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Inquiry Learning Forum Web site

The Inquiry Learning Forum: Fostering and Sustaining Knowledge Networking to Support a Community of Science and Mathematics Teachers

Image of ILF online community map arranged around the principles of Inquiry-Based Teaching (What is Inquiry, Why do Inquiry, and Using the ILF), including the following areas; My Desk, Library, Inquiry Lab, Collaboratory, Lounge, ILF Office, Classrooms.When Dr. Sasha Barab asked K-12 teachers of inquiry-based learning to name the best kind of professional development they could imagine, their answer was: to visit another teacher's classroom. So Dr. Barab and a team of colleagues from Indiana University established the Inquiry Learning Forum to allow teachers to do just that.

The Inquiry Learning Forum (ILF), initially supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation KDI initiative, is an online community of K-12 math and science teachers who work together to create, improve, and share classrooms centered on the learner. The ILF promotes inquiry-based learning, which encourages students to ask questions, to be curious about the world around them, to make discoveries, and to test those discoveries rigorously in a quest for new understanding. This process is guided by teachers.

Image of students measuring each other's heights in order to engage in inquiry-based learning.The project was a collaboration of Principal Investigator Dr. Barab and former PI Dr. Thomas Duffy, as well as co-PIs Dr. Catherine Brown, Dr. Donald Cunningham, Dr. Susan Herring, Dr. William Harwood, and Dr. Rob Kling. During their involvement with the project, the PIs and co-PIs were all associated either with the School of Education or the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University. Developing the ILF also involved the participation of postdocs and graduate students in these disciplines, preschool and elementary school teachers, and science and math educators.

The project grew from a need to support a learner-centered approach to math and science in K-12 schools. "At this level," said Dr. Rebecca Scheckler, a postdoc on the project, "science usually goes by the wayside unless a teacher is motivated. So one of the things we did was bring axolotls (aquatic salamanders from Mexico) to teachers. The teachers like them and the kids are fascinated by them. We used to them to motivate all kinds of instruction, from life cycles, to counting, sorting exercises, even Mendelian genetics."

Image of The ILF Collaboratory Web siteThis support was then extended from the real classroom to the online classroom. The Inquiry Learning Forum provides a collaborative environment for discussing inquiry-based teaching practices and advancing community and individual understanding. It works both to foster inquiry in students and to help teachers examine and reflect on their own teaching practice.

"Teachers are normally very isolated from one another," says Dr. Scheckler. "They were craving contact with other teachers. So with that in mind, we imagined this Web site with streaming video of teachers doing inquiry in their classrooms."

According to co-PI Dr. Herring, "The idea was that teachers could go online at their own convenience and observe other teachers teaching in their classrooms." That idea has been transformed into a reality. At the Inquiry Learning Forum, teachers and pre-service teachers can virtually "visit" other teachers' classrooms. They can also take part in discussions with other teachers, scientists, and educators about the challenges and successes of inquiry-based learning. In addition, the ILF provides a forum for teachers to share lesson plans and resources, and to make connections to national and state standards. The Web site also helps teachers tailor a professional development plan to their own circumstances. And by using the Web site, teachers also hone their Internet skills.

An unexpected benefit that researchers found came from the fact that teachers who were subjects of the videos were asked to write reflections on their teaching to be posted on the Web site. According to Dr. Scheckler, teachers reported that was the part of the study that was most valuable to them. "I have done case studies on some of these teachers, and I totally concur that their involvement with us really had a big effect on their teaching. That's why we started to say, we have to look at inquiry not only as a teaching pedagogy, but also as inquiry into one's practice, because that's what teachers need to do to change."

Today the Inquiry Learning Forum is a vibrant online community for math and science teachers of inquiry learning. Teachers visit from all over the U.S. and abroad. The site is an especially valuable resource to pre-service teachers.


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