Monday, April 11, 2011

It is more than telling!

Left image: Rocky coast, Rouen, France.
Right image: Photgraphic exhibition, Saturday morning in Hyde Park, Sydney.

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

It is more than telling!

Inquiry (in UK they talk about enquiry) is a word that is frequently thrown around when 21st Century curriculum is being developed.

The thinking is that students will be more connected to their learning and engaged to explore if they are stimulated to think via a range of inquiry questions on a topic/area of study:

"Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand." Joe Exline

Inquiry implies involvement that leads to understanding. Furthermore, involvement in learning implies possessing skills and attitudes that enable students to seek resolutions to questions and issues while constructing new knowledge. Useful application of inquiry learning involves several factors: a context for questions, a framework for questions, a focus for questions, and different levels of questions.

An example of the telling v’s exploring and inquiring was highlighted recently when the Department of Education and Children’s Services (DECS) in South Australia decided that it would be useful for a resource to be produced for schools to support their response to the recent disasters. Instead of producing documents on the nature of earthquakes and tsunamis, the curriculum team developed a series of inquiry questions with associated links. The inquiry questions provided numerous points of entry to investigate the 2011 happenings of January (floods in Queensland), February (Christchurch earthquakes) and March (Japan earthquake and tsunamis). The questions were designed to guide the learning of students at a range of levels as opposed to a one-fit all information dissemination activity.

Inquiry Based Learning has fast become an accepted way for curriculum to be written, with student exploration, engagement and empowerment seen as positive outcomes.

However there needs to be a caveat to the use of Inquiry Based Learning in the curriculum. It is not a stand-alone approach but rather an approach which relies on an infrastructure of skills, thinking and foundation knowledge to ensure that the inquiry has rigour, veracity and sound conceptual understandings – it needs to be informed inquiry and not just ‘off-the top of the head emoting’ or ramblings based on minimal or uninformed, if not biased sources.

There is a potential for Inquiry Based Learning to be mis-used and abused by teachers without the skills, knowledge or understanding themselves on a particular geographical topic. To avoid such mis-use, the January 2011 Australian Curriculum shape paper for geography (page 21)attempted to develop a geography orientated inquiry process with rigour.

‘Geographical inquiry refers to the methodologies that geographers use to find new knowledge, or knowledge that is new to them, and the ways that they attempt to understand and explain what they have observed’

I am sure we will hear more of this geographically focussed inquiry methodology as the Australian Curriculum geography is written over coming months. Naturally spatial technologies such as GIS have a huge part to play in the development of a rigorous and valid inquiry methodology in geography. In the next posting I will give details of the DECS disaster resource and how the writers used ‘rich inquiry’ questions to guide the inquiry on natural disasters.

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