JS News, 5 May 21
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By Nick Martin - Assistant Head of Junior School, Teaching and Learning
‘Keeping it real’ through inquiry-based learning
Radford College is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school offering the Primary Years Programme (PYP) in our Junior School, and the Diploma Programme (DP) in Years 11 and 12. The IB as an organisation supports schools in developing high-quality programs of learning, with a broad focus on inspiring young people to make the world a better and more peaceful place.
One of the features of the PYP, and in turn, learning and teaching in our Junior School, is an inquiry approach to learning. Inquiry-based learning places the student at the centre of the learning process. In a more traditional approach to learning, the teacher is the expert and has a prescribed set of content that must be delivered to the students. So traditional learning looks largely the same each year, irrespective of which students are in the classroom or what is happening in the world.
In an inquiry approach, teachers begin with what students already know. This will be different in every class, as we know that each child brings their own experience, knowledge skills and expertise. Students are then challenged to extend their thinking, ask questions, find out more, synthesise their new learning, form conclusions, build theories and take action. Throughout the process, teachers expertly embed content that is relevant to the student’s inquiries, and that will help them to develop important understanding. An inquiry approach is responsive, relevant and engaging. A simple way to think about inquiry is that the child is the one doing the thinking. When children ‘find out’ for themselves, the learning is much more powerful.
Over the past few weeks, we have had a number of year levels embark on excursions to local sites around Canberra. These excursions are aligned with the ‘Finding Out’ phase of their inquiries. In class, they have accessed the prior knowledge of the students and are looking for ways to extend their thinking and challenge their assumptions. Excursions are a wonderful way to make the learning ‘real’.
Year 3 students visited the War Memorial to explore the tradition of ANZAC Day, as part of their Where we are in place and time unit. The central idea for the unit is ‘Traditions can unite or divide’.
Year 4 students visited the National Museum of Australia to look at the impact of migration and exploration on Australia as part of their Where we are in place and time unit. The central idea for the unit is ‘Movement and exploration contribute to change’.
Year 5 students visited the Australian Electoral Commission and Parliament House to explore the concept of decision-making as part of their How we organise ourselves unit. The central idea for the unit is ‘Values inform decision-making’.
Year 6 students visited the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre as part of an exploration of renewable and non-renewable energy within their How the world works unit. The central idea for the unit is ‘Sustainability requires balance between people, profit and planet’.
What can parents do to support an inquiry approach?
Meet a question with a question:
If your child asks you a question, rather than simply telling them the answer, respond with, ‘How could you find that out?’
Be prepared to inquire together:
If your child shows an interest in something – plan a way that you can find out together. This will be a great way to model inquiry with your child.
Ask an open-ended question:
When you travel, or visit places of significance, support your child to engage by asking an open-ended question, such as, ‘What do you notice?’ This can be a springboard to inquiry.
Be a learner:
When you need to find out something – such as how to change a tyre on your car – talk your child through the process that you’ll be taking to find out. It is powerful for your child to see that you’re also still learning.