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We teach from the corner to the classroom.
[Crystal Bell, principal of Ella Flagg Young School]

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Our definition of Inquiry

Defining inquiry-based education begs the question: "How can you define such a multi-faceted educational approach?" Indeed, there are as many interpretations of Dewey's vision as there are teachers. From constructivism, problem-solving approaches, project-based learning, and many other variations on the theme, we find that inquiry as a learner-centered process is core. Below are some of the definitions that we have crafted and culled from our partners, workshop participants, fellow education theorists, and Inquiry Page participants. We welcome your experiences with inquiry and encourage you to email us with your own definitions.

  • All learning begins with the learner. What children know and what they want to learn are not just constraints on what can be taught; they are the very foundation for learning. Dewey's description of the four primary interests of the child are still appropriate starting points:
    1. the child's instinctive desire to find things out
    2. in conversation, the propensity children have to communicate
    3. in construction, their delight in making things
    4. in their gifts of artistic expression.

    We may say that these are the natural resources, the uninvested capital, "upon the exercise of which depends the active growth of the child."
    But, as Dewey recognized, schooling is not just about the individual. It is the coming together of the child's interests with those of the society. The disciplines we study in school represent centuries of collective thought as well as the interests of the larger community in maintaining itself by communicating its knowledge and values to the next generation. The Inquiry Page is about how teachers weave a child's interests with those of society. The Inquiry Page is about teachers sharing their successes and their collective expertise. ~Dr. Chip Bruce, Professor of Education and Library and Information Science, University of Illinois, Urbana.
  • "For students, this method of learning ends the listen-to-learn paradigm of the classroom and gives them a real and authentic goal challenges to overcome. For the teacher, inquiry-based education ends their paradigm of talking to teach and recasts them in the role of a colleague and mentor engaged in the same quest as the other younger learners around."
  • "Inquiry is an approach to learning that involves a process of exploring the natural or material world, that leads to asking questions and making discoveries in the search for new understandings."
  • Inquiry education is where structure meets fluidity, where we can create opportunities for students to be engaged in active learning based on their own questions. (From a small group discussion on "Inquiry in Action" at
    The Inquiry Page Workshop on Feb 21, 2001.
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