Inquiry-Based Learning in Academic Disciplines

Inquiry learning in science education
Inquiry learning has been used as a teaching and learning tool for thousands of years, however, the use of inquiry within public education has a much briefer history. Ancient Greek and Roman educational philosophies focused much more on the art of agricultural and domestic skills for the middle class and oratory for the wealthy upper class. It was not until the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, during the late 17th and 18th century that the subject of Science was considered a respectable academic body of knowledge. Up until the 1900s the study of science within education had a primary focus on memorizing and organizing facts.

John Dewey, a well-known philosopher of education at the beginning of the 20th century, was the first to criticize the fact that science education was not taught in a way to develop young scientific thinkers. Dewey proposed that science should be taught as a process and way of thinking – not as a subject with facts to be memorized. While Dewey was the first to draw attention to this issue, much of the reform within science education followed the lifelong work and efforts of Joseph Schwab. Joseph Schwab was an educator who proposed that science did not need to be a process for identifying stable truths about the world that we live in, but rather science could be a flexible and multi-directional inquiry driven process of thinking and learning. Schwab believed that science in the classroom should more closely reflect the work of practicing scientists. Schwab developed three levels of open inquiry that align with the breakdown of inquiry processes that we see today.

Students are provided with questions, methods and materials and are challenged to discover relationships between variables
Students are provided with a question, however, the method for research is up to the students to develop
Phenomena are proposed but students must develop their own questions and method for research to discover relationships among variables

Today, we know that students at all levels of education can successfully experience and develop deeper level thinking skills through scientific inquiry. The graduated levels of scientific inquiry outlined by Schwab demonstrate that students need to develop thinking skills and strategies prior to being exposed to higher levels of inquiry. Effectively, these skills need to be scaffolded by the teacher or instructor until students are able to develop questions, methods, and conclusions on their own. A catalyst for reform within North American science education was the 1957 launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Union satellite. This historical scientific breakthrough caused a great deal of concern around the science and technology education the American students were receiving. In 1958 the U.S. congress developed and passed the National Defense Education Act in order to provide math and science teachers with adequate teaching materials.

America's National Science Education Standards (NSES) (1996) outlines six important aspects pivotal to inquiry learning in science education.

Students should be able to recognize that science is more than memorizing and knowing facts.
Students should have the opportunity to develop new knowledge that builds on their prior knowledge and scientific ideas.
Students will develop new knowledge by restructuring their previous understandings of scientific concepts and adding new information learned.
Learning is influenced by students' social environment whereby they have an opportunity to learn from each other.
Students will take control of their learning.
The extent to which students are able to learn with deep understanding will influence how transferable their new knowledge is to real life contexts.

Inquiry learning in social studies & history
The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards was a joint collaboration among states and social studies organizations, including the National Council for the Social Studies, designed to focus social studies education on the practice of inquiry, emphasizing "the disciplinary concepts and practices that support students as they develop the capacity to know, analyze, explain, and argue about interdisciplinary challenges in our social world." The C3 Framework recommends an "Inquiry Arc" incorporating four dimensions: 1. developing questions and planning inquiries; 2. applying disciplinary concepts and tools; 3. evaluating primary sources and using evidence; and 4. communicating conclusions and taking informed action. For example, a theme for this approach could be an exploration of etiquette today and in the past. Students might formulate their own questions or begin with an essential question such as "Why are men and women expected to follow different codes of etiquette?" Students explore change and continuity of manners over time and the perspectives of different cultures and groups of people. They analyze primary source documents such as books of etiquette from different time periods and form conclusions that answer the inquiry questions. Students finally communicate their conclusions in formal essays or creative projects. They may also take action by recommending solutions for improving school climate.

Robert Bain in How Students Learn described a similar approach called "problematizing history". First a learning curriculum is organized around central concepts. Next, a question and primary sources are provided, such as eye witness historical accounts. The task for inquiry is to create an interpretation of history that will answer the central question. Students will form an hypothesis, collect and consider information and revisit their hypothesis as they evaluate their data.

