Inquiry-Based Learning

Teaching & Learning Through Inquiry

What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

Inquiry-based learning (IBL) is a teaching and learning approach that places emphasis on active student engagement, critical thinking, and problem-solving. In this approach, rather than simply memorizing information provided by the teacher, students are encouraged to ask questions, investigate problems, and develop their own understanding of concepts through exploration and discovery.

Key features of inquiry-based learning include:

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Importance of Inquiry-Based Learning:

Importance of Incorporating Learner Agency into Inquiry-Based Learning:

Also see: Tools & Strategies that Promote Inquiry-Based Learning
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What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

Runtime: 6:31 - May 26, 2014

What Is Inquiry-Based Learning

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Source: Prodigy Website

Features of Inquiry

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Source: Kath Murdoch

Making the Case for Inquiry

Run Time 35:57 - Dec 2022 - Source:Toddle
Whether you are an administrator, teacher, or parent, understanding why inquiry works is an important part of advocating for the needs of your students and school. Join Kimberly Mitchell, as she makes a case for inquiry and leads a discussion around what inquiry is and why it is a leading pedagogy.
Get a quick snapshot of all the cases Kimberly offers here.

Inquiry Is... Posters

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Creator: Traci Salter CWBS 2010

Four Types of Student Inquiry

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Source: Blog - Thinking Pathways

What Happens When We Put Kids in Control of Their Learning?

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Source: CASEL
In this article by CASEL, you will learn about the significance of fostering hope and agency among students in today's challenging world. Inquiry-based learning is highlighted as a powerful approach, blending academic and social-emotional skills. Techniques such as transitioning from lecturing to questioning, orchestrating supportive learning environments, and embracing innovative teaching methods are discussed. Moreover, the article delves into Project-Based Learning and Youth Participatory Action Research as effective methodologies to empower students in addressing real-world issues.

Stop! Before You Go Further, Listen to this Podcast by Kath Murdoch to Learn About the Power of Inquiry

The Importance of Differentiating Instruction & Assessment 

It is critical to incorporate differentiation and assessment strategies during collaborative planning and teaching for implicit and explicit opportunities for all students to develop inquiry skills both inside and outside the programme of inquiry. Learn more about Differentiating Instruction and Assessment.

Designing a Journey of Inquiry: Kath Murdoch

Model For Designing a Journey of Inquiry

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Source: Kathy Murdoch Website

A Sample Overview of an Inquiry Journey

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Source: Kathy Murdoch Website

What Makes a Good Inquiry Unit?

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Source: Kath Murdoch

Strategies to Use During Inquiry

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Source: Kath Murdoch

Kath Murdoch's Inquiry Cycle

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Source: Making Good Humans Blog

Promoting The Yearn to Learn

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Source: Think in Colour Website

Busting Some Myths About 'The Inquiry Cycle'

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A Blog Post by Kathy Murdoch

Source: Kath Murdoch Web Site  - March 25, 2013

I once read an interview with a hero of my early teaching days – Donald Graves.  He was asked about the way people had misinterpreted his ‘process writing’ model and replied that sometimes he wished he’d never written it down! Years later I understand the frustration behind that sentiment.  It’s hard to do justice to the complexities and nuances of inquiry in writing.  So much gets lost. Something that is rich, layered and multidimensional can come across as flat, linear and recipe-like. Over the years,  I have published several books that share a ‘cycle of inquiry’ and the kinds of learning engagements that we might design within a cycle.   I have seen hundreds of interpretations of this idea in classrooms.  Many have been gratifying and exciting. Teachers who really ‘get’ the intention, understand the complexity and invite their students into the learning have blown me away with what they have done.   And I have also seen (and heard) many bewildering versions or iterations of the cycle that are such a long way off the original conceptualization and intent!  Ironically, I have seen slavish adherence to a cycle actually impede rather than enhance inquiry.

So Why Even ‘Have’ Such a Cycle? 

Articulating a model or framework for the process of inquiry is a helpful way to support and guide our practice. The intention of the ‘cycle’ is to guide the teacher’s (and learner’s) thinking beyond simply coming up with ‘activities’ and towards a more thoughtful process that assists students to move from the known to the new.    The need to ‘name’ some kind of process was first revealed to me as a young teacher by my fabulous mentors Marilyn Woolley and Keith Pigdon. They helped me move beyond thematic planning and into a more rigorous way of thinking about how to guide learning.  Once I understood constructivism -  it made sense to me to describe what was such a natural process of building understanding over time.  My job as a teacher was to help design experiences for learners that would support the brain’s best inclinations to wonder, look for patterns, seek new information, link to prior learning and transfer.  While it has changed over time, the cycle I now use owes much to Woolley and Pigdon’s visionary work.

Here are some of the more common misconceptions about ‘the cycle’ and my response to them.  I hope it is as useful to read as it has been to write!!

