From the Principal's Office: Raising the Bar on Learning

In my opinion inquiry-based learning is one of the best pedagogical techniques available to teachers. When activities are developed appropriately students are afforded the opportunity to construct new knowledge through exploration, problem solving, developing then answering their own questions, application, and trial & error. This technique typically makes students uncomfortable at first as they have become so conditioned by our traditional culture of education where they would rather be spoon-fed information instead of having to think. Not only do students fight this technique at first, but so do parents. This stems from the fact that many parents want their children taught the same way they were. I have engaged in numerous conversations over the past two years with parents explaining how the inquiry-based process for learning will much better prepare their children for success in the future. It is a conversation that I relish as the students themselves ultimately discover the value of this type of learning over traditional pedagogical techniques that are mostly passive in nature and do not require critical thought.

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New Milford High School teacher Mrs. Chowdury has evolved into a master teacher in this approach and here is why. Physics is often thought to be a fun subject where students get to perform exciting experiments. Mrs. Chowdhury has a teaching philosophy that her students cannot engage in fun activities simply for the sake of having fun, but the activities have to trail or follow difficult calculations. When Mrs. Chowdhury’s students found out that she had some Nerf guns in the classroom, they wanted to play with them. So she created an assignment that involved Nerf guns where students had to apply their understanding of energy concepts to figure out the velocity of the bullet as it was leaving the gun.

She gave the students a meter stick, a protractor with a string attached from the center, and a Nerf gun with one bullet. The students’ task was to design how they wanted to set up and use the materials to be able to calculate the starting velocity of the bullet. The students chose to use the protractor to figure out how high the bullet went and from there use energy concepts to calculate the velocity. When it comes to learning there should never be an easy way out. Making the process fun and engaging while invoking problem solving and critical thinking skills epitomizes the type of learning our students need and deserve.

cross-posted at A Principal's Reflections

Eric Sheninger is a NASSP Digital Principal Award winner (2012), PDK Emerging Leader Award recipient (2012), winner of Learning Forward's Excellence in Professional Practice Award (2012) and co-author of Communicating and Connecting With Social Media: Essentials for Principals and What Principals Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Science. He presents and speaks nationally to assist other school leaders in effectively using technology. His blog, A Principal's Reflections, was selected as Best School Administrator Blog in 2011 by Edublogs.