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What Is Inquiry-Based Learning?

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    What Is Inquiry-Based Learning?

    What Is Inquiry-Based Learning?

    Engaging students in the classroom helps them remain interested in their studies and prevents learners from feeling bored or disconnected. Though most instructors want to deliver materials that pique student interests, finding a method that works for everyone and strengthens student comprehension isn’t always easy.

    Inquiry-based learning is a learning approach that encourages students to share ideas, question materials, and investigate topics. This approach introduces students to learning methods that span beyond traditional lecture-style classes. Rather than memorizing facts and showing their knowledge on exams, students display their expertise and understand schoolwork by completing projects, experiencing materials firsthand, and having thought-provoking discussions.

    The 5E Inquiry Model

    The inquiry-based learning model takes students through five stages to help learners draw connections and educators make decisions about student interactions. The five phases are engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate. When students learn this way, they can develop critical thinking abilities and generate a sense of accomplishment.

    The 5E Inquiry Model

    Inquiry-based learning is most effective when instructors use it to introduce concepts because students can undergo a complete learning process. When instructors properly use this model, students can benefit significantly. Studies have shown 5E positively affects student achievement and knowledge permanence.

    1. Engage

    The engagement phase is the beginning of the learning process. At this time, instructors will gauge students’ knowledge and determine if there are any misconceptions about the material. Instructors should spark a desire for students to learn more about the upcoming topic during this phase and avoid lecturing, explaining, or defining terms and concepts. However, teachers can ask students whether they have any questions beforehand or ask students to express what they think they will learn or what they’re most excited to learn about the topic.

    2. Explore

    Through hands-on, inquiry-based learning projects, students can gather a joint knowledge base during the exploration phase. Students can use their knowledge to draw connections to the new material and start thinking about where the topic will move next. Learners can communicate with peers about observations and conclusions.

    3. Explain

    During the explanation stage, teachers use the students’ experience from the previous step to strengthen understanding. Instructors can provide formal definitions, give explanations, and clear misconceptions the students may have. Students can make connections, ask questions about their experience, and reflect on how or what they may have done to interact with the concept.

    4. Elaborate

    During the elaboration stage, students apply their understanding and reinforce new skills. Educators can ask students to complete further research by making presentations, completing another project, or doing some other activity to further strengthen comprehension. This stage enables instructors to apply the topic to other materials so students can create a lasting real-world connection.

    5. Evaluate

    During the final phases of the inquiry-based learning model, students assess their understanding, and instructors evaluate student progress. Evaluation can be in the shape of informal or formal assessments, including peer assessments, self-assessments, exams, or written assignments. During this stage, instructors evaluate whether students take a new approach to reach conclusions based on their unique experiences.

    How Inquiry-Based Learning Works

    Bringing inquiry-based learning to the classroom begins with the instructor. Teachers must lead students and encourage them to explore and discuss new concepts. They must determine whether the class would benefit from group discussions and guide transitions between topics. Instructors must be aware of the conversations occurring to clarify misunderstandings and prevent misconceptions from arising.

    There are many ways to implement project-based learning to encourage students to gain hands-on experience and interact with materials.

    • Structured: The teacher presents an essential topic or question and directs students through specific resources, assessments, and activities.
    • Controlled: The educator finds resources to distribute to the students and provides one topic for students to explore. Then, the instructor offers several questions that branch from the original topic, and students navigate their resources to find answers on their own.
    • Guided: Students come up with supplementary questions based on the topic the instructor provides, finding resources to conduct research.
    • Free: The teacher guides students, but the learners craft questions, discover unique resources, and develop summative assessments to complete to show their knowledge.

    You can implement these approaches in every classroom. For example, a language teacher can encourage students to explore “Lord of the Flies” by leaving the classroom for a few sessions. Math teachers can present equations before the lesson plan and observe how students solve the problem before knowing standard methods. Science classes can ask students to formulate a hypothesis about a topic before exploring it. History instructors can break students into three groups to act as different branches of government to understand the role each plays before learning their formal duties.

    The Benefits of Inquiry-Based Learning

    Inquiry-based learning provides students with an experimental foundation they can use to deeply understand topics and draw connections between multiple materials and classes. This learning approach has many benefits— students and teachers can enjoy the process from start to finish.

    The Benefits of Inquiry-Based Learning

    Inquiry-based learning benefits include the following.

    • Enhancing learning experiences: Students explore topics and understand materials through experience rather than lectures and notes.
    • Creating a love for learning: When instructors encourage exploration, they can foster a growing sense of curiosity and learning in students.
    • Teaching essential skills: Regardless of discipline or subject, students need communication and critical thinking skills to understand any topic. Inquiry-based learning hones these skills and improves comprehension in school and daily life.
    • Increasing engagement: This approach is a form of active learning and requires students to ask questions and make connections, effectively increasing their ability to learn.
    • Encouraging students to take ownership: When students are in charge of their education, they must be responsible for finding the resources they need to understand the task and materials in front of them.
    • Strengthening student comprehension: Traditional lecture and note-keeping instruction models don’t work for every student. Inquiry-based learning encourages students to make connections, giving them a firsthand reflection point to recall later rather than attempting to memorize specific facts, figures, and information.

    How CCA Incorporates Inquiry-Based Learning

    Commonwealth Charter Academy uses personalized learning to engage and interest every learner. A one-size-fits-all approach is ineffective, so we build our curricula to align with student goals and interests to guide them toward success.

    At CCA, your student can experience high-quality education in a flexible learning environment. Your child can interact with peers and instructors to drive interesting conversations and explore new topics in a dynamic setting. With career pathways and custom learning goals, your student can develop a lifelong learning habit and build strong relationships that last a lifetime.

    Contact CCA to learn more about our program and how your student can benefit from inquiry-based learning.


    Commonwealth Charter Academy


    November 10th, 2023


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