Misconception 1: Inquiry is all about ‘the cycle’. We DO the cycle….therefore, we DO inquiry.

Simply using an inquiry cycle does not make us inquiry teachers.  As I have written before, inquiry is a ‘way of being’ in the classroom.  Yes, there are planning frameworks that can support the ways in which we design learning experiences for and with students but this is only part of the inquiry story.  An inquiry teacher knows how to question students in ways that enhance and deepen thinking, how to offer choice and honour voice, how to seize an unexpected moment for investigation and how to embed learning in purposeful context   It’s a pedagogy – not just a planning framework.

Misconception 2:  The cycle is a recipe. We need to follow the stages in sequence for it to ‘work out’ in the end.

Nope. It’s a flexible framework. Not a recipe.  Essentially, inquiry cycles provide labels for a process that is common to many disciplines.  Most people agree that inquiry: involves time to establish your current thinking, your needs and questions, some ‘hunting and gathering’ of information/ideas/ data, some sorting organizing and meaning making and some kind of creation/application/transfer/use.  And most agree that this process is cyclical in nature. New discoveries lead to new questions and so on.  But this process is much neater on paper than it is in practice.  True inquiry is often messy and recursive. We gather and sort then realize we have new questions so we return to some more gathering.  In the cycle I use, I place great emphasis on the role of ‘tuning in’ to students’ thinking to establish pathways for investigation. While it often sits at the ‘start’ of the process – I return to ‘tuning in’ regularly.  These are phases more than they are stages, elements more than they are steps.  There is nothing contained, neat or particularly orderly about a lot of inquiry BUT having a relatively simple iteration of it in the form of this cycle can help us think more clearly and actually better manage the messiness without getting overwhelmed!

Misconception 3: All inquiries go through the same phases over a similar time frame.

Much as it would be convenient, no two inquiries are the same.  Although most journeys will contain elements of this cycle, starting points, emphases and time frames vary from context to context and depend on the group of students, their age level and what they bring to the journey in the first place.    I have seen some beautiful inquiry journeys travelled within an hour. I have seen some that last a year.  I have seen some that really don’t involve much ‘action’ but are highly worthwhile and engaging and others that are really all about the action.

Misconception 4: Using a ‘cycle’ as a guide, we can plan a complete unit of inquiry for students

I think this is the most troubling use of the cycle I see. The cycle should INFORM planning, guide it but it doesn’t mean we can create the whole thing before we start.   When I use a planner with the elements of the cycle in it – I see that planner as a guide throughout the process – not as a template to be filled in one sitting.  The cycle is emergent….how kids ‘sort out’ the ideas information depends on what they gather – and that is not something we can determine in detail.  The cycle unfolds.

Misconception 5: The cycle is for teachers.

Students benefit from having some ‘meta-language’ to attach to processes they use as inquirers.  Some kind of framework should be developed for and WITH students that helps everyone gain a shared language. Making this visible to students helps them think about how journeys of inquiry are both similar and different. It is really useful to display the cycle but only if it is referred to, analysed, played with and critiqued!

Misconception 6: The cycle only applies to ‘units of inquiry’ in disciplines like science and social studies.

I see many examples of this cycle in action in a range of disciplines and contexts.  Some ‘tweaking’ is needed at times to best fit the nature of the discipline but it is interesting to explore this kind of transfer.  Check out for example – the great work done on about inquiry-based PE or Bruce Ferrington’s application of the cycle to math inquiry -

Misconception 7: It’s my way or the highway or ‘there is only one cycle’….

There are many versions of a ‘cycle of inquiry’. The fact that there ARE many versions is healthy and affirming. I love the different emphases, language and uses of these cycles and think that, together, they help offer us lots to consider as we continue to clarify this intriguing process in our own minds.  Explore various cycles. Look for patterns…where do they all agree? Find one that works for you and your students. Create your own – but be consistent. Shared language across a school has great benefits.

A cycle of inquiry helps us plan and teach with intention.   When it is understood, it pushes us beyond simply coming up with ‘activities’ and challenges us to think about how skills and concepts can be developed and deepened over time.   It gives us some shared ‘meta’ language to use with students and colleagues

How do YOU use a cycle of inquiry to inform your work as an inquiry teacher?

…Just wondering….

Reinvent Inquiry Podcast

[Kath Murdoch]

Run Time: 28:23 - Feb 28, 2023
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In this episode of "Reinvent Inquiry," we explore inquiry-based learning with expert Kath Murdoch who has 30 yrs of experience & 15 books, including best-seller "The Power of Inquiry." We delve into the subject & explore how digital tools can enhance the learning cycle. Learn the secrets to successful inquiry & how it can revolutionize teaching & learning. A must-listen for teachers, students, & education enthusiasts to understand the power of inquiry in shaping the future of education. Join us to reinvent inquiry for the digital age.

