Inquiry Based Instruction in Agricultural Education Programs: How It Can Be Done!

By Clark, Michael; Ewing, John C. et al. | The Agricultural Education Magazine, May/June 2011 | Go to article overview

Inquiry Based Instruction in Agricultural Education Programs: How It Can Be Done!


Clark, Michael, Ewing, John C., Foster, Daniel D., The Agricultural Education Magazine


Introduction

Inquiry based instruction has been promoted as a best practice for educating students in, and about, scientific principles (National Research Council, 2000). Agricultural education concepts are steeped in the sciences of biology, chemistry, physics, earth science, and the related areas of engineering and mathematics. In agricultural education we have promoted the problem based approach to learning as a model for educating our students in the agricultural sciences (Crunkilton & Krebs, 1982; Crunkilton, 1984). Parr and Edwards (2004) indicated that the two models of inquiry based instruction and problem based learning are not too different. Blanchard, Southerland, and Granger (2008) provided a table related to the continuum of inquiry based instruction from that of learner centered to teacher centered. The authors indicated that inquiry occurs at each of these levels; however, the more learner centered options require the student(s) to develop their own questions and methods for answering these questions rather than the teacher providing a structured sequence of steps to reach a conclusion. However, there are some slight variations worthy of noting.

Similarities of the problem based learning approach and inquiry based instruction include that both models strive to have students find answers to problems through hands-on exploration of the problem. Problem based learning has at its core, a notion that there are problems that need to be explored and answers to these questions need to be "found" and explained by the student. Inquiry based instruction also has this as a goal (Parr & Edwards, 2004). One difference in the two approaches, however, is that the problem, and oftentimes the steps for finding the answer to the problem, is provided by the teacher in a problem based learning model. In an inquiry based instruction model the problem is something that arises from questions that the student(s) ask. In fact, inquiry-based instruction encourages more critical thinking on part of the students by challenging them to form the question and identify the evidence to solve the question. Myers, Thoron, and Thompson (2009) found that a group of agriculture teachers that were trained in inquiry based instruction believed: "that students are more motivated to learn, better prepared in science, provided more opportunities to solve problems, and have a deeper understanding of agriculture when science is enhanced in the agriculture curriculum" (p. 1 ).

Resources Required

In many ways inquiry based instruction is not a far cry from what we have done in the past in agricultural education. However, it does have important nuances that make it an effective learning model for our students. Certain elements (teacher, student, resource materials) are still required for successful learning when a teacher wants to utilize an inquiry model to teaching. However, the way in which each acts/interacts with the resources is different from traditional models of teacher led instruction. Inquiry based instruction requires that the teacher act in support of the students' exploration (Blanchard, Southerland, and Granger, 2008). To make the inquiry based instruction the most student centered, and successful, students must be encouraged to be active in the development, experimentation, and assessment of questions that are of interest to the student in a particular content area. So, does the teacher need to abandon their content? Certainly not! The inquiry based instruction model allows the teacher to guide students through the content, while allowing the students to become a more active "partner" in their own learning.

Depending upon the students' questions, there may be a need for different resources than what the teacher typically utilizes. However, this situation should be used as a learning experience for the students. If the resources are accessible (financially and in a timely manner), the student should be charged with obtaining these materials with the teacher's help. …

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