Friday, April 5, 2013

Inquiry in Education (Volume 1)

Aulls, M. W., & Shore, B. M. (2008) Inquiry in education: The conceptual foundations for research as a curricular imperative. New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

This book is a very thorough overview of inquiry in classrooms, and quite frankly hard to digest.  The material is very technical and includes a bunch of education theory that is not, in reality, applicable.  The reason I wanted to include this book is a single chapter that discusses inquiry in the realm of project-based learning.  Being in a project-based school I thought it was an important resource to reference.

Chapter 9: Project-based inquiry

The following quote is early in the chapter and is showing a connection between inquiry and the social quality of project-based learning as laid down by Dewey:
“Unlike discovery learning, in which the focus is on the individual and experience, the social dynamics of the project may be hypothesized to have been the center of Dewey’s brand of project-based instruction. [. . .] Certainly, inquiry was viewed as inherently social by Dewey. For example, he stated that inquiry proceeded from doubt to resolution of doubt, and that we were doubtful because a situation was inherently doubtful. Thus, inquiry arises from an indeterminate situation. [. . .] Situations may either initiate inquiry or arise during inquiry. In some senses, a project might be considered a situation for inquiry.” (p. 170)
That final line is the connection I am looking for between projects and inquiry.  I am hoping to structure projects next year that call for inquiry, that takes asking questions and delving into evidence in order to complete.  I am also interested in creating projects that result from some form of inquiry.  I am interested in inquiry as a motivator and what better way to motivate students in a project than to have it come from their own wonderings.

Aulls and Shore continue to connect inquiry to Dewey’s model of project based learning:
“Dewey defined the activity of inquiry as “the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate situation into one that is so determinate in its constituent distinctions and relations as to convert the elements of the original situation into a unified whole” (Dewey, 1938/1991, p.108)” (p.171)

“By inquiry, Dewey probably had in mind a practical activity, embodied as a project, which over a lengthy period of time would transform a problematic situation, social or scientific, into one that was more clearly articulated, unified, coherent, and comprehensible, and that allowed the planning directions for future successful action.” (p.171)
I picture being in the middle of a project and having the students ask questions about the content, the process, and things they are curious about.  These questions could then lead into research to help develop a broader understanding of the connections in the project as well as connections to topics outside the realm of the project.

The following quote demonstrates the struggle I have had with connecting inquiry to statistics:
“Research on learning in subjects such as mathematics and literacy seldom adopts the project as the model upon which classroom instruction is based.” (p. 172)

Aulls and Shore shared some difficulties that arise when teaching inquiry in a project-based classroom:
“Students tended to decide too quickly on a question to investigate rather than considering its merits. They were attracted to the uniqueness of some aspect of the situation or phenomenon.” (p. 177)

“Students tended to use everyday life experiences to relate to the results they found. Students did not use their findings to justify their own conclusions or to suggest new inquiry questions. When presenting results, students focused on their procedures and conclusions but not on scientific interpretations of findings.” (p. 178)
I have to be careful when allowing students to pursue open-ended inquiry.  There still needs to be the right amount of support and scaffolding to ensure their success.

Aulls and Shore wrapped up the chapter with a nice outline of qualities of project-based inquiry:
“The defining, if not completely unique, qualities of project-based inquiry within the many forms of inquiry analyzed in this volume are that (a) it is a collaborative student activity typically conducted in what is called a community of learners, (b) it is built around questions that arise from deep disciplinary or broad worldly questions, and (c) there are important teacher roles at multiple levels that range from teaching learners to create meaningful problems, to sustaining dialogue that supports the inquiry process over extended time periods, to modeling knowledge-creation processes in the discipline, to anchoring student conclusions and extrapolations in the disciplinary canon.” (p. 183)
This has helped me picture what inquiry can look like in my own classroom and I realize that it can be integrate seamlessly without a great amount of shaking things up.  The role of the teacher in the above quote also helps me to see what I am going to need to focus on during these lessons.  These are things that I already experience (and struggle with) within our senior project structure.  I’m curious whether this can expand to senior project after my action research.

Dewey, J. (1991). Logic: The theory of inquiry. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. (Original work published in 1938)

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