Source: HP Reinvent the Classroom Podcast

Permission to Inquire: Taking Ownership of Your Curriculum

[Kath Murdoch]

Run Time: 1:06:49 - May, 2023
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This is episode one from Toddle's "School Leadership Project"

Kath Murdoch is an educator who is passionate about inquiry-based learning and its implementation in the classroom. She believes that inquiry-based teaching and learning is not just a theoretical concept but requires a deep understanding of what it looks, sounds, and feels like in practice. Kath's newest book focuses on personalized inquiry, which expands the scope of inquiry-based learning to include individual and small group exploration of personal interests and passions. She emphasizes that personalized inquiry can be integrated within the curriculum, leveraging connections to key skills and concepts. Kath advocates for a guided approach to inquiry, where teachers play a crucial role in supporting and scaffolding students' learning journeys. She believes that a strong understanding of the curriculum empowers teachers to make meaningful connections and create engaging learning experiences. In order to foster a culture of inquiry, Kath encourages leaders to provide teachers with time, autonomy, and opportunities for collaboration and sharing. Additionally, she acknowledges the challenge of sustaining an inquiry-based culture when key staff members transition, emphasizing the importance of preserving the culture and supporting ongoing professional learning.

** Related resources connected to the podcast

Kath's book she mentioned in the podcast

Key Ideas

Learn more about this episode from Toddle's "School Leadership Project"

The Power of Ummm...

Run Time: 18:37 - Nov 10, 2014
  • What if classrooms were laboratories where wonder thrives?
  • What if it was more exciting in a classroom to not know something than it was to know something?
  • What if classrooms were places where children know their questions would be heard?"

Personal Inquiry

Supporting Learners to Find and Follow their Passions

Run Time: 45:53 - Oct 2022
Kath Murdoch walks you through what personal inquiry is and how to implement it. Definately worth a watch.
Source: Rethinking Education Conference 2022
Bonus: Check out this video where Kath chats about personal inquiry anmd her book Getting Personal with Inquiry learning 

Sowing the Seeds For A Great Year of Inquiry: 10 Tips For Term 1

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A Blog Post by Kathy Murdoch

Source: Kath Murdoch Website Site  - January 28, 2015

The school year has just begun here in Australia. It’s a time of great anticipation, resolution and excitement – I love the sense of possibility that accompanies this time. For many of us – having had a break – it is also a time of adjustment. In a sense, we return to our ‘teacher selves’ and with that, is an opportunity to think about that identity: how DO we see ourselves as teachers and how does this impact on the way we teach? I remember hearing Ken Robinson (in a lesser- known talk) once describe teachers as gardeners. This is always a metaphor that has appealed to me. I like the nurturing connotation, the link to nature, the need to tend and care, the combination of planned and unexpected and, of course, the symbol of growth.

Over the last few days, I have been working with teachers in various schools, as they prepare to meet their students and begin a new year. The gardening metaphor has come to mind many times. When it comes to inquiry – there is so much we can do (and indeed should do) to ‘prepare the soil’ and plant the seeds for a healthy, rich, vibrant year of investigation. When we meet our students at the beginning of the year, we are in a unique position to establish the culture that will best nurture our inquiry-learning garden.   So I have been reflecting on some of the key things to attend to in order to prepare the way for inquiry. Here are 10 tips for term 1...

How will you foster strong relationships in your classroom from day one?

How will you find out about your students’ interests?

How will you ensure the classroom is ‘owned’ by the students? How will you involve them in creating the learning space?

How will you ensure that curiosity thrives in your classroom?

How can you make some of your beginning of the year ‘activities’ more inquiry-based?

How will you use questions to drive learning?

How will you help students learn and use the language of learning?

How will you make room for the unexpected?

How will you get connected?

How will you prepare the way for inquiry to grow in your classroom this year?  Just wondering....

How will you nurture your own inquiring mind?

The Future of Teaching & Learning

[Kath Murdoch & Guy Claxton]

Run Time: 1:28:44 - May 3, 2021
  • Inquiry is a stance to be curious, wonder, question, sceptical.
  • Inquiry is a way of being.
  • Inquiry is NOT a subject.
  • Inquiry is NOT something you do on Thursday afternoon.
  • Inquiry is NOT inquiry time.

Benefits of Inquiry-Based Learning 

[Kath Murdoch]

Run Time: 7:21 - Sep 1, 2017
  • Inquiry learning is all about knowing what to do when we don't know.
  • How can an inquiry-based learning environment be designed?
  • How can schools encourage inquiry-based learning?
  • What are the benefits of inquiry-based learning?

Kath Murdoch's Website/Blog: Information about Inquiry

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Types of Inquiry: Encouraging Student Agency

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Source: Kath Murdock 2018