Sphero Team
How to Use Inquiry-Based Learning in the Classroom

We all know the feeling of not being engaged in a classroom or getting lost when someone is trying to explain something. The worst part? The more frustrated we become, the more lost we feel—and the less interested we are.

Learning isn’t a linear process. There isn’t only one way from A (where students first encounter the topic) to B (where they have a good grasp of it). There are multiple pathways, and the best one is the one that students create for themselves.

This is particularly true in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), where we often assume that learning is purely logical and students don’t have the flexibility to be creative. Not only is that assumption not true, but it can also prevent students from reaching their full potential in STEM subjects. 

One solution is to implement inquiry-based learning, which involves discussions, asking questions, and guided lectures—all of which are proven to aid some students’ statistical reasoning development.

Here’s how inquiry-based learning can revolutionize STEM education, and how best to apply it to the classroom.

What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

Inquiry-based learning is a method of learning where students are asked questions based on real-life experiences. By contextualizing the questions, students explore how they think, rather than simply being told what to think.

At its core, inquiry-based learning encourages students to be more curious about their learning and to reflect deeply on how they arrive at conclusions.

Types of Inquiry-Based Learning

Because of its more complex nature (compared to traditional learning methods), inquiry-based learning requires a few more steps than simply posing a question to students. A direct question can be easily met with a shrug or the student shying away if they don’t know an immediate answer. Inquiry-based learning, on the other hand, invites students to actively participate in the initial question and more consciously formulate their journey to a conclusion.

The following process can kick-start inquiry-based learning.

  1. Ask students to come up with a problem statement. The purpose of a problem statement is to have the students clearly identify and explain the problem, which helps them to better grasp the topic. They then brainstorm questions around the statement, communicate how the question relates to it, and describe real-life scenarios that convey the importance of the problem statement and/or question.
  2. Give students dedicated time to research the topic. Be readily available to guide students and recommend the most effective ways to research. 
  3. Get students to present what they’ve discovered. This can be in the form of a talk, a slideshow, a website, or whatever format they think is best to relay their learnings to others.
  4. Prompt students to reflect on what did and didn't work in their learning process. Be careful not to focus on their opinion of the topic but moreso on what was difficult, what didn’t make sense, what was interesting, and what they would change if they were to do it again.

There are plenty of inquiry-based learning examples, such as students looking for solutions to lower carbon emissions. They would start by looking at articles and data that delve into problems resulting from pollution. Next, they come up with a question that embodies some of those problems, such as “Why are cities with less developed infrastructure producing higher levels of carbon emissions?” 

Students then go back to the original data, incorporate new information, and create a plausible response to the question. After, they present their findings to the class.  This should include a possible solution to the problem, taking into account effectiveness and cost. Finally, students have the opportunity to reflect upon the process and further pay attention specifically to the most efficient moments, and the ones that caused friction.

Benefits of Inquiry-Based Learning

There are many advantages to inquiry-based learning. Students are motivated to become experts in the areas they’re learning about, and they’re given the confidence to do so using this method. The more a student revisits how they learn, the more they can finesse their process, and start to feel like an expert as they uncover new bits of information. This momentum is key for students when they choose what career they want to pursue, as well as for their personal growth.

In STEM, inquiry-based learning can spark many students’ natural inquisitiveness about their communities and positive changes that can be made to them. Of course, grasping core STEM material is necessary to advance in the field, but students’  interests are equally as constructive. Inquiry-based learning, therefore, helps students make real-world connections with STEM and sparks their desire to enact ideas around STEM subjects.

Students of all ages and skill levels can reap inquiry-based learning benefits, however, it can be particularly impactful to apply the concept to students who have a hard time with curriculums. Because inquiry-based learning cultivates students’ interest in a topic, it stimulates their creativity and develops their problem-solving abilities. It’s like the magnifying glass that shows all the interconnected links between components; plus it builds autonomy and generates a highly personalized learning experience.

Promoting inquiry-based learning means taking students beyond merely learning information, and pushes them into the realm of critical thinking. Along the way, encourage students to ask as many questions as possible and help them to realize that everything can be investigated.