The Enquiring Philosopher

An enquiry into inquiring learning written from the perspective of a philosophy teacher


If you’d asked me in June if I knew what inquiry learning was I would have laughed. “Of course!” I would have said and smiled knowingly at you. However, now 5 months and a lot of learning later, I feel that I while I now know what inquiry learning is I am only beginning to grasp what inquiry learning can do in a classroom and the effect that it can have on the learning and engagement of students.

I have taught what I would have considered to be inquiry learning and inquiry units many times over the past 10 years. As a History and Philosophy teacher I felt that inquiry learning was my bread and butter, it was just what students did.  However, looking back on my teaching practice it was not so much guided or open inquiry learning as ‘sink or swim’ assessment – if by sink or swim you mean that the assessment was conducted in the middle of the ocean with no life-jackets or land in sight. My student didn’t know what inquiry was, how to conduct good Boolean searches or how to interrogate information.  A fact that was brought home when, during their last year 12 assignment, I caught a student typing in What does Divine Command theory argue about gay marriage? When I gave my kids a brief lesson on how to do a good internet search using Boolean Search terms, the same student complained “Why are we only learning this now?”. I shrugged. I think like a lot of teachers we expect students to intrinsically know how to search. We figure that, as they can use technology, they are technologically literate, when in fact the opposite is often true (Clark, 2016).  It’s an assumption that is killing student engagement in our classroom and frustrating students and teachers alike.

This concept about assumed knowledge is important in an age where it is a digital divide that will often limit student’s future career choices. The students of the future are required to “use a growing variety of technical, cognitive, and sociological skills in order to perform tasks and solve problems in digital environments” (Eshet-Alkalai, 2004). Therefore, I really wanted to know how to engage my students in inquiry but, more importantly, how inquiry learning impacted on student achievement as the concept of data, student achievement and value adding is, fortunately or unfortunately, what drives many school initiatives these days.

Although I posed many questions during my initial inquiry, two questions became my driving force. I’ve outlined these questions below and included a brief summary of what I learnt and why they became important in driving not only my first inquiry but my second inquiry as well.

“How effective is inquiry learning in improving student results in the senior secondary classroom?”

This was the first question that I posed as, as mentioned previously, data and results drives much of the pedagogy surrounding education particularly in Senior Subjects where a students’ final result is seen as the be all and end all of learning (I strongly believe that it is not – but that is another discussion for another time).  In my research on this question, I found that although some educational researchers such as Hattie (2015) believed that Inquiry Learning had little to no benefit to student education, the data concerning engagement such as: the benefits outside of the classroom environment, narrowing of the gender-divide in results, plus a lift in academic outcomes showed that it was beneficial.  This is important for a subject like mine as often, in modern school environments, subjects live or die on the result of a cohort’s academic achievement.

This focus on the improvement of results quickly developed into examining the underlying cause of those results – student engagement.

“How effective is inquiry learning in improving student engagement in secondary schooling?”

The second question was very much a result of the first but also came from a desire to make student’s more engaged with their own personal learning journeys. I teach a subject that’s almost 3000 years old and, to be frank, much of it can be quite dry and boring. Philosophers aren’t generally known for writing in a clear and succinct manner and so there is always the threat of disengaging students by spending too much time in Kuhlthau and Maniotes’ (2005) second space rather than creating a third space between student and teacher worlds.

The question also came about as I began to understand that my ‘sink or swim’ method of teaching inquiry needed to be refined.  This was reflected in a third question that was actually posed right at the beginning of my research journey, but one that ultimately formed the second half of my journey from the darkness and ignorance of Plato’s Cave to a better understanding of how inquiry learning can fit into the real world.

How can teachers structure their inquiry subjects so that they can allow students to reach their full potential?

This question was something that I managed to answer in the second stage of my inquiry journey.  By analysing a ‘tried and true’ ethics unit, I showed myself both my previous lack of understanding but also how far I had come.

