t light at all.

Why don’t any of the bulbs turn on?  I would have thought that at least the first bulb would faintly glow.

Resistance is how much current is lost in the current

What separates Watts from Volts?

If I Inqire Into My Own Thinking…

What’s the pattern here about which ideas are exciting to me?  Well, quite a few of them are challenges to common misconceptions.  Despite my resistance, it seems I’ve still got a bit of a case of misconception listening.

The other pattern is that they all point either to questioning cause, or improving precision.  Those are discipline-specific skills, part of the “implicit curriculum” that people in my field often think of as unlearnable “aptitudes” instead of skills.  So there’s a practise of inclusion underlying my choices — making these skills explicit benefits everyone but especially the people with little previous exposure to technical fields.  Cause and precision are also things that I personally find satisfying and beautiful.  No coincidence about the overlap — I chose my field for a reason.  I’ll have to be careful to encourage curiosity wherever I find it, not just in the students who ask the kinds of questions I like best.

6 comments

  1. RE: “Do you think I can find it on his blog? *sigh* If anyone finds it, in either place, let me know, would ya?”

    You: https://shiftingphases.com/2015/04/05/what-does-zero-mean/
    (In that entry, you asterisked it as well, and wrote: “I stole this definition of inquiry-based learning from Brian Frank, on a blog post that I have never found again… point me to the link, someone!”)

    Brian: There are a few possibilities; I will guess that you picked it up from either a letter he wrote to himself (“Note to my future self about the first day”) or a post on standards-based grading in an inquiry course (“First Draft: SGSI Standards?”) or some combination of the two.

    Here are the two links:
    https://teachbrianteach.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/note-to-future-myself-about-the-first-day/
    https://teachbrianteach.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/first-draft-sgsi-standards/

    Note: To find these links, I did a site-based search through google. For example, I found the latter pair by googling site:teachbrianteach.wordpress.com/ inquire students thinking. With this method, all three of the links pasted above could be found in less than a minute.

    • Thanks Maya, great to have the reminder of where I was thinking this before. Neither of those two posts by Brian is the one I was looking for, unfortunately — there’s one where he states the same idea nearly verbatim. But it was great to go back and read those posts and see how this idea is woven through his practise.

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