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Q&A: David Truss on Inquiry-Based Learning
David Truss is a unique educational leader in a unique school. He’s vice principal at Learning Innovations Network Coquitlam in British Columbia, Canada. Education for him, his teachers and their students is inquiry-based, driving a learning built around asking questions and discovering answers.
What drew you to education?
I was a water polo coach for years and loved coaching. After university I became a Starbucks manager, but missed working with kids.
How did you become a fan of inquiry-based learning?
It was technology that pointed the way. I started blogging and following my own interests in education and then wanted my students to do the same. I had them blogging and created a science wiki where they chose their own topics. After that, the move to inquiry learning seemed natural.
How does it work and why is it important?
I’ll start with the “Why?”
Learning is messy. It doesn’t fit into nice little boxes and learning how to learn is far better than filling your head with content for a test. I still think things like math skills are important and take practice, but I want students solving real problems and real problems don’t come with all the necessary data that you just need to plug into a memorized formula.
As for the “How”:
We use the BCTLA Points of Inquiry as a model for our inquiry. In my opinion, this is much better than most models that direct you into a cycle or spiral or other models that put inquiry into a process. Essentially, we want students to make connections and wonder about things that interest them. We want them to investigate these ideas, to create and construct things based on their investigation, to express or report-out what they have learned and to constantly reflect on their learning and the learning process. But it doesn’t work so neatly. Sometimes investigation leads to further connections and wonder and construction of a purposeful model or design doesn’t work and reflection and further investigation is needed. Students bounce from point to point on the model and it is a teacher’s job to help keep them on a learning journey, through challenges and frustrations and partial successes and distractions and knowledge gaps.
You talk a lot about “doing” rather than “learning.” Share some of your favorite examples of students learning by doing.
One of my favourites is our garden:
From writing a grant to ordering all supplies to organizing the event shared in the link above, students have organized everything about this garden and the learning has come from this. Even now, the students are doing things like starting an aquaponic garden to grow food all year, experimenting with ways to ripen vegetables after they are picked and developing a curriculum to teach younger students about urban gardening. It just so happens that each of these things they are doing requires a fair bit of learning as part of the process.
How can educational leaders support teachers who want to make the shift away from the old, passive model of learning?
1. I think that most teachers are not stuck in old, passive models of learning. Rather, they are stuck feeling tied to the obligation to “get students ready” for the required test or the next grade or…
What it takes is for teachers to recognize that when students have some control over what they are learning, the learning potential increases.
2. Shifting away from older models is hard to do on your own. Connect with another person in your school and plan as a team. The same way we encourage our students to collaborate and work together to achieve their goals, we need to make sure we are modeling the same approaches that work. Find a mentor or a co-conspirator!
3. Pick ONE thing and start there. Here is a presentation to help get you started.
What are the biggest challenges teachers face? How can leaders help them overcome those difficulties?
I think the biggest challenge is getting started. As mentioned, collaboration and teamwork is key. For teachers, this means “letting go” of some control and empowering your students. This is both scary and exciting, and students will exceed expectations if the support and resources are there for them to access. For leaders, this means making time in the schedule for teachers to meet. It also means rolling up your sleeves and joining in on the inquiry process, providing the same opportunities for teachers that you want for students. Prescribing inquiry is not going to work… Creating a culture of questioning and teacher-driven professional development will. (And this is not necessarily easy, I have to say that I’m still working on this.)