Inquiry is a natural response of a young child to life. When my son and daughter were young, I remember the exhaustion of trying to keep them safe in the midst of it. My son was a bold explorer, scaling rocks to butt heads with young goats in Stanley Park, blazing trails in Mundy Park on his bike and on Grouse Mountain with his snowboard. My daughter was a fearless follower of her brother’s careful instruction to crawl out of the crib and keep up with her older brother in new adventures everywhere they went. Clogged drains were explained away as doing Science and our family repertoire of good stories are plentiful and filled with laughter of past and present exploits. Both kids have emerged into adults who continue to question and explore new pathways to make discoveries.
My question as a administrator is much the same as when my kids were young. How can we support children in continuing the habit of asking questions and developing strategies to find the answers to their questions? I’m not thinking so much of school completion and continuing on to post-secondary, which may be a by-product, but the intrinsic reward that comes with the discovery. “Eureka!” is always followed by an exclamation point for good reason. There is an excitement that comes with discovery about something you care about. I want children to maintain the same level of engagement that they enter kindergarten with. I believe everyone should teach kindergarten at some point, if even for a day. The questions come hard and fast and “no I won’t answer it for you even if you are pulling on my sweater”. In kindergarten, the challenge isn’t getting children to ask questions, it is teaching them ways to discover their own their own answers.
My pathway to discovering the power of inquiry to engage learners was through my own professional development. Maureen Dockendorf, who has been instrumental in the inclusion of inquiry curriculum in British Columbia, invited me to an inquiry group early on in my career. Each member in the inquiry group went through the process of defining a question of professional interest, refined it and came up with a plan to discover possibilities. We were responsible for reporting back to the group so reflection of our learning was an integral part of the process. The inquiry led me to ask my students about their learning. It made me a better teacher by creating a high level of engagement and a relationship with students that went beyond interest in their lives to develop relationship and enhance learning. It helped me to invest in students as learners and helping them to learn strategies to learn throughout their lives. Yes, lifelong learning has become a buzz word but the essence is developing a population that is interested and invested in their work and their life.
I recently had a group of students in the gym for a Camp Read event. Yes, reading on floating islands of mats with no shoes on is still exciting. We chatted about inquiry and I put out a banner for students to record their questions.. These were some of them.
Why is the ocean so full?
Why do people go to school to learn?
What was the first moon landing like?
Why is a slug “nature’s hotdog”?
What are “nature’s french fries”?
Why did the first mushroom decide to grow?
How do plants start?
What was the first food on earth?
Why do birds and bats fly into Ms. Froese’s window that faces north?
Why do dogs chase cats?
Why did the sun start?
How do birds fly?
Why don’t some people respect other people?
Was there outer space before the Big Bang?
How was gravity made?
Why does earth have air but other planets don’t?
Are ghosts real?
How was the first iPad made?
How do we grow?
How come some animals started living like people?
Why are there seasons?
Finding the answer to each question lends itself to a great opportunity for personal learning. It is also an opportunity to develop the core competencies and content goals in the New British Columbia Curriculum. Although the framing and publication of the B.C. curriculum is new, the research and implementation of these practices are not. Linda Kaser, Judy Halbert and Helen Timperley explain the essence of educational change in British Columbia, Canada with finesse: “((I)nnovation floats on a sea of inquiry and curiosity is a driver for change.” (2014 CSE – A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry ). This is what has enabled British Columbia to emerge as a leader in educational practices and achievement worldwide.