The Evolution of Independent Inquiry

When I introduced Independent Inquiry in my Grade 4 class during the last school year, it was out of a desire to reinvent homework as a more relevant activity connecting learning at school with learning at home. The primary inspiration was the MIT Media Lab Learning Creative Learning course, and in particular, being introduced to Connected Learning.

Interest-driven learning comes as naturally to us human beings as breathing and scratching ourselves. The brain is made for it. We naturally seek creative solutions to problems and desire to learn what is useful and/or fun. I also became fascinated with the Maker Education Initiative and the implications of purposeful play for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education.

Why does school try to make learning so hard?

We began using a Google Form to reflect on our inquiries and holding weekly meetings to discuss the independent projects we were doing at home. Some highlighted projects can be found by searching the independent inquiry label here on Symphony of Ideas.

Soon after, I discovered Genius Hour. There were thousands of teachers around the world providing class time for students to pursue their passions and interests! Teaching at an inquiry school, I always provide time for independent research and autonomous learning opportunities, however, only along the lines of inquiry specified in our units.

The time had come to blow it wide open. I started a wiki to clarify purpose for myself and share with other educators, collect relevant resources and supporting articles, and publish my students’ reflections.

Starting this school year, and for the past three months, we have dedicated one to two hours per week to “indinq”, independent inquiry. The students operate on their own authority, with only suggestions or assistance coming from me. The only requirement is that they use our google form to reflect and document their activities.

The results have been impressive, including a pair who collaborated to create a robot using Lego MindStorms, a group who choreographed a dance routine to one of their favorite songs, an inquiry into improving basketball free-throw percentage, earning do-it-yourself badges, and exploring various web-based tools like Soundation and Mozilla Popcorn Maker to produce and remix original works of art.

      Most of what I do these days during ‘indinq’ is document. I’ve created a notebook in Evernote for each student and take pictures, occasionally with brief voice comments, when I notice a student reaching a milestone, obstacle, epiphany, or when collaborations begin or end, or for just about anything, really. The atmosphere in the room is so electric, virtually anything is an assessable learning experience.

If I had to choose the greatest benefit of independent inquiry, I would say that it is relevance. Because the students are pursuing their own interests, their learning is always meaningful. The skills and attitudes they develop transfer fluidly to other activities and they take pride in sharing their creations with the school community.

To a teacher unsure how to start or reticent to release the reins in their classroom, I recommend to start with something structured and gradually let go. Trust your students to trust their instincts. They know what they need to learn. Let them.

Crossposted from Symphony of Ideas