Inquiring Minds Want to Know!

What is inquiry... and how does it fit so well with homeschoolers?

When I first was hired at the Cornell Lab, they told me to create an inquiry-based curriculum.  Hmmmm... I started by asking myself and my team:  WHAT IS INQUIRY?  First, it's not the same as doing "hands-on science."  I came up with my own personal definition: it's when someone asks and answers his or her own questions.  Therefore, it's based in personal curiosity and investment in the answer.

Science is, by its nature, inquiry-based

Inquiry implies ACTION on the part of the learner: a search for information; a pursuit of knowledge; the exploration of phenomena in order to better understand the world. To accomplish this, learners need experiences with objects, phenomena, and/or nature that will stimulate thinking and raise questions.

Thus, inquiry-based learning seems to fit perfectly with homeschool families as it requires:

  • Learner-centeredness
  • Active, open questioning
  • Opportunities for active investigations that include gaining knowledge and skills through observing or manipulating  objects, phenomena, and/or nature.
One easy way you can incorporate inquiry into your teaching is simply to reconsider how you ask questions and how you provide opportunities for your child to think or puzzle things out.

For example, take the photo on the right.  

You could state: "Sam, that is a Rock Pigeon."

By "giving it away," Sam is left with memorizing the bird's name--or not.  

Or you could pose a question: "What kind of bird is that, Sam?"

That question is a good start.  Sam can look up the bird online or in a field guide if he doesn't know it.  By figuring it out, he's learned that he CAN find answers... and also, how to go about it.

Better yet, there are even more questions--open-ended questions-- that require even more thought or are based in experience or invite interpretation.  These questions might not even have a right-or-wrong answer, or they might push thinking well beyond the bounds of the simple observation!  These questions include:
  • What is that bird is doing?  Why is she doing that?
  • Where do birds usually get water?  Does it depend on the species?
  • What kinds of things do you think this bird has to do to survive in her habitat?
Take a moment to help me brainstorm some open-ended questions and add them to the comments section of this post!

By the way, one of the curricula modules we ended up developing is a truly inquiry-based resource called BirdSleuth: Investigating Evidence.  It's available for a free download. It invites kids to collect their questions on an "I wonder board."  This approach has worked so well, I hope you'll give it a try! 

Happy investigating,

Jennifer Fee
K-12 Programs Manager
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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