When I was a young teacher, the word “relevant” was tossed around quite a bit to define what sort of teaching was considered the industry standard. While the term was vague, it did suggest that teachers were obliged to connect their teaching to situations or knowledge with which their students were already familiar. Fair enough.
But what Bosque’s 8th grade team of teachers has been doing for the past three years is far better.
Inquiry-based learning goes further than a simple connection to knowledge that students have mastered and, for that reason, produces far better results. IP projects trigger the natural curiosity in students and hand over the authority to learn to the students.
Now, that may sound to you as if our teachers have abdicated their responsibilities as teachers. But that isn't true. Teachers merely engage in a sleight of hand to hide their strategies of encouraging students to ask questions they are really interested in answering and to develop their own skills as experts in a particular field.
Last Thursday evening, the parents of our 8th graders were treated to the opportunity to see what their students have learned through their Inquiry Projects. The projects are a semester-long research effort that culminates in a paper and a public presentation. The point of their presentations wasn’t simply to wow their parents, though we hope that happened. More importantly, the presentations required students to communicate what they’d learned in order to cement that knowledge and ensure that they’ve actually mastered it.
Shortly after presenting their Inquiry Projects, our 8th graders will take the last step in the inquiry process and reflect on the whole process. What worked? What didn’t? Where did I run into trouble? How might I have approached the question differently to elicit better information? This is called “metacognition,” or thinking about thinking. This is where the higher level practice comes in and prepares students to tackle just about any topic.
Our 8th grade team of teachers, with the enormous help and knowledge of our Service Learning Director Anna Rutins, also worked with local experts in wide-ranging fields to help with research. We call those experts our Living Library. They steered our students’ interest throughout this project.
Word on the street was that our parents enjoyed themselves thoroughly and were able to bask in the pride they felt at their children’s accomplishments. And who knows? We suspect that perhaps they even learned a thing or two.