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Inquiry, Problem, and Project Based Learning

by Cristina Fritz on April 25, 2013

While considerable research goes into identifying successful learning paths to implement in classrooms, many identify that no one method effectively reaches ALL learners at ALL times. Acquiring in-depth knowledge happens at unique, individualized levels. Inquiry, Problem, and Project based learning approaches allows both educators and learners room for intrinsic growth. As these active approaches are combined, they nourish 21st century skills sets focusing on questioning, critical thinking, processing, collaboration, product development, and problem-solving.

At the start of each unit, our learners are presented with an engaging, age appropriate STEM based inquiry. Each inquiry sets the theme for whole group discussions, invitations, outdoor play extension activities, and home connections. Provided is an example of how these approaches could be incorporated into a preschool learning day.

During the month of Life Science: Animals studies, Mana instructors bring in a baby bird. The instructors provide a brief introduction, “our visitor has been cared for by people and is without a family.” By design the bird is housed in a small cage to inspire various environmental discussions. Children are invited to make observations of the bird and its cage home. “This bird lives in a cage, it can’t fly around. Birds live on trees and those black lines.” James asserts. His classmate Katrina agrees, “That’s right! Birds have leaf beds, inside trees. I saw one in my backyard.”

The instructor questions further on characteristics of the birds natural home, what the bird would need to survive on its own, and how it should be cared for as a pet.

“Bird homes in the Austin area are being damaged for many reasons. How can we help animals who’s natural homes are taken away?”
Later at invitations, James and Katrina decide to explore at the class Guinea Pig observatory. James notes the Guinea Pigs look cramped and are in a cage which is not like the outside where they naturally live. He suggests “We could build a new home for the Guinea Pigs because they don’t get to be outside. It has to have things they like.” “Yes!” Katrina exchanges, “We can use things from trees like a bird needs and make them a natural home.” James and Katrina then refer to an iPad app that outlines Guinea Pig traits and Habitat needs. The learners collaboratively design a blueprint for their Guinea Pig home. They utilize instructor provided measurement and construction materials to execute their plan to build a new home. At the end of their construction, James and Katrina present their natural Guinea pig habitat design with the support of guiding questioning form instructors. They explain how they completed their project and why each component was included.

We believe that developing strong early problem solving skills through Inquiry, Problem, and Project based learning bolsters children’s later acquisition of critical thinking and innovative capabilities.

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