Monday, January 5, 2015

Building Your Way to In-Depth Inquiry

A Day at the Park
If you ask me, inquiry is the heart of great teaching and learning. As the excerpt from the lengthy but fantastic A Day at the Park to the left notes, questions in many cases are better than answers and this thinking was recently reinforced when I read A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. But teachers often struggle with the concept of In-Depth Inquiry both conceptually and in practice because it's more than just asking questions.

Using the analogy of a house it can be helpful to think of in-depth inquiry using the starting point of asking an elementary age child to draw a house. Typically this would take the form of a fairly simple sketch. It might be more or less detailed and perhaps it might be an aerial view but more than likely it would be similar to our little red house here. As we start to take multiple passes at improving our house we might ask, "that's nice but how might we see the layout of the rooms?" With this question in mind we would likely see the perspective shift to an overhead view floor plan layout but still lacking detail and likely with some serious architectural and engineering challenges. At this point what if you asked questions like:
  • How many people will live in this house?
  • Is there enough room for everyone to relax and play?
  • What would your parents say about this layout?
This might bring revisions that include more kitchen, working or play space or perhaps additional bedrooms and/or bathrooms as well as some thinking about size and different rooms. But it's unlikely a child would be thinking about things like plumbing concerns so we might have a plumber or other outside expert ask questions about how and where the water would flow in and out of the house. You might imagine the child could take the guidance from an expert to better design their layout to increase efficiency. For example they may revise to put a bathroom and kitchen or laundry in close proximity. As these revision points, multiple passes and drafts occur rich opportunities for deeper inquiry by teacher and student would likely present themselves as the depth of complexity increases and other Need to Know questions arise. As each of the red arrows below drill down with questions you could see a widening swath of connective inquiry, tangentially related questions bubbling to the surface to the left and right generating increasingly complex cognitive processing.

While this may be a simplified example without a clear purpose I don't think it's difficult to imagine the potential for increased learning of content and skills if we were to replace the "house" with a challenging and engaging problem. In the example shown in the video below from Ace Leadership High School (which I had the pleasure of visiting a couple years ago) you can easily imagine the multiple passes and depth of inquiry necessary to complete those projects. When we ask students to produce thinking for an authentic purpose we set the stage to move beyond simple skim of the surface, lower levels of Bloom's Taxonomy questions that often show up on and in preparation for tests. In this setting teachers can support the improvement of student skills (like questioning) as they pursue craftsmanlike work and gain deeper conceptual learning around any content necessary.

For more on inquiry visit the PEC web site and the PEC YouTube channel.