Guided Inquiry learning is grounded in research and helps students develop strategies and competencies for deep learning from a variety of sources of information. Students gain competence as they work collaboratively in small groups. They see the boundaries of school life and real life blurring. Guided Inquiry is a preparation for life—not just a test. Formative assessments are given throughout the inquiry. The summative assessment is often a project or a solution to a real-world problem (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2012). 

Guided Inquiry is grounded in the six principles of constructivist learning. These are:

  1. Children learn by being actively engaged in and reflecting on an experience.
  2. Children learn by building on what they already know.
  3. Children develop higher-order thinking through guidance at critical points in the learning process.
  4. Children have different ways and modes of learning.
  5. Children learn through social interaction with others.
  6. Children learn through instruction and experience in accord with their cognitive development ((Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2012, p. 19).

Working with the second- and third-grade students for a three-week Guided Inquiry project, Northwest AEA educational consultant/media director Dr. Judy Sweetman was able to see it in action. Her guiding question for the inquiry was, “Why are wetlands so important in Iowa and how can we get them to come back?” Students were so excited about learning. They had recently engaged in a study of ecosystems--one of which was wetlands. During a two and a half-week period, they continued learning more about wetlands with multiple resources from Northwest AEA Media Center and Iowa AEA Online. They learned that Iowa had once been predominantly wetlands, but early settlers drained 95% of them so the land could be farmed. More were drained later, so that of the original wetlands, only one-tenth to one percent are left. This means that Iowa is the most ecologically altered state in the nation. They learned that wetlands help prevent floods, as wetlands soak up water like a sponge. Wetlands also filter nitrates, but because there are so few wetlands, drinking water in Iowa is very high in nitrates. Thousands of flora and fauna lived in the wetland habitat, and many of these are now endangered species. As students continued their inquiry they learned that if every farmer turned one acre out of every 100 acres back to wetlands, that one acre can filter 100 acres of nitrates and help to prevent flooding. Students also came up with other solutions of building levees and re-creating wetlands.

Students engaged in several strategies to help guide them to solving Iowa’s problem of too few wetlands: Plickers Pre-Assessment, Exit Slip, Cause/Effect graphic organizer, Paired Reading, Problem/Solution graphic organizer, Generative Sentence Writing, Summary Sentence Writing, and a KWL+ Chart. To help them solve the problem, they designed storyboards for a museum display that depicted characteristics of wetlands, as well as a potential solution. They wrote placards describing the artifacts in their museums. Students completed the Plickers Post-Assessment quiz and a self-assessment rubric about what they had learned, as well as about their efforts and contributions.

Below are two of the four museums. They show the interdependence in wetlands, where plants and animals depend on each other, and humans depend on the wetlands. Zeke, Lindley, and Holland shared information about their museum with the 1st, 4th, and 5th grade students and their teachers.