Monday, September 15, 2014

How structured should inquiry be in the PYP?

In one of our collaborative planning and reflection meetings, the teachers asked about the personal inquiries that students sometimes begin having spontaneously: within a math disciplinary unit of inquiry, students are developing their understanding of different number systems and how we use them today.

One of the students posed the following question: Why don't we use roman numbers all the time, the way people used to in history?

The teacher that shared this question was wondering how she could foster this student's personal interest, while at the same time make sure that this students is exploring the lines of inquiry and knowledge that she needs to acquire. 

So the first aspect that we discussed was: Is this student's inquiry really outside the unit's scope? Is this student not developing her own personal understanding of the central idea through this wondering? 

These questions led the discussion to the fact that despite that the student's question was somewhat "outside" the lines of inquiry, it was, in fact, a great way for the student to explore her understandings and develop her comprehension of the central idea.

But then the obvious question came up: should this particular student continue inquiring into this personal interest, or should this student participate in the class inquiry?

The discussion then went in various directions: this student needs to continue participating in the class inquiry, instead of using class time to inquire into her question; each student should be able to inquire into whatever they want, we should provide the resources and time for this to happen; what if the student were interested in inquiring into something totally different? Should we also let them inquire into this during class time? If so, how and when will this student develop his/her understandings of the topics and generalisations we need to teach them?

We discussed it for a while, went through the "Making the PYP Happen" (or "Happy"!) and other IB docs such as "The PYP: a Basis for Practice", and concluded that inquiry in the PYP is structured inquiry.

Structured inquiry means that students are conducting an inquiry, following different inquiry cycles, where they are:

  • activating prior knowledge
  • testing their hypothesis
  • searching for new information
  • experimenting
  • exploring
  • classifying their new understandings
  • synthesising their new understandings
  • reaching generalisations
  • making conclusions
  • reflecting on how their understandings have changed
  • sharing their findings and conclusions with others
  • changing the way they act or accomplish things in light of their new learning. 
However, as the inquiry is structured, students do all of this, inside a given structure: the lines of inquiry, the key concepts and the related concepts.  

So yes, students should be able to inquire into their own interests and wonderings, but inside the structure of the lines of inquiry and concepts. 

Does this mean that we should not provide time and resources for students to develop their natural curiosity and interests? Of coarse not!

What we concluded in this meeting is that within the structure of our unit of inquiry, students should and must ask, inquire and answer questions about their own interests, inside the scope of the lines of inquiry and conceptual understandings. However, we should also provide students with time and resources for them to ask, inquire and answer questions about whatever topics interest them, wether they are related to or absolutely different from, the curriculum that we are required to teach them. 

So why not have a half hour a week where we let students explore topics of their own interest? Cars, soccer, cooking, knitting, ...? Why not help them develop their inquiry skills, research skills and attitudes while they do this? Why not use these personal interests as an opportunity to develop transdisciplinary skills, attitudes and profile attributes?

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