For us to explore how inquiry based learning may be
incorporated in to SESE curricular areas we must first investigate and clearly
define what is meant by inquiry based learning. This essay will then examine and
debate the advantages and disadvantages surrounding this approach and its
comparison to problem based learning. Inquiry can be defined as a seeking for
truth, information, or knowledge and seeking information by questioning (WNET).
Inquiry based learning is a process that is a lifelong skill, unbeknownst to
most of us, that we must develop in school. Infants begin to make sense of the
world around them through inquiry based practices. Babies observe faces that
come near, grasp objects, put objects in their mouths, and turn their heads
towards voices. This forms the foundation of the inquiry based learning process
by gathering information through the use of human senses; seeing, hearing,
touching, tasting, and smelling (WNET). This natural instinct within us all
must be capitalised upon to effectively incorporate an inquiry based learning approach
into STEM subjects. This approach may serve to underpin high levels of student
engagement, enjoyment, and excellent performance in STEM disciplines (STEM
Inquiry-Based Learning puts the focus on curiosity and
observations, which are then followed by problem-solving and experimentation. Using
critical thinking and reflection, students connect meanings from collected
evidence and date, leading to an understanding and sense sense of the natural
world around them. Compared to problem based learning where problems are posed
in such a way that students need to seek new knowledge before they can solve
them, inquiry based learning provides a more active alternative. Rather than simply
seeking a single correct answer, students are enabled to interpret the problem,
gather the information needed to identify possible solutions, and then evaluate
options and present conclusions. The revised curricula in SESE allows a timely
opportunity to introduce this new way of teaching, learning and assessment methodologies
to enhance STEM education (STEM Education Review Group, 2016). This approach is
a flexible one that allows the teacher to design different learning
environments along an inquiry continuum that best fits the context of the
learning situation (Banchi & Bell, 2008).
Bianchi & Bell (2008) consider open inquiry as the
highest level of inquiry. This allows students to have the best opportunities
to act like scientists in a SESE setting. Students are active in lessons and
are encouraged to derive questions, design and carry out investigations, and
communicate their results to each other and the teacher. This level requires
the most scientific reasoning and greatest cognitive demand from students
(Kuhn, 2005). Inquiry-based learning can help make connections within subjects
and through all SESE disciplines and the wider curriculum. Teaching specific
content such as photosynthesis in science has more relevance for the learner if
set in a larger context of understanding. Students must understand the relationship of the sun, plants, and
the role of carbon dioxide and water. History content, such as the industrial revolution, set in the context of interrelating changes in the
human-designed world can add new perspectives to this important natural
process. Students can still learn content of both science and history, but
through a series of well-planned experiences, they will grasp the larger
conceptual context and gain greater understanding of both. Within a conceptual
framework, inquiry based learning and active learner participation can lead to
important outcomes in the classroom. Students who actively make observations,
collect, analyse, and synthesize information, and draw conclusions are
developing relevant problem-solving skills. These skills can be applied to
future situations that students will encounter both at school and in the
The advantages of inquiry based learning lie in its
flexibility and adaptable nature for a variety of projects. Allowing children
to partake in this approach helps to build self-esteem and confidence through
allowing them to be more active in their own learning process as opposed to
being a passive participant to the teachers’ lesson. Another major advantage is
that this approach can work with any age group within a primary school setting
and 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 of
physical, emotional and cognitive function. While there are many advantages to
this approach, it is important to balance the argument and explore
disadvantages relating to inquiry based learning. It is important to point out
that 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 planning
and preparation time from the teacher. This approach can also be rather time
consuming and may take away vital time from other subject areas within the
school day (WNET).
Through the process of inquiry, individuals construct much of
their understanding of the natural and human-designed worlds. Inquiry is not so
much seeking the right answer, but seeking appropriate resolutions to questions
and issues. For educators, inquiry implies emphasis on the development of
inquiry skills and the nurturing of inquiring attitudes or habits of mind that
will enable individuals to continue the quest for knowledge throughout their lives.
The knowledge base for disciplines is continually evolving (Gardner, 1991). A primary
school pupil cannot simply learn everything, rather, they can develop their
skills and foster the inquiring attitudes necessary to continue the cultivation
and examination of knowledge throughout their lives. In modern education, the
skills and the ability to continue learning should be the most important
outcomes. While much thought and research has been spent on the role of inquiry
in SESE, inquiry learning can be applied to all disciplines (WNET). This inquiry
based practice transforms the learner from a passive to an active participant
in the learning process. The teacher also moves from being an isolated subject
expert to an instructional leader and learning architect for full pupil involvement.
The goal of this approach is to improve learning by developing more self-sufficient
learners who become increasingly responsible for their own learning.
‘making meanings is central to what
learning is about’ (Mezirow, P.11)
Word Count: 1059
Banchi, H. & Bell, R. (2008) The Many Levels of
Inquiry. Science and Children.
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Gardner, H. (1983) Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple
Intellegences. 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) Transformative Dimensions of Adult
Learning. New Jersey: Wiley.
STEM Education Review Group (2016) STEM. Education in the Irish school system. 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).
Education (2004) Workshop: Inquiry Based Learning. Available at: http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/inquiry/index.html
(Accessed: 29 January 2018).