Nearly seven years after first opening its doors, the Science Leadership Academy public magnet high school* in Philadelphia and its inquiry-based approach to learning have become a national model for the kinds of reforms educators strive towards.
But in a talk this past weekend at EduCon 2.5, the school’s sixth-annual conference devoted to sharing its story and spreading its techniques, Founding Principal Chris Lehmann insisted that replicating his schools approach required difficult tradeoffs.
“This is not easy. This is not perfect,” Lehmann told a crowd of devotees stuffed inside one of the Center City school’s second-floor science classrooms on Sunday. “There are really challenging pieces of this, and we should be OK with this.”
Lehmann’s 90-minute question-and-answer session tackled coming to terms with the impact of a shift to inquiry-driven learning by defining three steps: the enigmatic meaning of inquiry-based learning; the visible changes that signal a shift to that approach; and the potential drawbacks that shift may surface.
INQUIRING ABOUT INQUIRY
Lehmann said it’s important to question whether alleged “personalized,” “project-based,” or “collaborative” learning efforts are actually helping students and teachers to “hold ourselves in a state of questioning.”
For example, adaptive software that leads students through English/language arts or mathematics on a pace set by their own abilities fails to force students to ask questions about that material, contextualize it in real life, or communicate about the concepts with others, Lehmann said. The same is true of collaborative projects where restrictive guidelines result in several, nearly-identical finished products across student groups.
In a true inquiry-based model, how learning happens isn’t as important as whether that learning encourages students to try to learn even more. Lehmann compared the scenario to the plight of a Continue reading