Inquiry learning in Ontario's kindergarten program
After Charles Pascal's report in 2009, the Canadian province of Ontario's Ministry of Education decided to implement a full day kindergarten program that focuses on inquiry and play-based learning, called The Early Learning Kindergarten Program. As of September 2014, all primary schools in Ontario started the program. The curriculum document outlines the philosophy, definitions, process and core learning concepts for the program. Bronfenbrenner's ecological model, Vygotsky's zone of proximal development, Piaget's child development theory and Dewey's experiential learning are the heart of the program's design. As research shows, children learn best through play, whether it is independently or in a group. Three forms of play are noted in the curriculum document, pretend or "pretense" play, socio-dramatic play and constructive play. Through play and authentic experiences, children interact with their environment (people and/or objects) and question things; thus leading to inquiry learning. A chart on page 15 clearly outlines the process of inquiry for young children, including initial engagement, exploration, investigation, and communication. The new program supports holistic approach to learning. For further details, please see the curriculum document.

Since the program is extremely new, there is limited research on its success and areas of improvement. One government research report was released with the initial groups of children in the new kindergarten program. The Final Report: Evaluation of the Implementation of the Ontario Full-Day Early-Learning Kindergarten Program from Vanderlee, Youmans, Peters, and Eastabrook (2012) conclude with primary research that high-need children improved more compared to children who did not attend Ontario's new kindergarten program. As with inquiry-based learning in all divisions and subject areas, longitudinal research is needed to examine the full extent of this teaching/learning method.

Inquiry learning to read in the Netherlands, for reading mature children only
Since 2013 Dutch children have the opportunity of inquiry learning to read. The program is from the Dutch developmental psychologist dr. Ewald Vervaet, is named ‘Ontdekkend Leren Lezen’ (OLL; Discovery Learning to Read) and has three parts. In 2019 OLL is only available in Dutch. As we will see soon, an English version is feasible.

OLL’s main characteristic is that it is for children who are reading mature. Reading maturity is assessed with the Reading Maturity Test. It is a descriptive test that consists of two subtests. We present here the essentials.

In the writing test (‘schrijfproef’) the child writes his name, the words ‘mam’ and ‘dad’ and some names more, which he happens to know. In the reading test (‘leesproef’) the tester makes new, transparant (common, rare or nonsense) words which the child then tries to read. Testwords consist of three or four letters.

Suppose, Tim writes TIM, MAM, DAD and SOFIE (Tims sister). Good testwords are SIT, (nonsense word) FOM and MIST. When Tim reads SIT as ‘s, i, t’, he only analyses the sounds of the word. He is definitely not reading mature then.

However, when Tims reaction on SIT is first ‘s, i, t’ and then ‘sit’, he analyses-and-synthesizes. He then is reading mature of almost so for there are some conditions more such af analysing-and-synthesizin of words of four letters and absence of mirror writing in the writing test.

If a child is reading mature, he can start with OLL. The essential element of OLL are the discovering pages. See the discovering page for the letter ‘k’ below. The Dutch word ‘kat’ is the English word ‘cat’; Dutch ‘slak’ is English ‘snail’, Dutch ‘kers’ is English ‘cherry’ and Dutch ‘vork’ is English ‘fork’.

In earlier chapters the child has discovered the letters ‘a’, ‘t’, ‘s’, ‘l’, ‘e’, ‘r’, ‘v’ and ‘o’ in similar discovering pages. Consequently, the novelty in the discovering page for the letter ‘k’ is the figure ‘k’: obviously, the figure ‘k’ is a letter in the Dutch alphabet, but how does ‘k’ sound? The child finds this out by making hypotheses: is the one animal perhaps a snail, ‘slak’ in Dutch? If so, the word below sounds as /slak/; the child reads ‘s, l, a, k; slak’; hypothesis confirmed! Similarly with ‘k, a, t; kat’, ‘k, e, r, s; kers’ and ‘v, o, r, k; vork’. Consquently, the hypothesis ‘That is a snail’ has broadened itself to the hypothesis that ‘k’ sounds like /k/ as twice in the English word ‘clock’, and that hypothesis had proven to be tenable. Not just that: the process to find out how ‘k’ sounds, is rightly called a discovering process and Discovering Learing to Read clearly is a form of discovery or inquiry learning.

Discovery Learning to Read (DLR) in English
Phonemically speaking the Dutch language is much less transparant than almost completely transparant languages like Italian, Finnish and Czech, but much more transparant than languages like English and Danish. The classification of the British reading expert Debbie Hepplewhite (born in 1956) yields 217 letter-sound-combinations. The letter symbol ‘a’ for instance sounds on at least four ways: ‘car’, ‘fat’, ‘saw’ and ‘table’. Conversely, the sound in ‘table’ is written on at least seven other ways: ‘sundae’, ‘aid’, ‘straight’, ‘say’, ‘break’, ‘eight’ and ‘prey’. And so on.