The unit that I chose was selected for a number of reasons, but foremost amongst them was the fact that:

  • It had been taught for a number of years with little alteration.
  • Students often struggled with the complexity of the research component of the task even though they said that the unit was one of the most engaging.
  • Similar inquiry units are undertaken in Years 11 and 12, which means students need to have a good understanding how to search for and interrogate information.

I also found out, midway through re-writing and restructuring the unit, that this particular Philosophy unit would be taught to the gifted and talented students in Year 9 in 2017. This news spurred me to be more creative and create a unit plan and assessment task that asked students to go beyond the Situated and Generic windows (as outlined by Lupton) that the task normally sits within, and instead create a task that asked students to Transform their own world.

The journey itself has not been an easy one (much like Plato’s philosopher leaving the Cave) and has, if I am honest, results in as many tears and furrowed brows as ‘aha moments’.   Instead of moving through Kuhlthau’s (1985) Information Search Process in the manner she suggests where feelings change from uncertainty to confidence, I instead felt like I was going backwards when I started re-writing the unit. Interesting Kuhlthau’s ideas are almost mirrored in the Allegory of Plato’s Cave as when the newly-minted philosopher steps out into the sunshine (knowledge) they want to return to the security of their past experiences.


Image based on Kuhlthau’s (1985) Information Search Process. Image by author.


However, this feeling was not to last. As I gained confidence I also gained a sense of direction. It, like Kuhlthau suggested, became easier to become more focused and re-writing the unit to embed what I had learnt also meant that I became more self-aware.


Image based on Kuhlthau’s (1985) Information Search Process. Image by author.


This self-awareness transformed, much like Lupton’s (2008) GeSTE windows suggested that it would, my teaching practice as I taught my other subjects. I found that I changed my every-day teaching practice of including WALTs and WILFs to incorporate Krathwohl’s (2010) suggestion that they include not only the phrase “Students should be able to” but also the appropriate level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. It also gave me the confidence to speak up in staff meetings as I knew that the arguments that I was making were backed by data and research.   When I finally finished my unit I still had some uncertainly but I certainly felt the satisfaction that Kuhlthau mentions in her sixth stage – presentation.


Image based on Kuhlthau’s (1985) Information Search Process. Image by author. 

This unit has changed my understanding of inquiry learning and given me a new understanding of the intricacies of inquiry learning – not just tossing students in senior in but guiding them through the process in the younger years so that they are more prepared to tackle their own spelunking research journey in the future.

No philosopher ends their life by saying that all the answers to life’s great questions have been found. Therefore, my own journey out in the sunshine needs more questions to guide it as there are always more questions to find.


Questions for beyond the cave

How can I create successful learning communities of teachers to embed good inquiry pedagogy in senior secondary schooling?

How can I work within the wider school community to create learning activities that access the Transformative or Evaluative Windows and engage students in the wider world?

How do we transform libraries to become spaces where students independently and actively access information outside of the requirements of the curriculum?



Reference List

Clark, H. (2016). Do Your Students Know How To Search? | Edudemic. Retrieved 6 November 2016,

Corwin (2015, November 9). John Hattie on inquiry-based learning 

Eshet-Alkalai, Y. (2004). Digital literacy: A conceptual framework for survival skills in the digital era. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 13(1)

Geier, R., Blumenfeld, P., Marx, R., Krajcik, J., Fishman, B., Soloway, E., & Clay-Chambers, J. (2007). Standardized Test Outcomes for Students Engaged in Inquiry-Based Science Curricula in the Context of Urban Reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(8), 922–939.

Lupton, M. (2016) Inquiry learning. A pedagogical and curriculum framework for information literacy. (preprint) in Sales, Dora & Pinto, Maria (Eds.) Pathways into InformationLiteracy and Communities of Practice: Teaching Approaches and Case Studies. Chandos Publishing. (In Press)]

Kuhlthau, C. (1985). Information search process. Retrieved September 1, 2016

Kuhlthau, C.C., Maniotes, L.K. & Caspan, A.K. (2007), Inquiry Learning in the 21st Century. Libraries unlimited.

Plato. Allegory of the Cave. (T. Sheehan, Trans.) from Stanford University

Summerlee, A., & Murray, J. (2010). The impact of Enquiry-Based learning on academic performance and student engagement. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 40(2), 78–94.




