Engaging students and keeping them interested in what they’re learning is among the list of things teachers are perpetually working at improving. Each school year brings a different group of young minds with abilities, experiences, and levels of confidence. With many schools facilitating instruction within hybrid learning and remote learning environments, teachers are faced with the added challenge of engaging students who are spending an increased chunk of time in front of a screen without in-person interaction. Inquiry-based learning strategies can prove to be just what is needed for students to become excited about what their learning, while also giving teachers a clearer picture of how and what their students are understanding.
What is inquiry-based learning? It is active learning that involves posing questions, problems, or challenging situations so that students work to uncover information through research and collaborating with peers. Then, students share their findings through different means (essays, presentations, dramatizations, video, etc.). Essentially, inquiry-based learning encourages students take ownership of their learning and develop skills that help them now and beyond their school years, such as critical thinking and problem-solving. Oftentimes teachers have already employed inquiry-based learning strategies, even while distance teaching, without realizing they’ve done so. Here are just a few:
- Before beginning a topic or unit (measurement, rain forests, use of imagery in fiction, etc.) give students time to conduct their own research and formulate questions. The information — in 2-3 simple sentences — can be collaborated on using a shared, editable doc (set a time frame that students can post information). At the next in-class or synchronous virtual session, using an online platform like MimioConnect®, share posts that garnered the most comments. Have students break out into groups to share their questions and identify similar ones. Close with a whole class discussion of the information and questions that came up often.
MC Tip: Use the video conferencing tool in MimioConnect to facilitate small group discussions. Students can privately message teacher when there is a question that needs clarification. All annotations using the whiteboarding tools can be saved for later reference.
- After deciding on a topic, have students turn their questions – or the questions that came up often – into a problem statement. For example, when digging into the use of imagery as a literary device, a student can change the question How does imagery affect the mood of the story? To Do feelings associated with imagery always reveal the theme of the story? Then allow the student (or small group with similar interest) conduct research. This can start as guided research during in-person or live sessions where the teacher acts as “head teacher” from whom students can seek help and support. For virtual sessions, small groups can be scheduled to work with the teacher for a block of time (i.e., 60 minutes).
MC Tip: In MimioConnect, create a “lesson” with each group’s problem statement and add subsequent research during the session (documents, images, slide presentations, PDFs, YouTube videos).
- During student-led group discussions, track conversations. Jot down student names, draw lines between students showing who spoke next, and overall observation of the discussion. This helps to gauge who is contributing and who needs more guidance on how to contribute. Possibly, conversation stems are needed for more reticent learners to build confidence with communication and collaboration skills.
- Give students choice about how they will present the culminating project. Even if the topic is maths-based, allow students to write if that’s what they’re comfortable with doing. For example, they can write a short story with the maths concept serving as the foundation (think the Pigs Will Be Pigs series, the Sir Cumference or the Math Inspectors book series, or similar). Develop a rubric that includes the main objectives to be met. As students research topics of interest, then plan and design their own culminating artifacts, their engagement increases and their motivation to share as subject-matter experts is boosted.
- Plan for students to reflect on their process (asking questions to closing presentation). Encourage them to identify what worked and what didn’t work, helping them to recognize that although there are challenges to learning something new, it is not impossible. The reflection piece helps strengthen their metacognition skills (thinking about thinking). They will become more reflective in their future learning experiences, a vital skill for life after schooling ends.
The more opportunities that students have to lead their learning process through their own questions, the more that they will see themselves as capable of doing much more than they previously thought. Keep the inquiry-based process simple – questions, discussion, research, culmination, and reflection. Even within a remote learning or hybrid learning environment, easy-to-use applications or platforms like MimioConnect can minimize the amount of content that has to be created and presented via direct instruction. The ultimate goal is to spark curiosity and lead students to become critical thinkers and problem-solvers. These same problem-solvers are who we all will turn to in the future.
To get your free trial of the multi-award winning MimioConnect blended learning platform, go to boxlight.com/mimioconnect.