This sounds like what homeschoolers have known, valued and argued for more than a couple decades:
“In my mind the gold standard is when a kid comes up with a question on their own that they are interested in learning about – self-generated and they’re passionate about it. And they figure out and design an experiment that will give them maybe not the answer that they thought they were going to get, but it will bring knowledge to the table. And likely knowledge that no body else had.”
But this isn’t a homeschooler talking. This is a quote from Crow Middle School science teacher, Lisa Livelybrooks, using a concept in her classroom called Inquiry-based Instruction that goes back to the 60’s and is credited to J Richard Suchman.
As a teaching method, inquiry solves a problem that students in the U-S often face, says Eastern Oregon University Education professor Miriam Munck.
Miriam Munck: “We in public schools often do the sit-n-get kind of instruction with kids, but then when we send them out into the big world, we expect them to be critical thinkers, solve problems, do all the things that inquiry requires. That we really haven’t taught them how to be good inquirers.”
Resourcefulness, creativity, innovation, persistence, risk taking – these are all qualities that describe entrepreneurs, some of the most highly regarded people in the country. In the most harrowing days of the current recession, President Barack Obama said entrepreneurs would be key to helping the economy recover. Inquiry education cultivates these same entrepreneurial qualities in students, and according to Professor Munck, teaching inquiry lessens the disconnect between what happens in schools and what happens in the world.
While inquiry-based instruction opens students up to near limitless possibilities for learning, teachers often encounter an obstacle to using it in the classroom – assessment. Currently almost all statewide achievement testing is done via multiple-choice that can be graded by computers in a matter of seconds. Jill Baxter, an Education Professor at the U of O, says the Oregon department of education has developed ways to measure student progress from inquiry-based lessons, but they’re time consuming and expensive.
Despite this growing acceptance, there are still challenges… like budget issues slowing the adoption of new teaching materials. Tight budgets also mean current teachers have fewer professional development days built into their school year where they can learn how to use inquiry in the classroom.
As schools use approaches that sound more like homeschooling, maintaining our independence will be a challenge for homeschoolers.