3 Important Questions On Classroom Inquiry

During last Thursday’s #GeniusHour Twitter chat, I learned how to handle three considerations on my journey to reintroduce inquiry learning into my elementary classroom.


After a round of brief introductions, chat moderator for the night, @Gallit_z, offered the above questions for the group to discuss. During my initial attempt at introducing inquiry learning with my students last year, I was extremely vague on deadlines and due dates, and I believe this contributed to organizational challenges I experienced.  I was particularly interested in this question because my students didn’t get to present last year, and I wanted to get a sense of how this important part of the inquiry cycle would work in my setting.  Most of the educators who attended Thursday’s chat used some form of social media to allow their students to share their learning outside of the four walls of the classroom.  Social media networks allow students to engage in ‘visible thinking’ throughout their inquiry as oppose to just at the end of it.

There was a variety of different ways that educators used to share their student’s final work.  Two outstanding ideas both involved engaging with the community outside of school.  @pstolt1 hosts a BYOD (Bring Your Own Dinner Night) for parents and family members while @jcd118 presented student inquiry projects to the school board.  Inquiry learning should involve the active participation of the community, and I am excited to try and host a bring your dinner (BYOD) night to celebrate student achievement.






Asking students to document their learning is an important part of the inquiry process.  It encourages accountability and is a valuable self-regulation skill.  Last year, I thought I had prepared my students well in this area, but they seemed to find it challenging when asked to explain what they had discovered during that week’s learning block.  I asked my learners to fill out this Google Doc at the end of each inquiry block.  Many of the educators in Thursday’s chat also used something similar to track their students’ learning.  The difference between those who were successful in student’s documenting their work, and those that were not, were educators who conferenced with their students on a regular basis.  Most of the educators in this chat housed their student tracking in one spot to make it easy to view and offer guidance.  I didn’t do this last time but will certainly incorporate it this time.  Trello, Padlet, and a range of Google tools are excellent resources to track whole-class learning.



When I first introduced inquiry learning to my students, there was a rush of excitement from the class.  I heard expressions like, “Finally, I get to learn about something I like!” or “Cool, I’ve always wanted to learn about…!”  Naturally, when students were asked to narrow down their focus and document their learning some of their initial passion dissipated.  Knowing what to do if my students get into a rut with inquiry learning is of high value to the facilitator.  Once again, there was a variety of tips for maintaining learning momentum.  I appreciated @PlainfieldGH advice – “Modify your project to overcome.”  I think there is great value in teaching young children that their initial ideas may not come to fruition and that a redesign is a natural and important step in the process.  @HughTheTeacher shared a link to several motivational videos that I will no doubt need to explore at some point, while others participate in Motivational Mondays.  If the inquiry is to be successful for all students I’ve learned that it is important to accept that at the initial excitement about learning will fade, and it would be beneficial to be prepared for it.

Inquiry #LearningProject Reflection

Basic Inquiry Cycle (1)

As I continue to develop a more robust framework for inquiry learning in my classroom, I have developed a very basic inquiry cycle to guide my instruction.

Before I start my latest reflection on Reintroducing Inquiry Learning Into The Elementary Classroom, I wanted to give a quick shout out to Terri Eichholz  and her recent blog post for turning me onto Barry Schwartz and his TED Talk, The Paradox of Choice, which describes the debilitating effect that too much choice can have on our decision making process.

I directly related the negative effects of choice that Schwartz discusses to the difficulty and time it took students to decide the focus of their inquiry.  I wrongly assumed they would just figure it out in due course – that deciding wouldn’t be a big deal.  I was wrong!

Schwartz says too much choice makes it difficult for people to make a decision and paralysis is a consequence of having too many choices.  He also argues that even when we make a decision by overcoming the challenges associated with too much choice, we end up less satisfied with our final choice than we would have if we had fewer options to choose from.


  1. The more options there are, the easier it is to regret your final decision because it is natural to start to compare the final choice with the original list of choices.  This results in a decrease of satisfaction with the product, even if the decision was a good choice.  In practice, creating a huge list of inquiry topics with the class may be counterproductive.
  1. ‘Opportunity costs’ – whenever one chooses to do one thing it is inevitably at the direct cost of another.  In inquiry learning, the dilemma of choosing to learn about different animal skeletons means it is not possible to learn about gardening.  This causes internal conflict, which can be extremely debilitating for some children.
  1. ‘Escalation of expectation’ – adding excessive choice to people’s lives increases their expectations about how good those choices are. This produces less satisfaction with final decision, even when it is a good decision.  In inquiry learning, student’s expectations surrounding a topic may become over inflated, which leads to an eventual decrease in overall satisfaction.

