Science Leadership Academy students (Bailey Collins)
Science Leadership Academy students (Bailey Collins)

Inquiry-based learning is not a new pedagogy, but it has come back into fashion in progressive education circles recently because of new emphasis on the power of students’ innate curiosity to drive learning. Inquiry-based learning asks students to discover knowledge on their own with guidance from their teachers. Rather than receiving information up front through lectures, students research guiding questions, ask their own follow-ups and get help along the way.

Learning through inquiry requires more student agency and demands that teachers and administrators trust that students will ask when they need help. It also places the responsibility for completing tasks and meeting deadlines on the shoulders of students. Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia is a partnership between The School District of Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute. It has become well-known for its project-based, inquiry focused teaching style, which asks students to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. Students like the approach, but acknowledge that sometimes it puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to testing – they aren’t used to them.

Science Leadership Academy students spoke about their learning experience at the school. They describe the challenge of staying on task, but see it as a lifelong skill. “You know what you should and you shouldn’t do,” said Eric Loth, who admits it isn’t easy. “You just got to realize it’s gotta get done sooner or later.”

Nomi Martin-Brouilette said she appreciates the trust SLA’s teachers place in students to be partners in their learning. “It’s good to find things out for yourself, to come up with your own questions about things you’re wondering about,” she said. “It makes learning more meaningful than answering a question that already has an answer and you don’t understand why you are doing it.”

Listen to students describe the good parts and the hard parts of learning through inquiry.

*These interviews were done in January, 2014 and some students have graduated.

All photos by Bailey Collins

Students Tell All: What It’s Like to Be Trusted Partners in Learning 29 October,2014Katrina Schwartz

  • I have found that starting the ball rolling with inquiry based learning takes time and plenty of patience because the students are not used to being sent off on their own all that often. However,
    I use benchmarks along the way which has helped guide my kids through projects using inquiry based learning. This way if they don’t meet the final deadlines at least I can track their progress along the way.

    The students seem to enjoy the freedoms of learning about the topics that drive them. They just need to be reassured that we are there to catch them when they feel like they are falling.

  • Paul

    I enjoyed your article today on the benefits of the inquiry method. However It is not either/or. You need instruction before beginning inquiries. Without inquiries, students will question why they are being instructed. Instruction takes place within a discipline while inquiry is by its nature multidiscipline in self-learning about one’s environment. The environment unlike the disciplines which broadens as the child gets older, narrows to a specific dynamics and we are just beginning to note the difference at each grade level (upcoming global education conference “How do we fit global education within our curriculum at various levels?”). Instruction measures how smart you are through presentations, learning exercises, homework and test while inquiry, global discussion, group projects and portfolio assessment develop wisdom ( coming January conference talk in London on quality educational management “Can schools teach wisdom in what students learn on their own? – Teaching beyond the tests”). The major difference between them is that instruction is based on passive research on what we already know whereas inquiry deals with active research in interacting with one’s environment. We are just beginning to ask “How do we fit active research within our curriculum at various grade levels” which is my proposal for the Ottawa Conference in April of next year. If your readers which to know more go to my website at www, and download my newest ebook “Can schools…”which includes a manual suitable for each grade. I look forward to the feedback.

  • buyassignment service

    Inquiry based learning is not an old method of student learning. When students need assistance with university assignment of any kind, they have to search the answers themselves.

  • bicyclingfish

    The challenge with articles like this, and the growing interest educators have in student voice in general, is that we’re programmed to hear only what we want to. When they become accustomed to listening to student voice, many educators develop the habit of interpreting of what students said and fitting it into our convenient, acceptable boxes of understanding. This frequently takes away the power, purpose and potential of what students had to contribute originally.

    Rather than continuing to call for students to inform our conversations about education, we should reposition students from being the passive recipients of adult-driven schools to become active partners throughout their entire education, and across the education system. That’s been the problem of KQED’s Mind/Shift series – although you’ve featured some really cool stories of students transforming education, and some other stories about students sharing student voice regarding education, ne’er have the two roads met.

    For almost 15 years, has featured the intersection of student voice and student/adult partnerships, which I call Meaningful Student Involvement. You should feature this whole vision so folks can understand the comprehensive picture. Educators and students can work together to do MORE than simply listen – they can take action together, as partners. Let’s not settle for less.


Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She’s worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported on air and online for KQED since 2010. She’s a staff writer for KQED’s education blog MindShift.

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