In the report How People Learn, Bransford states that people learn by constructing their own understanding in a process that involves prior knowledge and experiences; following a learning cycle consisting of exploration, concept formation, and application; discussing and interacting with others; reflecting on their progress in learning; and assessing their performance1. Students experience improved learning when they are actively engaged and when they are given the opportunity to construct their own knowledge.
One initiative that has used this research is the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) project. POGIL is a classroom and laboratory technique that seeks simultaneously to teach content and key process skills, such as the ability to think analytically and work effectively as part of a collaborative team. In the classroom or lab, students work in small groups on specially designed guided inquiry materials. These materials supply students with data or information, called a model, followed by leading questions designed to guide them toward formulation of their own valid conclusions. The teacher serves as facilitator, observing and periodically addressing individual and classroom-wide needs.
Each POGIL activity is based on a learning cycle of exploration, concept invention, and application. Students are asked a series of questions that guide them through this cycle. The questions gradually move from being deductive questions to inductive questions and challenge students to describe what they are seeing in the model, develop a conceptual understanding of the model, and then apply the newly-developed concept. More information about POGIL can be found at http://pogil.org.
While the POGIL technique typically uses paper-based models, incorporating computer-based models and simulations maximizes the student’s level of engagement and the experience becomes less static. The combination of technology and the POGIL approach allows students to explore new information in a way that makes sense to them while ensuring they are learning relevant content.
The next section highlights one school system’s project to incorporate inquiry-based MODSIM lessons into standards based math and science courses.
1 Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. The National Academies Press, Washington, D. C., (2000).