Inquiry-based learning (IBL) is not a new idea. As an education philosophy, it traces back to the “discovery learning movement” of the 1960s that encouraged learners to build on past experiences and knowledge, use their intuition, imagination and creativity, and search for new information to discover facts, correlations and new truths.  (https://elearningindustry.com/discovery-learning-model)

It turns out that inquiry-based learning is a tool that works very well for educational programs operating outside the traditional classroom model approach.  As such, homeschools are the perfect testing ground for this model, because they are free to “tweak” a curriculum in any way that might directly enhance and expand on work that elementary and secondary level home-based students are already doing.

(http://youthlearn.org/wp-content/uploads/Inquiry_Based_Learning.pdf )


In a traditional teaching model, teachers present a very structured “syllabus” of lessons and activities to students at the outset of each school year (or quarter or semester).  The teacher is recognized as the final source of information and knowledge and plays the “decider” role of determining exactly which information is important enough to address in the classroom.  Topics and projects are evaluated based on what someone else has decided children need to know.

IBL, on the other hand, starts from a place of questioning rather than telling.  “Students may spontaneously ask questions or be prompted to ask questions about a particular topic. They might research to find answers, engage in activities that will help them pursue answers, or work collaboratively in pursuit of answers; regardless, all learning stems from these questions. By engaging in inquiry-based learning, students come to understand that they can take responsibility for their learning. (https://study.com/teach/inquiry-based-learning.html )

IBL learning is especially good for use in a one-or-two student classroom because projects are often decided and guided by the student. The teacher becomes more a “coach,” helping the student discover what they really care about.  This doesn’t mean that the homeschool teacher does nothing. In fact, inquiry-based learning activities sometimes require even more concentrated planning and preparation by the teacher.  In IBL, the teacher helps the student “shape” their interests into answerable questions that are compelling enough to hold the student’s interest while at the same time adequately addressing the subject topic.



The website YouthLearn offers a few guiding principles for forming IBL questions:

  1. The questions must be answerable via the student’s research.
  2. The answer cannot be a simple fact that can be found with little research or inquiry.
  3. The answer cannot be already known. Help your student frame questions that provide an opportunity for them to explore and discover.
  4. The questions must have some objective basis for an answer – something that can be answered through research.
  5. The questions cannot be overtly personal. You want your homeschool student to be working on an answer that requires external research.

(http://youthlearn.org/wp-content/uploads/Inquiry_Based_Learning.pdf )

Once the teacher and student have framed the appropriate questions that will allow the student to research the study topic on their own, the parent/teacher can step back and serve the role of facilitator and coach rather than lecturer.  At this point, you’ll be offering feedback, expertise and guidance to steer your child towards the appropriate resources they will need to access to complete the inquiry exercise.


Pennsylvania State University’s Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence (http://www.schreyerinstitute.psu.edu/ ) suggests that “one of the main reasons to think about using IBL in your [classroom] is because it provides a means to actively involve students in the learning process.” Although the Institute is focused on higher education, IBL general concepts transfer well from higher ed to K-12 learning and home school models.

“IBL gives you the opportunity to help students learn the content and course concepts by having them explore a question and develop and research” the topic on their own. This approach gives your student “more opportunity to reflect on their own learning, gain a deeper understanding of the course concepts in an integrated fashion, and learn to become better critical thinkers.” (https://www.schreyerinstitute.psu.edu/pdf/IBL.pdf )


If you are going to use IBL in your home school, your goals should include:

  • To assist your child in becoming a strong problem solver,
  • To engage your child in “field work” that supports what you’re trying to teach and gives them the opportunity to expand their knowledge by interacting with the world outside the home school,
  • To help your child develop basic critical thinking skills,
  • To guide your child through learning he/she must have for successful integration into adulthood, and
  • To assure that your child will be able to utilize what they have learned when the class is over.


Edutopia and the George Lucas Educational Foundation offer four excellent tips for engaging your student in IBL:

  1. “Students develop questions that they are hungry to answer. Have them develop a problem statement that requires them to pitch their question using a constructed response, further inquiry, and citation.
  2. Research the topic using time in class. It’s crucial to have some of this be classwork so students have access to the head researcher in the room—you. You aren’t going to do the work for them, but you are going to guide them and model methods of researching reliably.
  3. Have students present what they’ve learned. Students should create and present a final report that demonstrates they can both understand and communicate the study concept. (Example:  Students can develop a slideshow using Google Slides.)
  4. Ask your student to reflect on what worked about the process and what didn’t work. And it isn’t just about asking them to think about their opinion of the topic. Have your student focus on how they learned in addition to what they learned.”

(https://www.edutopia.org/blog/what-heck-inquiry-based-learning-heather-wolpert-gawron#:~:text=The%204%20Steps%20of%20Inquiry-Based%20Learning%201%20Students,what%20worked%20about%20the%20process%20and%20what%20didn%E2%80%99t )


GradePowerLearning.com summarizes the value of inquiry-based learning and offers seven value-added benefits of the teaching model:

“Sitting in a classroom taking notes isn’t always the most effective (or fun) way to learn.  Rather than memorizing facts from the teacher, inquiry-based learning enhances the learning process by letting the student explore topics on their own.”  IBL is a positive teaching model for your home school student because it:

  • Teaches skills needed for all areas of learning,
  • Enhances learning experiences,
  • Fosters curiosity in students,
  • Deepens students’ understanding of topics,
  • Allows students to take ownership of their learning,
  • Increases engagement with the material, and
  • Creates a love of learning.