The resource Natural Curiosity: Building Children’s Understanding of the World Through Environmental Inquiry defines inquiry-based learning as a “dynamic and emergent process that builds on students’ natural curiosity about the world. Inquiry places students’ questions and ideas, rather than solely those of the teacher, at the center of the learning experience. Students’ questions drive the learning process forward.” (Natural Curiosity, 2011)
In order for effective inquiry to take place students require the proper tools. Simply put, they need to be able and encouraged to ask questions. Encouraging students to ask questions not only sets students up for effective inquiry-based learning, it is also a life-long valuable skill. An article available by the Harvard Education Publishing Group provides background information about question asking and under the side bar a Question Formulation Technique to try with your students.
An additional resource that promotes inquiry-based learning is the Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature. The guide dedicates an entire chapter to questioning and answering.
According to the Coyote’s Guide, instead of immediately answering a child’s question, it is important to get into the habit of encouraging and cultivating their natural curiosity. By acknowledging questions with a simple ‘I wonder too’ or another logical question, students are offered pieces of partial answers along the way until they arrive at the answer they seek for themselves. This answer may be discovered through observation and discovery or may need further guided support and research. The key is that the student or person who has asked the questions is supported in finding their own answer. Over time this will encourage children to not only keep asking questions, but to also see themselves as capable of finding the answers and encourage the love of life-long learning.
In order to shift your own mind as an adult out of the pattern of answering and back into the innocence of curiosity you can do this two-minute exercise from the Coyote’s Guide. This can be done alone but is extenuated with a partner, or even with your students of any age:
"Walk outside and find an object in nature: plant, rock, acorn, tree, or snow, etc. For two minutes (adjust for younger children), do nothing but ask questions out loud about the chosen object without giving any answers. Watch how your mind begins to overflow with unspoken answers that lead to new questions. Allow your mind to wander anywhere asking questions that use all the senses, but don’t answer. Your partner remains silent, listening to the questions and exploring the object along with you. Keep asking questions until the two minutes are up. In these two minutes your brain wakes up to a whole new world of possibilities." (Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, 2010)
As teachers and adults, we can open up students’ natural curiosity for the world around them by taking learning outside in a space that will spark their interest, assisting them to learn the life-long skill of asking questions. As a result we put the love of learning back into the children’s hands where they are engaged and excited about the process of acquiring knowledge.