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Designing Inquiry Based Learning

Here at the Calgary Science School we have a mandated focus to build our practice around Inquiry-based Learning.

As a charter school, we are required by the Alberta Government to re-apply for charter renewal every 5 years. We are currently in our 11th year of operation and the first year of our third charter. Our current charter is built on the following Vision and Mission Statements:
  • Vision: The Calgary Science School will inspire passion and innovation within an inquiry-based learning community by bringing learning to life and life to learning
  • Mission: The Calgary Science School will provide its students the opportunity to experience inquiry-based learning within an environment of mutual respect. We will do so by using 1)technology; 2)outdoor education; 3)the sciences; and 4)authentic research experiences for staff and students to enhance learning in the middle school core and extra-curricular programs
Our current charter is also built on three charter goals:
  1. The Calgary Science Schools engages students in relevant inquiry-based experiences that honor the interdisciplinary nature of knowledge and understanding
  2. Reciprocal learning between teachers and students will occur through the effective implementation of ubiquitous access to laptops in the One-to-One Computing Project
  3. Students will be authentically engaged in their learning
Understanding that inquiry-based learning is a difficult notion to pin down, the Calgary Science School has chosen to adopt the model of inquiry-based learning as developed by the Galileo Educational Network. At the core of this model is the notion that inquiry-based learning doesn't just 'happen' by granting students freedom in the classroom, but rather occurs through the designing of thoughtful and well-structured learning experiences.

As part of their mentoring of teachers, over the last number of years Galileo has been refining a Task Assessment Rubric to assist in the design and assessment of inquiry-based learning projects. This rubric is not designed with the intention of assessing student work, but rather the units and project designed by teachers. The rubric provides a framework to assist teachers when designing inquiry-based work for students.

The rubric is built around 8 core elements of inquiry-based learning:
  • Authenticity
  • Academic Rigor
  • Assessment
  • Value of Work beyond the School
  • Appropriate Use of Technology
  • Active Exploration
  • Connecting with Expertise
  • Elaborated Communication

This 'task rubric' becomes the common lens through which teachers can talk about and assess the depth of work they are designing for their students. When our teachers are planning inquiry projects, the rubric supports teachers by highlighting different components that might be present in a learning task.

As teachers are beginning to develop their inquiry-based learning practices, it is unreasonable to expect that all 8 of the elements would be included in a particular project. Depending on the size and scope of a task, only a few of the elements might be present. On larger scale project, it becomes possible to build tasks that hit all of the 8 elements.

As we continue using this blog to share examples from our classrooms, we hope you are able to see how these 8 elements are carried out and actually built into the projects we design for our students.

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