Anne Frank Inspire Academy
A Free Public Charter School K-12

Learning that matters: An Inquiry-Based Learning approach

Mom, why is the sky blue? How do roller coasters work? Do skunks think other skunks stink? How does the weatherman know it’s going to rain tomorrow? Why do crickets chirp at night?

These are the kinds of questions that we as parents are often faced with, but rarely have all the answers to. Some may have even piqued our own interest and made us wonder. After all, why do crickets chirp at night?

At Anne Frank Inspire Academy, we balance teaching the fundamentals, such as math, science, and English, with helping students build the unique skill set required to become lifelong learners and explore their curiosities and wonderings themselves. This type of approach to education is commonly referred to as inquiry-based learning. 

While the above questions are an attempt to use humor to engage you in this article, they also demonstrate how quickly our brains can begin to wonder and how those wonderings can lead to real, meaningful learning. This is the same process that has led the greatest minds in history to revolutionary discoveries like electricity or the atom. It’s also the process that continues to drive scientists, engineers, and experts to break-through discoveries of today. 

The inquiry-based approach is one that, regardless of age or grade level, frees students to develop new interests and discover their untapped potential. It teaches them to become perpetual learners, something not easily taught, but invaluable throughout higher education, as well as in the workplace. And the reason we’re sharing this model with you now—it’s never been more relevant than it is today, as parents and students continue to navigate the unconventional educational structure of a COVID-19 era. 

The "Why" Behind Inquiry

For decades educators have discussed how to make what’s being taught in the classroom more relevant to students, but they’ve been hesitant to initiate the changes necessary to accomplish that goal. Anne Frank Inspire Academy is proud to partner with the Common Ground Collaborative and schools around the globe to implement a process that allows relevance to drive learning rather than seeking relevance in theme-based subjects. 

We create relevance when one’s AGENCY, or the urge to act, collides with the URGENCY of a situation. You can see this one showcase in our world today via public health and COVID-19, as well as through social justice and the case of George Floyd, among others. The Agency is what motivates us, whether that is caring for others, fairness, social equality, or climate. Agency is what each of us has that inspires us to act, and urgency is why we need to act now.  

Having the motivation to act is not enough to spur on learning though; we must also have a way to explore and express what we are learning. To that point, we have identified six commonalities all learners possess. We explore and express learning through story telling, principles and patterns, creativity and innovation, systems and sustainability, purpose and balance, and individuals and groups. These commonalities are where we can embed the learner’s voice and choice, therefore making the topic meaningful and relevant to the student. 

The "What" Behind Inquiry

Anne Frank Inspire Academy follows a flexible and systematic approach to inquiry-based learning. 

Step 1: Identify

AFIA students identify a broad topic that is worth learning about. Examples of these topics could include the current state of the world; what is happiness; censorship; friendship; or community. We want the topic to be broad enough to allow multiple ages and grade levels to explore it, but at a depth appropriate for their educational development.  

Step 2: Activate

AFIA students activate their natural wonderings about the topic by sharing articles, literary resources, and videos, as well as initiating discussions about the topic. Then, the student has a task of debriefing what they’ve learned by reflecting on the five F’s: first impression, feelings, facts, finding and future.

First Impression asks the student to dive into what they noticed during their research and discovery, challenging them to do so without attaching emotions or opinions to it. Feelings explores how a student felt while learning about the topic—did you like it or not? Did it evoke emotion? The facts portion of the assignment focuses on what facts the student can pull out of what they’ve read or watched. Finding prompts their conclusions, combining both their feelings and findings to draw these conclusions. Culminating in the final F, future, which asks the student to explore how they can use this information moving forward. 

By completing this debriefing process,we guide the students to discern what stood out to them and then identify areas that they would like to know more about.

Step 3: Explore

During this step, we allow the learner to explore their findings and future uses of their wonderings. This may lead students to a quick understanding, but it also may take them down a rabbit hole, and with that, a whole new set of questions and wonderings emerge.

Step 4: Create

The learner then creates, using one or more of the six commonalities referenced above. These commonalities have a connection to theme-based subjects. For example, Stories and Signals connects to English, while Groups and Individual relates to social studies. Principles and Patterns drives at math and science concepts. 

Step 5: Share

The learner then shares what they created, connecting it back to their initial wonderings and broad topic.

Step 6: Reflect

For the final step, we prompt the students to reflect on what they’ve learned throughout the process. What would they have done differently? Are there are future wonderings that they would like to explore? 

Let's Implement

What emerges from this 6-step process is a deeper understanding of the issues and questions that are facing the students today. It paves the way for a new way of thinking, a process that they can implement throughout their educational career and beyond. They have ownership of what they’ve learned and often unearth new paths of curiosity to follow. It’s a beautiful cycle and one that develops a true love of learning.  

So the next time you hear, “Mom, why is the sky blue,” know that it’s OK that you don’t have the answer. In fact, it’s even better, because now you’ll have the opportunity to help your child explore their wild ideas and wonderings, turning question marks into periods and curiosities into facts. Let inquiry-based learning empower your child to never stop asking, but also start discovering! 

Inquiry-based learning lends itself to the times and may be your student’s key to staying motivated and engaged with their studies.We invite you to learn more about AFIA and/or apply to join our family today!