Global Citizens – Global Ethics

The analysis of the unit, and the recommendations that have stemmed from that analysis, has meant that quite a few changes have been implemented.  Below is the outline of what changes have been made as well as the new unit, new assessment item, some of the custom made resources for the new unit the support the inquiry process, and an outline of both the recommendations and where and why they have been implemented.

The outline of the original unit can be found on the Background to the ethics unit page, however, for ease of comparison I’ve included the specifications for the old and new unit below as well as the reasoning for why things were changed.


Comparison of the specifications of the original and new unit. Screen capture by author. Please right click and choose open in new tab for a larger image.


The recommendations from The Analysing Ethics in Society page have been included below. The recommendations have been reorganised into different categories according to how they related to the structure of the unit.  Many of the recommendations have already been outlined in the new unit which you can find here.  Newly written aspects of the unit are written in blue text, while the original aspects of the unit are in black.


Please click this link to download a copy of the new unit. 


Some recommendations have been implemented in the unit without comment as they were obvious inclusions that easily helped the unit achieve its purpose. However, some recommendations have been justified or further clarified where appropriate. This clarification can be found on the indented bullet points, often with specific reference to where they appear in the new unit. Finally, the bolded recommendations are ones that, while they didn’t appear in the original list of recommendations, were also implemented to either clarify or reinforce the proposed changes.

Please click on the hyperlinks to either download the created resources or to access the resources online.


Unit Plan Overview

  • Change the wording of the WALT and WILFs to clearly use the correct level of bloom’s taxonomy in the student objectives.  Bolded the level of Bloom’s Taxonomy expected in each WILF.
  • Reframed the objectives and overarching question for the unit so that they are clear and concise.
  • Included an outline at the start of the unit so that teachers could clearly see information relevant to the unit’s structure relating to skills, assessment and concepts.
  • Extended the unit length from 6 weeks to 9 weeks so that students had enough time to research, plan and execute their response.
  • Included column with both TELSTAR phases and GeSTE windows (where appropriate) to demonstrate the phases of inquiry as the Unit progresses.


Lesson Plans

  • Restructured the first two mini inquiries to show students the skills that they will need to undertake a longer inquiry process.
    • Inquiry 1 – Ethical Theories (Week 2)
      • Highlighted the relevant TELSTAR aspect (Finding Out) as well as the GeSTE Window for this inquiry. This mini-inquiry fits within the Generic GeSTE window as students are only recalling and using the information that already exists.
      • Imbedded ICT opportunities with Searching like a pro.ppt (Week 2 – Lesson 1) on Boolean Search terms as students will need to know how to effectively research for the major inquiry.
      • Asked students to present not only their information but also how they found their information in their re-search.
      • Changed Lesson Plan (Week 2 – Lesson 2) to include information on how to formulate key questions as this is something that, while integral to inquiry learning and to the TELSTAR model as ACARA General Capabilities, as it is missing from the unit.
    •  Inquiry 2 – Applying Ethical Theories (Week 3).
      • Highlighted the relevant TELSTAR aspect (Finding Out) as well as the GeSTE Window for this inquiry. This mini-inquiry fits within the Situated GeSTE window as students are examining information through the lens of a philosophical inquiry.
      • Included CRAAP resource (online) for students and a range of reliable and unreliable sources for students to practice on.
      • Extended this inquiry so that students should be able to feel confident with learning source evaluation skills.
  • Reframed second inquiry as a Problematic Scenario in accordance with John Barell‘s (2008) theory.
    • This was done by restating the original statement to a simple instruction for teachers: “Ask students the question – Should people be able to sell their organs” (Week 3 – Lesson 1). By the teacher posing this simple question, students should be able to instantly engage with the concept.
  • Created more opportunities for students to use group discussions to analyse their ideas.
    • Week 5 – Lesson 3 as a Stop and Reflect moment for students to gain help from their peers (crowd sourcing ideas).
    • Week 6 – Lesson 2 as the exit strategy of 3 stars and a wish (three things they are doing well, one thing they would like help on or could do better). The things that students believe they need help with are introduced anonymously the next lesson (Week 6 – Lesson 3)  and the class works as a group to solve the problems.  Making it an anonymous activity means those students who feel embarrassed that they are struggling have a way of asking for help.
    • Week 7 – Lesson 3 – Students talk through their ideas with classmates who then act as critical reflection buddies.
  • Embedded lesson for students to crowd-source solutions for any issues they have encountered in their research. (Week 5 – Lesson 1).
  • Included a new lesson in the Unit (Week 8 – Lesson 3) in which students are encouraged to actively reflect on their experiences both academically (TELSTAR – Making Connections and Taking Action) but also emotionally and cognitively (GeSTE – Evaluative Window).
  • Added a reflection exercise using a worksheet from that encourages students to reflect at the end of every major inquiry lesson (Week 6 – Lesson 1 – Week 9 Lesson 1). The information from this is then used as supporting material for Week 8 – Lesson 3’s reflection lesson .
  • Include Question Quadrant activity for students to gain an understanding of good question types (Week 5 – Lesson 1).
  • Include Process Questions from Knowledge Compass  (Week 4 – Lesson 2)
    • Introduced in class but reinforced and extended as part of student homework to allow them to take independent ownership of the process.
    • Invited students to go back to their Process Questions and the Knowledge Compass in Week 7 – Lesson 1 so that they could re-orientate themselves within the inquiry process.


