Project Approach

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How is inquiry-based learning different from traditional approaches?

In the traditional framework, teachers come to class with highly structured curricula and activity plans, sometimes referred to as "scope and sequence." They act as the source of knowledge and as the person who determines which information is important. There is certainly creativity and flexibility in how each teacher runs his or her class, but the topics and projects are driven and evaluated based on what a teacher, administrator, school board, or bureaucracy have decided what children should know and master.

Inquiry-based learning projects are driven by students. Instructors act more as coaches, guides, and facilitators who help learners arrive at their "true"questions -the things they really care about. When students choose the questions, they are motivated to learn and they develop a sense of ownership about the project.
Don't get the wrong idea, however: Inquiry-based learning projects are not unstructured; they are differently structured. If anything, they require even more planning, preparation, and responsiveness from the educator-it's just that the educator's role is different.

Advantages of Inquiry-Based Learning
Instructors who adopt an inquiry-based learning approach help students identify and refine their "real" questions into learning projects or opportunities. They then guide the subsequent research, inquiry, and reporting processes.

Inquiry-based learning has other advantages as well:
An inquiry-based learning approach is flexible and works well for projects that range from the extensive to the bounded, from the research-oriented to the creative, from the laboratory to the Internet. It is essential, however, that you plan ahead so you can guide kids to suitable learning opportunities.  You'll find that many kids who have trouble in school because they do not respond well to lectures and memorization will blossom in an inquiry-based learning setting, awakening their confidence, interest, and self-esteem.

The traditional approach tends to be very vertical: the class studies science for awhile, for example, then language arts, then math, then geography. In contrast, the inquiry-based approach is at its best when working on interdisciplinary projects that reinforce multiple skills or knowledge areas in different facets of the same project. You'll also find that although the traditional approach is sharply weighted toward the cognitive domain of growth, inquiry-based learning projects positively reinforce skills in all three domains-physical, emotional, and cognitive.

Inquiry-based learning is particularly well suited to collaborative learning environments and team projects. You can create activities in which the entire class works on a single question as a group (just be sure that the whole group truly cares about the question) or in teams working on the same or different questions.
Of course, inquiry-based learning also works well when you've decided to let each student develop an individual project; when doing so, however, be sure to incorporate some elements of collaboration or sharing.

An inquiry-based approach can work with any age group. Even though older students will be able to pursue much more sophisticated questioning and research projects, build a spirit of inquiry into activities wherever you can, even with the youngest, in an age-appropriate manner..

Grand Haven Area Public Schools
Voyager School
1050 Pennoyer
Grand Haven MI, 49417
616 850 5300