Fear and loathing in inquiry

Why do many teachers hesitate to allow their students to truly pursue the answers to their own questions?

Fear and Loathing

Lonely highway - destination unknown

Lonely highway - destination unknown

Fear of the unknown – it’s what causes people to be scared of the dark.  True student inquiry is “the dark.”  It’s where the whims and interests of students can lead you down a path that might be uncomfortable – or even disastrous.  So, what do we do?  We put inquiry in a box.

We say, here is your question and the procedure for you to follow.  Why aren’t you motivated?  This is a LAB!

Sure, hands on is better than worksheets and lectures.  But here’s a news flash – labs can be boring too.

Students don’t necessarily learn any more from traditional – or, even, “guided inquiry” – activities than they do from lectures and worksheets.

Why not?  Because all of the important thinking is done for them.   Then they are left with a glorified worksheet with procedures to follow, tables to complete and discussion questions to answer at the end.  Good for you, you just created a “hands-on” worksheet.

Why do we do this?  Loathing.

We loathe the things that come with giving students freedom.  Kids are off task.  The noise level rises.  Chaos erupts.  The veteran teacher next door peers into your room and glowers disapprovingly (at the noisy students, of course, never at you).  Parents complain that nothing new has shown up on the computer grading system for 2 weeks (quick, give ‘em a worksheet – that’ll fix ‘em!).

Fear and loathing – the enemies of inquiry.

8 thoughts on “Fear and loathing in inquiry

  1. I agree from the bottom of my heart. The chaos and the mess is what some teachers really fear. But how is a quiet classroom any better? How can anyone learn without thinking out loud, sharing their ideas?

    I love your blog!

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Fear and Loathing in Inquiry | Wisdom Begins with Wonder -- Topsy.com

  3. Great post :)
    I LOVE the ‘loathing’ scenario… noise, interaction, choice, freedom. That’s how learning occurs, isn’t it!

  4. Ed – I often think the louder and messier it is the better, especially in science!

  5. Indeed, a quiet classroom is creepy. I love it messy as well, though sometimes I have to remind myself that it might not be “too loud”. I don’t crave control in my classroom though. I build on mutual agreements and understandings.

    I think this goes beyond science. I teach a transdisciplinary programme, and try to use inquiry-based learning all the time

  6. You bet this goes beyond the science classroom!

    I just have a problem with clean, aseptic science taught from a textbook. Science IS messy!

    Learning is messy!

  7. Pingback: The inquiry teacher’s toolbox | Wisdom Begins with Wonder

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