I plan to counter Schwartz’s findings and help to improve my learner’s chances of self-select an inquiry topic in a timely manner by:

  • involving parents more in the process – parents know their children and their passions better than anyone
  • model my own inquiry learning
  • help my learners narrow their inquiry focus by asking them to think about what they do during unstructured time

How do you help students navigate the decisioning making process around their inquiry projects?

Learning Project Reflection: #InquiryChat

InquiryChat  with tweets  · MrLister · Storify

I am a great proponent of attending Twitter chats to stretch my thinking and engage in professional development.  There are times when I find myself highly engaged in some chats while other times I simply lurk and listen to the engaging conversations.  Whichever mood I’m in, I always leave with valuable resources and nuggets of information that challenge my thinking.  On my journey to reintroduce inquiry learning into my classroom, I found two Twitter chats that may prove useful – #inquirychat and #geniushour.


I attended my first #inquirychat on Thursday evening and left with mixed opinions.  I’m used to fast-paced chats such as #bcedchat and #edchat, and I found Thursday’s experience very different from my normal encounters – slow, sometimes awkward, but in some respects more meaningful.  I’m the type of person who needs time to process ideas that challenge my thinking, and need time to craft thoughtful responses to questions.  Thursday’s chat offered time for me to reflect on the questions before sharing my thoughts.


One disadvantage of the chat was that there were only six people contributing to the conversations and most of them were looking at inquiry through the lens of the middle and high-school experience.  Another disadvantage was the cultural differences between members of the chat.  Most of the participants were from the U.S. and much of the chat centered on the difficulties of adopting inquiry learning methods in an environment that places so much emphasis on standardized testing.


In spite of the limited number of participants, there were several useful pieces of information I picked up.  The topic of service-learning came up in the chat several times and this topic fits in nicely with one of the options in the framework I plan to develop during this learning project.  I appreciated this tweet from @MlleLofthouse because it reminds me to engage my learners in thinking centered around real-life problem/solutions:

InquiryChat   · MrLister · Storify

Points That Stretched My Thinking:

  • Inquiry can motivate learners when it involves real life learning such as service learning
  • ‘Hands-on’ learning opportunities often make the best inquiry learning projects
  • Simulations are great ways to engage learners in skill and content building exercises
  • Game-based learning and simulation-based learning lend themselves well to inquiry learning
Resources added to my Diigo on Inquiry Learning:

Reintroducing Inquiry Learning Into The Elementary Classroom


In January of last year I introduced an inquiry block named C.H.O.I.C.E (Children Have Ownership In Choice Education) into my weekly schedule.  I told my students that for an hour and a half every Thursday I was setting aside time for them to follow their passions.  Initially there was much excitement on my part and on the part of my students.  Some students wanted to learn about art while others wanted to learn how to use Windows Movie Maker to produce videos.  The first mistake I made was spending more time figuring out a cute acronym for the block of time I was setting aside rather than preparing my students for new way for doing school. Upon reflection I got my priorities all wrong.  As part of my #learningproject in EDCI 569 with Alec Couros, I intend to ‘right the ship’ and reintroduce inquiry-learning into my classroom in more intentional way.


I have some important goals I would like to achieve with this project:

  1. Create a framework that is suitable for inquiry learning in an elementary school setting
  2. Scaffold the learning process so all my learners can experience a successful project
  3. Include parents in the project by sharing learning throughout the process not just at the end
  4. Create conditions for students to share their learning at the end of the project with the rest of the class and publicly
  5. Provide just the right amount of guidance so as not to exhibit too much control over learning
  6. Share the resources I collect through the process of my learning via a tool such Diigo or Scoop.It


I plan to share my learning on my blog under the category ‘CHOICE’ and the tag ‘#LearningProject’.  My blog posts will also auto populate to Twitter using the hashtags #LearningProject and #TIEGrad.

In addition, I have discovered that with any learning project it is important to connection with a like-minded community for support and inspiration.  With this in mind I plan to attend two Twitter chat each month.  Sadly, they are both on Thursdays at 6pm PST which means I can only attend for the first half hour because of class but something is better than nothing.  #GeniusHour is held on the first Thursday of every month and #InquiryChat is bi-weekly on Thursdays at 6pm.

Let the journey begin…

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