Maybe a native speaker of English can construct enough discovering pages for all these 217 letter-sound-combinations, but the time being Discovery Learning to Read (DLR) looks only feasible with one or more auxiliary letters.

The very first discovering page could be with the word ‘ɑnd’ and would actually be a discovering page for the letters ‘ɑ’, ‘n’ and ‘d’.
In the second discovering page the letter ‘m’-/m/ is discovered with ‘mɑn’, ‘dɑm’ and eventually ‘mɑd’ as discovering words.
In the third discovering page the letter ‘t’-/t/ is dicovered with ‘mɑt’ en ‘ɑnt’ and possibly ‘tɑn’ as discovering words.
In the fourth discovering page the letter ‘e’-/e/ is discovered with ‘ten’, ‘net’, ‘tent’ and ‘men’ as discovering words.
In the fifth discovering page the letter ‘r’-/r/ is discovered with ‘rɑt’, ‘trɑm’ and ‘red’ (for instance on the basis of the Brittish/USA-flag, with an arrow near the red parts).
In the sixth discovering page the letter ‘s’-/s/ is discovered with ‘stem’, ‘nest’, ‘sɑnd’ and ‘ɑnts’.
In the seventh discovering page the letter ‘p’-/p/ is discovered with ‘pen’, ‘tɑp’, ‘pɑn’ and ‘mɑp’.
In the eighth discovering page the letter ‘i’-/i/ is discovered with ‘pin’, ‘tin’, ‘pit’ and ‘mist’.
In the ninth discovering page the first auxiliary letter could be discoverd: the /ai/-sound of ‘my’, ‘pie’, ‘find’ and ‘ice’, for instance with the discovering words ‘night’-/nait/, ‘mice’-/mais/, ‘pie’-/pai/ and ‘rice’-/rais/.

To make it clear to the child from the outset that ‘ai’ is not a standard letter but an auxiliary letter, this is told to him and this letter is presented in a different way than the standard letters, for example with a line through it and/or against a gray instead of white background: as ‘ɑi’, ‘ɑi’ or ‘ɑi’.

There are two conditions for a discovering page with a non-standard letter symbol. The first is that such a letter symbol resembles the standard alphabet as much as possible. And the second condition is that in the case of a combination of letters, the child is familiar with the composing parts. With ‘ɑi’ both conditions are fulfilled: the parts are derived from the standard alphabet and the child knows ‘ɑ’ and ‘i’ from the first and the eighth discovering pages.

In Vervaets opinion, the aim should be to keep the number of non-standard letter symbols as low as possible. After all, whatever kind of positive purpose is aimed for with non-standard letter symbols, the child learns them for the time being and should replace them – preferably as early as possible – and thus unlearn them. The number of things to be unlearned should therefore not be greater than strictly necessary.

In later discovering pages the child discovers the correct spelling. The /ɑi/-sound has at least these six spellings:

1- 'igh’ – ‘bright’, ‘fight’, ‘flight’, ‘high’, ‘knight’, ‘light’, ‘might’, ‘nigh’, ‘night’, ‘plight’, ‘right’, ‘sigh’, ‘sight’, ‘slight’, ‘thigh’, ‘tight’;
2- 'ie’ – ‘die’, ‘hie’, ‘lie’, ‘pie’, ‘tie’, ‘vie’;
‘3- i(nd)’ – ‘behind’, ‘bind’, ‘blind’, ‘find’, ‘kind’, ‘mind’, ‘rind’, ‘wind’;
4- ‘y’ – by’, ‘cry’, ‘dry’, ‘fly’, ‘fry’, ‘my’, ‘pry’, ‘shy’, ‘sky’, ‘spy’, ‘try’, ‘why’;
5- ‘ei’ – ‘eider’, ‘eiderdown’;
6- ‘i(consonant)e’ – ‘jibe’, ‘nice’, ‘tide’, ‘life’, ‘oblige’, ‘bike’, ‘file’, ‘time’, ‘fine’, ‘ripe’, ‘wise’, ‘kite’, ‘dive’, ‘size’.