Inquiry Based Learning at Larrakeyah Primary School
During the past 3 years Larrakeyah Primary School has moved towards an inquiry-based approach to learning. This has followed on from the introduction of 21st Century Learning and coincided with the introduction of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) into classroom teaching.
What is inquiry based learning?
Inquiry-based learning is an education approach that focuses on investigation and problem-solving. It is different from traditional educational approaches because it reverses the order of learning. Instead of firstly presenting information, or ‘the answer’, to the students a teacher will start with a range of scenarios, questions and problems for students to navigate through before arriving at the answer.
Problems that require critical and creative thinking are prioritised so that students develop their abilities to ask questions, design investigations, interpret evidence, form explanations and arguments, and communicate findings.
Inquiry-based learning is also based on real-world problem solving and the relevance and application of STEAM education. Real-world problem solving is more than demonstrating examples in a classroom. It’s about moving away from the textbooks to connect the concepts to the real world. Teachers apply knowledge to guide students through investigating and tackling an existing challenge or need. For example, it could be designing a new garden-bed for the school grounds, working with industry or designing a solution to a specific school problem.
How does inquiry based learning help students?
Inquiry-based learning helps to promote:
- Social interaction (Communication & Collaboration): This helps attention span and develops reasoning skills. Social interaction encourages students to generate their own ideas and critique in group discussions. It develops agency, ownership and engagement with student learning.
- Exploration (Creativity): This allows students to investigate, design, imagine and explore, therefore developing curiosity, resilience and optimism.
- Argumentation and reasoning (Critical Thinking): This creates a safe and supportive environment for students to engage in discussion and debate. It promotes engagement in scientific discussion and improves learning of scientific concepts. It encourages students to generate questions, formulate positions and make decisions.
- Access to STEAM experts and real work environments: This enhances student learning experiences and sparks student interest and engagement.
- STEAM education that resembles authentic STEAM practice in industry: This can help students understand the realities of the world of the work.
- The relevance of STEAM education and its connection with the ‘real world’ after school: For example, careers and education opportunities. This can increase student interest and engagement in STEAM.
- The development of positive attitudes to failure: The iterative and evaluative nature of many STEAM problems means failure is an important part of the problem-solving process. A healthy attitude to failure encourages reflection, resilience and continual improvement.
How is inquiry based learning carried out at Larrakeyah Primary School?
The following model shows one way inquiry-based learning is working across the school. You can also download a PDF of the model.
International Dot Day: International Dot Day is a holiday in which people of all ages are encouraged to harness their own creativity and embrace their own confidence as they make their mark on the world. The day involved all students from Transition – Year 6 and incorporated activities based around Science, Technology, Engineering, The Arts and Mathematics. It gave students the opportunity to practise and use the 21st Century Skills of Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Collaboration (4Cs).
Christmas STEAM Day: SANTA’s Sleigh has been broken by the GRINCH. To top it off he has also let the reindeers out of their pen and they have run away. How will SANTA deliver presents to all the boys and girls now? The day involved all students from Transition – Year 6 and completing activities based around Science, Technology, Engineering, The Arts and Mathematics. Students also practised and put to use the 21st Century Skills of Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Collaboration (4Cs). They worked in mixed age groups to solve the problem based around the characters of Christmas.
Early Childhood Easter STEAM Day: The Early Childhood STEAM day involved all students from Transition – Year 2 and incorporated activities based solving problem based Easter activities in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, The Arts and Mathematics. Students were given the opportunity to practise and use the 21st Century Skills of Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Collaboration (4Cs).
Other Inquiry-based programs
The Quest program for Years 5 & 6 has been running for 3 years now and is a very successful example of an Inquiry-based approach to education. Quest is an innovative program introduced to Larrakeyah Primary School to connect and inspire students by bringing real life contexts to the Year 5 and 6 classroom. The program provides a pathway to middle school and assists students with future subject selection. Project Leaders (Teachers) facilitate a group of 15 students and focus on a particular area of interest, working with a member of the community or industry to obtain specific knowledge and skills within the field. Projects incorporate a broad range of activities in the teaching and learning sequence which directly correlate to the 4 C’s for 21st century learning – communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. It begins with an inquiry question developed by the Project Leader to guide the students each week and finishes with a showcase presentation on their project.
Inquiry based learning and STEAM initiatives
The aim of our initiatives at Larrakeyah Primary are to improve outcomes for students by doing two things:
- Getting students more excited about, and interested in, STEAM education at school. This forms part of the broad concept of student engagement.
- Improve students’ STEAM knowledge and skills. This forms part of the broad concept of student achievement.
There is a clear relationship between engagement and achievement. A student needs to be interested and engaged in STEAM to learn more about STEAM. And if a student is learning about STEAM, they are likely to be engaged. Student attitudes and views about STEAM influence their engagement in STEAM education. Positive student attitudes are critical to engaging them and engagement is about inspiring and exciting students about the possibilities of STEAM — for example, saving lives or making new discoveries. Inquiry-based learning tries to improve student outcomes by engaging them in their learning by giving them choices and problems to solve.
Inquiry–based learning also focuses on achievement – both academic and broader life skills. Increasing academic achievement is an important focus of STEAM education. STEAM academic achievement generally means how students are performing in a certain STEAM subject, for example, science or maths test scores. But there is more to academic achievement than test scores. It also includes increasing student knowledge, for example, by extending an understanding of subject matter/content, and how it can be applied to solve real world problems. There is also a contribution to broader life skills development. There are many critical life skills that students need during and after their time at school that STEAM education can offer. These include 21st century skills e.g. problem-solving, teamwork, collaboration, but also vocational skills that might need to be applied in further education/careers.
At Larrakeyah Primary School we are constantly looking for ways to improve student outcomes and develop the student in as many ways as possible. Inquiry based learning and STEAM educational initiatives are two areas we are developing and refining and will continue to build on over the next few years. Our work is ground-breaking for a primary school in the Northern Territory.