For begin to make sense of the world around

For us to explore how inquiry based learning may be
incorporated in to SESE curricular areas we must first investigate and clearly
define what is meant by inquiry based learning. This essay will then examine
and debate the advantages and disadvantages surrounding this approach and its
comparison to problem based learning. Inquiry can be defined as a seeking of
truth, information, or knowledge by questioning (WNET). Inquiry based learning
is a process that is a lifelong skill, unbeknownst to most of us, that we must
develop in school. Infants begin to make sense of the world around them through
inquiry based practices. Babies observe faces that come near, grasp objects,
put objects in their mouths, and turn their heads towards voices. This forms
the foundation of the inquiry based learning process by gathering information
through the use of human senses; seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and
smelling (WNET). This natural instinct within us all must be capitalised upon
to effectively incorporate an inquiry based learning approach into STEM
subjects. This approach may serve to underpin high levels of student
engagement, enjoyment, and excellent performance in STEM disciplines (STEM


Inquiry-Based Learning shifts the focus to curiosity and
observations, which are then followed up with problem-solving and
experimentation. Using critical thinking and reflection, students connect
meanings from collected evidence and data, leading to an understanding and sense
of the natural world around them. Compared to problem based learning, where
problems are posed in such a way that students need to seek new knowledge
before they can solve them, inquiry based learning provides a more active
alternative. Rather than simply seeking a single correct answer, students are
enabled to interpret the problem, gather the information needed to identify
possible solutions, and then evaluate options and present conclusions. The
revised curricula in SESE allows a timely opportunity to introduce this new way
of teaching, learning and assessment methodologies to enhance STEM education
(STEM Education Review Group, 2016). This approach is flexible in that it
allows the teacher to design different learning environments along an inquiry
continuum that best fits the context of the learning situation (Banchi &
Bell, 2008).

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Bianchi & Bell (2008) consider open inquiry to be the
highest level of inquiry. This allows students to have the best opportunities
to act like scientists in a SESE setting. Students are active in lessons and
are encouraged to derive questions, design and carry out investigations, and
communicate their results to each other and the teacher. This level requires
the most scientific reasoning and places greatest cognitive demand on students
(Kuhn, 2005). Inquiry-based learning can help make connections within subjects throughout
all SESE disciplines and the wider curriculum. Teaching specific content such
as photosynthesis in science has more relevance for the learner if set in a
larger context of understanding. Students must understand the relationship of the sun, plants, and
the role of carbon dioxide and water. History content, such as the industrial
revolution, set in the context of interrelating
changes in the human-designed world can add new perspectives to this
important natural process. Students can still learn the content of both science
and history, but through a series of well-planned experiences, they will grasp
the larger conceptual context and gain greater understanding of both (Mezirow,
1991). Within a conceptual framework, inquiry based learning and active learner
participation can lead to important outcomes in the classroom. Students who
actively make observations, collect, analyse, and synthesize information, and
draw conclusions are developing relevant problem-solving skills. These skills
can be applied to future situations that students will encounter both at school
and in the workplace (WNET).


The advantages of inquiry based learning lie in its
flexibility and its adaptable nature for a variety of projects. Allowing
children to partake in this approach helps to build self-esteem and confidence by
allowing them to be more active in their own learning process as opposed to
being a passive participant to the teachers’ lesson. Another major advantage is
that this approach can work with any age group within a primary school setting
and it serves to reinforce and build student skills from a young age (Gardner,
1983). This approach also builds and reinforces skills of students in the area
of physical, emotional and cognitive function. While there are many advantages
to this approach, it is important to balance the argument and explore
disadvantages relating to inquiry based learning. It is important to point out
that this does not work for every SESE lesson. From a teachers’ point of view,
it involves far more planning and preparation, thus taking away important
planning and preparation time from the teacher. This approach can also be rather
time consuming and may take away vital time from other subject areas within the
school day (WNET).


Through the process of inquiry, individuals construct much of
their understanding of the natural and human-designed worlds. Inquiry is not so
much seeking the right answer, but seeking appropriate resolutions to issues and
questions. For educators, inquiry implies emphasis on the development of
inquiry skills and the nurturing of inquiring attitudes or habits of mind that
will enable individuals to continue the quest for knowledge throughout their
lives. The knowledge base for disciplines is continually evolving (Gardner,
1991). A primary school pupil cannot simply learn everything, rather, they can
develop their skills and foster the inquiring attitudes necessary to continue
the cultivation and examination of knowledge throughout their lives. In modern
education, the skills and the ability to continue learning should be the most
important outcomes. While much thought and research has been spent on the role of
inquiry in SESE, inquiry learning can be applied to all disciplines (WNET).
This inquiry based practice transforms the learner from a passive to an active
participant in the learning process. The teacher also moves from being an
isolated subject expert to an instructional leader and learning architect for
full pupil involvement. The goal of this approach is to improve learning by
developing more self-sufficient learners who become increasingly responsible
for their own learning. The vision, as pointed out in the quote to provide
Irish students with a STEM education experience of high international quality
can be attained in Irish primary schools, while underpinning high levels of
student engagement, enjoyment and excellent performance in the various ways pointed
out in this essay.







Word Count: 1049



Banchi, H. & Bell, R. (2008) The
Many Levels of Inquiry. Science and
Children. Arlington VA: NSTA.


Gardner, H. (1983) Frames of Mind:
The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. NY: Basic Books.


Gardner, H. (1999) The Disciplined
Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster.


Kuhn, D. (2005) Education for
Thinking. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Mezirow, J. (1991) Transformative
Dimensions of Adult Learning. New Jersey: Wiley.


STEM Education Review Group (2016) STEM. Education in the Irish school
system. A report on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education
(STEM). Analysis and recommendations. Online. Available at: 
(Accessed: 29 January 2018).


WNET Education (2004) Workshop: Inquiry Based Learning. Available
at: (Accessed: 29 January 2018).