More Than Just Questions: Understanding Inquiry-Based Learning

How many times does “inquiry” come up during conversations with your child or your child’s teacher during conversations about learning engagements in the classroom? Hopefully, inquiry is a word that you’re hearing a lot.  But hearing the word and understanding what an inquiry-based classroom looks like can be a bit more challenging. An old adage states, “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.”

The last part of this statement is what is at the very heart of inquiry-based learning.  Inquiry implies involvement that leads to understanding. It is more than simply researching. It is developing and applying skills, attributes, and attitudes that help us answer questions while at the same time building new knowledge.

One of the most wonderful things about learning in an inquiry-based classroom is that it allows students opportunities to learn in many different ways.  Students approach a concept at their level of developmental readiness. Then, they work to deepen their understanding as they are actively involved in their learning.  Although the depth of understanding varies, evidence of new and deeper understanding is evident.

Children in early childhood are inquirers as they climb, dig, paint, and take nature walks. They are inquirers as they spend time at a loose-parts center seeing how materials can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, taken apart, and put back together in multiple ways.  First graders inquire during calendar time as they discuss patterns they see in numbers, share different ways to represent the number 7, and make connections to the number 7 in their mother tongue language.

Students in fifth grade are inquirers as they return from an excursion to the governor’s office and start to apply and deepen their understanding of the impact that government has on the lives of citizens, and how that impact changes based on the style of government in place.

A true inquiry isn’t simply about seeking out the right answer.  In fact, there rarely is just one right answer. Instead, inquiry challenges students to build their understanding of their world and apply this new understanding to different situations. Mistakes are made along the way, but inquiry challenges students to continue to deepen and develop their understanding.

Learning doesn’t stop. It is about finding the best ways to resolve a question or issue.  Within the context of the PYP, inquiry teaching requires the development of the skills, attitudes, and attributes that provide the tools necessary to allow students to continue their quest for knowledge throughout life.

Dive deeper into inquiry-based teaching methodologies with resources from the International Baccalaureate (IB) organization.


In Kindergarten, we begun our inquiry journey this year by learning about ‘who we are’.  We have been learning how relationships people have can impact well-being. It has been a fantastic learning journey.  Students have had opportunities to share many of the different feelings they have, developing their understanding of why we sometimes feel certain emotions.  We have discussed what makes us feel sad, happy, jealous, embarrassed shy and even angry.

It has been wonderful to hear positive feedback from families about how children are opening up more at home; with children talking more openly to their parents about their feelings.

Students also inquired into what causes problems between friends.  These were very enlightening discussions. We all learnt that often it is misunderstandings that cause problems, or little problems develop into larger problems due to a lack of communication. We discussed many different ways we can solve a problem if a problem does occur. The drama activities and Feelings Game were such fun! Over the coming, days, weeks and months I look forward to seeing the students put their conflict resolution ideas into action and everyone’s well-being continue to blossom.

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