Last week we discussed the agency we unleash when we invite learners and the community to co-design with us.

What happens when we guide learning with inquiry vs. content….

One hundred students stood huddled together, trying to keep warm in an abandoned field in Shunyi, Beijing. They had no idea where they were or why they were there.

The only thing they knew was that this learning environment looked far different from the one they were in 30 minutes ago.

Thirty minutes earlier they were in their classrooms, jotting down notes from a lecture delivered by their teacher at the front of the classroom. When an all-school fire alarm reverberated across every classroom, they were hurriedly shuffled outside the school, packed onto buses, and taken to this abandoned field.

They now stood, huddled together, staring collectively at large blue tents, occupied by adults in lab coats.

Welcome to the first stage of the inquiry process for the ‘Rise from the Phoenix Inquiry Unit,’ a guided inquiry process that would require students to rebuild society after being displaced by an earthquake. In this seven-week learning journey, the responsibility of the teachers (i.e., facilitators) was simply to create the vessel and parameters for the experience and then allow students to fill it.

The large abandoned field was stage #1.

After students received food rations, a quick temperature/health check, and an information card providing more details around the simulated disaster, it would be up to them to determine how to rebuild society. They began by generating a list of questions they would have to answer:

  1. How to construct shelter?
  2. Grow food?
  3. Govern?
  4. Meet basic needs?
  5. Ensure our survival?
  6. Appoint jobs?

After generating a list of open questions, they prioritized each according to its importance, and developed a list of “needs” versus “wants” so they could converge around what was most important. Finding food and water was priority #1.

And while their team of teacher-facilitators had a hunch they might land on food and water as the most important priorities, they didn’t force the process.

They understood the importance of allowing learners to arrive at this key inquiry on their own. And given most 12-year- olds knew only little about food production, the teachers prepared the relevant activities and experiences to help them explore. Teachers introduced a key anchor text to unpack four major models of food production; invited local farmers, and aquaponics/hydroponics experts to demonstrate what they looked like in action; and organized mini-lessons and proposal-writing workshops for students to create their own.

Through each activity, experience, lesson, or workshop, learners deepened their inquiries. Learner questions developed in complexity, and incorporated the same vocabulary and thought processes of the disciplines they were attempting to emulate.

How about you? What might your classroom or school look like in the 2024-205 if you led with inquiry rather than content? 

Get Help With Shift #2: Content-Led  – – – – > Inquiry Based

The excerpt above is from Shift #2/Chapter 2 of my new book, ‘Where is the Teacher: 12 Shifts for Student-Centered Environments’ scheduled for release in Early August. 

Now, time to get back to that mystery novel, relaxing massage, and glorious sunshine!

Enjoy your Summer Break!

Your [co] learning experience designer,