Does inquiry based learning work?

A little personal anecdotal aside here.  I’m drowning in an assignment where while I know and understand all the individual parts I feel incapable of putting it all together in a coherent whole, so instead I’ll write a little story about inquiry based learning.  It is one of the topics in my course, where it is written about as if it were something new and interesting whereas it’s been around a long long time in the IB / PYP world and therefor has been part of our lives for the last 8 years.

Scene – the dermatologist’s office.  After a friend of mine had some basal cancer cells removed last month I went into “living in the tropics / sunshine all these years” alert and had myself checked out, and yesterday, being school holidays, hauled the kids in for their examination.

The receptionist handed me some intake forms to fill in, and the kids automatically reached for them to fill them in themselves.  With hilarious results.  Besides the obvious of name and date of birth, they wanted to know why all the other details were necessary.  Marital status? “If I write single,” said my son, “are they going to stalk me because they think I’m available?  Can’t I write “taken” instead? Is that why they want my home address?”  “What does caucasian mean? Why do they need to know my race?”  And then a further discussion into what information would be relevant for identification, for insurance purposes, for medical use (in this cause – dermatologically speaking – caucasian would be relevant) or just because no one has ever questioned what goes onto the forms and what is necessary.  Certainly Singapore is very big on forms and lots and lots of details. And race is always included, and so too is religion.  It makes my kids squirm when people insist on putting them in a belief box and people tend to persist until they’re satisfied – it took me a while to understand that the term here that shuts them up is “free thinker”. OK if you insist.

So perhaps that’s what is at the heart of inquiry based learning. Always questioning. What you’re doing, what’s being done to you, what you’re being asked for, what you’re being asked to do.  It is exhausting to parent at times, and must be even more so to teach.  But hopefully the lack of blind obedience and following the crowd will have some benefit in the long run.

To turn it all around then, the inquiry would be what should be on an intake form for a dermatologist and how you’d design one that was relevant but not personally invasive.  Or perhaps the inquiry is how much privacy we out to give away each time we fill something in and to what purpose.   There are big questions lurking behind innocent little forms to be completed.  I’m glad my kids are starting to get a glimpse of that.

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