Inquiry in #PhysEd 101 – The How, What & Why?

A couple of Mondays ago the #pechat topic was Inquiry Based Learning in #PhysEd. After leading a fairly quiet session during the Asian timezone, I decided to jump on in with Adam Howell during his North American slot while I was on my lunch break at school the next day. The conversation that took place over the next hour was one of those conversations that leaves you invigorated yet uncomfortable at the same time. It became apparent to me that a teaching philosophy that I have subscribed to fully throughout my career was so foreign to so many others within our #PhysEd community.

What has become second nature to me,  it seemed was a concept which others had heard of but has misconceptions or hesitations around how to even begin to comprehend how it could a part of a purposeful physical education class. As I advocated for and explained how inquiry based learning looks in my classes and the classes of people like Andy Vasily & Mel Hamada, it became clear to me that I needed and wanted to write a blog post on the topic.

Inquiry is not something you DO, it’s a way of thinking…

Inquiry is not something that can be “done” in a lesson or a unit. It’s a philosophy for the way you plan, deliver and assess within your physical education curriculum. The way that makes the most sense to me to explain it is to consider inquiry based learning as a lense through which you see bigger concepts and ideas in physical education. Lynn Erickson describes it simply and fantastically in this blog post on The Power of Conceptual Lenses.

Inquiry based learning allows for students to share their wonderings and to become more of a stakeholder in the learning process. Rather than the teacher being the gatekeeper controlling who comes and goes, it allows students to enter the learning in any way they feel comfortable and for the teacher to support them to climb the fence.

But where do I begin? What does it look like? Won’t It Be Chaotic?

These are the most common questions that are asked by teachers who have not used or do not have an understanding on meaningful inquiry based learning. The absolute guru on inquiry based learning in my mind is Kath Murdoch. She wrote a fantastic blog post on How do Inquiry Teachers…Teach? which is an absolute must read as a starting point for those unfamiliar or not quite sold on inquiry based learning.

In her blog post she suggests that teachers who subscribe to the philosophy of inquiry based learning:

 – Talk Less
– Ask More
– Relate to their students
– Let kids in on the “secret”
– Check in with their students constantly
– Collaborate with their students
– See the bigger picture
                                       Kath Murdoch, justwonderingblog.com, Feb 2014     

Kath’s article solves the problem of how to do it, but I still hear you asking “Won’t it just be a free for all?”  The answer is Yes it will be, if you let it. Inquiry is not asking the kids what they think and then letting them do what they want.

Inquiry is a carefully planned and guided process through which students can discover and go deeper with their learning. Meaningful student inquiry is not just giving kids free choice and hoping they learn something, it’s giving kids guided free choice. Provoking them and guiding them down certain paths with your choice of equipment available, or by questioning them on their choices. Activities still need to be planned, perhaps even in greater detail than previously to ensure that students will get to where you want them to by the end of the process. It’s about planning carefully your provocations, taking note of their wonderings and questions, supporting them to explore further, giving them feedback on their performances, suggesting ways for them to find out how they can improve and encouraging them to take action on their new knowledge.

What about my Learning Outcomes? Standards? Benchmarks?

While some may ask the question “How can I used an inquiry based approach when I have standards and learning outcomes to adhere to?” For the longest time this was a question that I too asked myself. Even during the long and arduous process that my school and physical education department took in creating our own learning outcomes and benchmarks, I often wondered how it would all fit together. Wouldn’t having subscribed learning outcomes and standards diminish the opportunity for students to inquire?
Then I had the AH-HA moment….

By using the learning outcomes/standards/benchmarks as the end point to begin your planning of provocations and potential activity options for your students you should be able to design the “WHAT we will do” of your lessons while the students inquire into the “HOW can I do it?” and “WHY am I doing it?”
I will be blogging further about how I use our Learning Outcomes and Benchmarks within our inquiry based PYP setting in another post soon. To do this I will reference the work of Terri Drain’s How to Design a Standards Based Lesson and Joey Feith’s Great Unpacking.

Beginning Your Inquiry Journey…

Let’s consider the successful implementation of Inquiry Based Learning in #PhysEd as a journey that never ends. Even the gurus such as Andy Vasily and Kath Murdoch will tell you that as an inquiry based teacher you can never perfect the art of inquiry based learning. It is a fluid process and just as we are encouraging our students to question their understandings, so to should we as teachers. The beauty of inquiry based learning is that teachers and students co-construct the knowledge.
Although it may seem foreign and confusing to you or you may question it’s validity, to me inquiry based learning is simply good practice. Wouldn’t you want your children to ask Why? or even more importantly Why Not?In the coming weeks I will be continuing to blog about Inquiry in #PhysEd so please check back soon for more ideas and information about how you might use inquiry based learning in your program. I was also been lucky enough to be invited by SPARK to present a free Webinar on Inquiry Based Learning in #PhysEd and #Afterschool Programs.You can watch a replay of the webinar here.
Nathan Horne is a physical educator currently based in Singapore (soon to be in Vancouver, Canada) and the founder of iPhys-Ed.com Be sure to never miss out on any of iPhys-Ed.com’s future posts by connecting with us via TwitterFacebook or subscribing here. Nathan can be contacted on Twitter @PENathan or via email 

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