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Nurturing a spark into a flame: Inquiry-based learning at PSII

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Nurturing a spark into a flame: Inquiry-based learning at PSII

Jessica Asp is a teacher at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry, an independent high school in Victoria, B.C. The school’s founder, Jeff Hopkins, has quoted William Butler Yeats as saying, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

Here at QUIO, we were intrigued to learn more about this unique school and how they incorporate inquiry-based learning in a nontraditional school setting. We’ve decided to do some inquiry-based learning of our own. As fellow educators, we thought you would be interested, too!

QUIO: How do you describe inquiry-based learning?
JA: Inquiry-based learning is driven by a learner’s own curiosity. It starts when a learner identifies questions they have about the world.

QUIO: How does it begin within the PSII environment
JA: Learners bring these questions to a teacher and together they co-construct ways to explore the topic, find the answers they are looking for, and determine how to share their learning with others.

QUIO: What activities might this include?
JA: It might involve extensive research, planning and collaborating on a series of art pieces, interviewing professionals in the community, creating and conducting surveys or polls to gather information, writing new pieces of music, designing and carrying out experiments, developing new robotics technology, recording a series of podcasts, filming a documentary, writing a screenplay, delivering a speech, pitching and marketing a new product, attending a conference, shadowing a nurse in the cancer ward… the list is literally endless.

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QUIO: How does this type of learning fit within a curriculum?
JA: As learner’s inquiries unfold they move far beyond learning “about” a subject and instead explore applications, tackle ethical issues, consider “What if?” and “How come?”, design solutions, and create connections between areas they had previously not considered to be related. A learner’s curriculum literally emerges out of their inquiries.<!–more–>

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QUIO: What are the benefits of inquiry-based learning?
JA: First, it acknowledges that learning is an active process, a process that people engage in regardless of whether they are in a class or not. Second, it breaks down the restrictive subject-based silos that interfere with learning. By following an inquiry, learners discover that you can’t really understand a situation just by learning social studies, because there is also science and other traditional subject-based areas that are relevant to the problem as well. They are interconnected. Outside of school, the world is not broken up into these areas. It’s artificial to do so in a school setting.

QUIO: What are some of the myths surrounding this type of learning?
JA: Inquiry-based learning lays to shame the stereotype that teens are lazy, don’t want to learn, and spend their time at school trying to stay awake and wishing they were elsewhere. When learners have the support to follow their interests, their enthusiasm is palpable.

On a personal note, I have noticed how validating it is for our learners to discover that teachers will support them in learning the things they are curious about and want to know. I am saddened that it has taken some of our learners both time and a huge amount of encouragement to realize that their interests are valid and that what they want to learn is worth learning.

QUIO: How does technology fit with inquiry-based learning?
JA: Our learners are provided with computers and use them extensively throughout the day, from recording and editing podcasts, to programming arduinos, to filming and editing dramas and/or documentaries, to making and recording their own music, to creating logos and graphic designs using the Adobe creative suite, to making animations and physics simulations using Blender. Technology allows us to do a lot of things that our learners are really interested in doing! The fact that our learners are really interested in learning to use technology coupled with the ever-growing list of things we can do with it, make technology use a good fit for inquiry-based learning. Our learners also develop portfolios of work, most of which are kept online.

Interview has been condensed and edited for this edition of the QUIO e-newsletter. 

Learn more about the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry: www.learningstorm.org
twitter: @psiivictoria
youtube: www.youtube.com/user/psiiproductions

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