IB PYP in the spring of 2009. While much of the philosophy and teaching methods promoted by the PYP are very similar to what Seneca Academy (and formerly, The Circle School) has always implemented, there have been some areas where we needed to learn new ways of doing things. One area where we have significantly enriched our practice has been in the implementation of inquiry teaching and learning.
Inquiry is so much more than just asking questions! Of course, in order to fully engage in in-depth inquiry, students need to be able to ask meaningful, relevant and significant questions. We teach them the art of questioning the moment they step into our preschool. The full inquiry process takes questioning farther though, to lead to hypothesis, investigation, and action. Rather than teachers telling or demonstrating the change process to students, they invite them to make meaning themselves of what they observe. Therefore, when fully engaged in inquiry, students take on at least some responsibility for their learning and for how they use their new knowledge. Our current preschool 4’s unit of inquiry focusing on life cycles of plants, animals and insects is one of the ways we get our young students engaged in inquiry. This opportunity is also going on in kindergarten where our students are observing and recording (in various ways) what is happening to fertilized eggs in an incubator.
One of my favorite recent examples of a teacher guiding the inquiry process happened in 3rd grade. These students were beginning a unit on societal organizations where the central idea was “People organize themselves to meet societal needs.” They class had discussed various groups such as the Red Cross, The United Nations, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, etc.
They happened to come across an article in Scholastic News about an elementary student in Pennsylvania who created a “Buddy Bench” for his school’s playground. Our 3rd graders were fascinated by this idea and asked to create one for Seneca Academy. They wrote a formal proposal to me, outlining the purpose of the Buddy Bench, where they would purchase it, and how they would raise money to fund the project. They used their negotiating skills as they worked together to brainstorm fund raising possibilities, their visual presenting skills when they created posters to advertise their project, and their oral presenting skills when they presented the concept to the whole school.
They came up with a design for the painting of the bench and a logo of their “organization” (H.E.L. P. – Helping Encourages Loving People) to put on the bench as well. They wrote me another formal request after the bench was completed, asking me to allow them to present their bench to the community during a morning assembly, and if I would preside over a ribbon cutting. I am confident that the life skills and conceptual knowledge these 8 and 9 year old students learned through this project that they managed themselves will last for many years to come.
What should students know and be able to do when they leave elementary school? I think the variety of skills gained through the inquiry process provide the foundation for a life of meaningful learning.