Inquiry learning in semi-formal contexts

Jones, Ann; Blake, Canan and Petrou, Marilena (2011). Inquiry learning in semi-formal contexts. In: Littleton, Karen; Scanlon, Eileen and Sharples, Mike eds. Orchestrating Inquiry Learning. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, pp. 192–213.



Most research studies concerned with inquiry learning have focused on understanding classroom-based inquiries that are contextualised within specific curricular frameworks. There is, thus, a pressing need for work which resources our understanding of the process of inquiry learning in less formal contexts, such as after-school clubs. In recent years, educational policy makers in the UK have been very concerned with a personalization agenda. This is defined and understood in many different ways, but one aspect is the possibility of learner choice. It is this element of choice that is reflected in the idea of personal inquiries.
In this chapter the focus is on inquiries that students themselves develop, in the semi-formal context of an after-school club, supported by their teachers and researchers and resourced by a technology toolkit: nQuire. Specifically, key issues and challenges in relation to the orchestration of inquiry learning within semi-formal settings are discussed.

The chapter begins by considering the importance of informal and semi-formal inquiry science learning and how these terms are understood in the literature, followed by a review of related work. A case study follows that discusses the processes of inquiry learning in a Geography after-school club, the "Sustainability Squad", which ran for 11 weeks. The students' main inquiries focused on food decomposition experiments and how variables such as the nature of the food and packaging affected this. They monitored the decay of different foodstuffs, observing, recording and analysing data, reflecting on their findings and presenting them to the other students in the club. This less formal setting provided the opportunity for types of inquiry that could not be supported within the formal curriculum, and also for the choice of inquiry to be decided by the students themselves. The case study describes how the nQuire toolkit was able to support a number of aspects of the students’ inquiries including: student choice; a representation of a jointly negotiated, personalized version of inquiry; defining the inquiry; providing a shared focus and for bridging the contexts of school and home.

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