A Student-Led, Flipped, Inquiry-Based Learning Classroom Doing Authentic Work

by Jane Healey, Ph.D.

A recent popular magazine asked what education will be like for the class of 2025.  While the accompanying article mostly rehashed the ongoing debate between content and process, I saw the cover and had a one-word answer: research.

Knowledge is more accessible than ever before, and current technology allows people to tap into information anywhere, anytime.  The internet updates that knowledge every moment as we speak.

If teachers aren’t repositories of current knowledge as they might have been in the past, and textbooks contain old news the moment they go to press, classrooms will transform into labs where teachers define an overarching curriculum and guide students through a simple and natural human process to fill it in:

  • Observe

  • Wonder

  • Investigate

  • Conclude

I like using the general terms above because they describe behaviors humans do and have done throughout history.  In this model, everyone practices research all the time.  Teachers encourage students at all levels—PreK-12—to look carefully, ask questions, find answers and report on their discoveries within an architecture of course goals.

michigammunicipalleagueWhy Research, Why Now?

As students advance in the grades, teachers grow the course design and expand the categories to include more precise steps while students approach more complex situations.  A first grade student in a unit on animals may want to know about otters while a sixth grade student studying mammals may want to know why sea otters are endangered.

And when students reach the upper levels of education, teachers modify the phrase to say “academic” research, expanding the sources they access and again advancing the complexity of the inquiry.  A high school biology student may ask, “According to marine biologists, how can sea otters be rescued from the brink of extinction?”

Each scenario fits the simple categories at the start of this post, but the advanced one follows a more precise process:

  1. Searching for information,

  2. Evaluating the credibility of sources,

  3. Reading and annotating materials,

  4. Analyzing the meaning of various documents and artifacts,

  5. Organizing thoughts into coherent reports,

  6. Crafting conclusions,

  7. Sharing conclusions with others,

  8. Reflecting on the process for future applications.

Blending Learning Trends To Make Meaning

Imagine a science class about photosynthesis where pods of students find explanations of the process, watch visual tutorials about classic experiments that demonstrate the explanations, and design a lab around a flora of significance in their local environment. Or, better yet, to solve a local problem that they’ve seen first-hand, and feel is worth correcting.  They then work while the teacher helps each group or individual students locate those sources, comprehend their meaning and apply the lessons.

To meet this vision, teachers need to feel competent and comfortable being a guide at each step, using technology seamlessly, and surrendering control in the room.  We need to start helping teachers get there—now.

That’s a student-led, flipped, inquiry-based class doing authentic work.

Image attribution flickr users michiganmunicipalleague and vancouverfilmschool; A Student-Led, Flipped, Inquiry-Based Learning Classroom Doing Authentic Work