  • Created PowerPoint and lesson activities that support student’s knowledge and ability to confidently use ICT independently during their research process.
    • Search like a pro.ppt and activities embedded.
  • Created a source analysis tool that fits within the Philosophy frame work that still allows students to evaluate sources of information such as the CRAAP detection test.
  • Embedded a resource from Read Write Think (I-Search Process Reflection Chart) to help students reflect on the academic aspects of their inquiry process (Week 4 – Lesson 1).  


All of the assessment changes have been highlighted via Word’s Comment function on the  new assessment item.  Please click on the link below to download the new assessment item.


Please click the image to download the annotated assessment item. 


  • Changed the wording of the student objective in the assessment task to clearly signal the level of Bloom’s Taxonomy (create) expected.
  • Allowed students to choose the way in which their assessment is delivered.
  • Included reflection journal as part of formative assessment.
  • Allowed students to work in small groups for the research part of the task – however the final assessment would still need to be an individual submission in order to fulfil school assessment requirements.
  • Encouraged students to be an active member of change in their community on their chosen issue.
  • Changed assessment task to ask students to create some sort of active campaign on their chosen ethical issue.


Analysis of the new Unit

Although most of the changes can be seen in the newly detailed unit and assessment item, the new unit still needs to be analysed to some of the same criteria the original unit was analysed against to show how it has changed. However, unlike the last analysis this one shall, hopefully, be brief as it only has to analyse those elements not immediately apparent in the new unit outline or demonstrated by the recommendations above.

As mentioned previously the new unit uses the TELSTAR model of inquiry as its basis and this can be seen in the left hand column of the new unit.  The use of the TELSTAR model has given the unit a better, more cohesive structure which means that it is more engaging for students as each process builds upon the last.  When each section of the unit is mapped against the model, as outlined below, it comes obvious that the new unit utilises this inquiry model to its full advantage.


Map of the TELSTAR model against the new unit. Please right-click on the image to enlarge it.


The major inquiry, as outlined above, has also substantially improved when mapped against Mandy Lupton’s (2016) inquiry continuum. While the first two mini inquiries are barely changed, only becoming more open in some elements (see below) the greatest change in terms of how the units fit within the inquiry continuum comes in the final inquiry which has moved from a partially open inquiry with some guided elements to an entirely open inquiry as shown below.  This was completed through the assessment task and by utilising the first two inquiries to explicitly teach the skills that students would need in the third and final inquiry. This explicit skill instruction means that students feel more comfortable and confident in working independently to discover and create their own arguments.


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The three Inquiry Task analysed using Mandy Lupton‘s Inquiry Continuum. Areas which are met under the Continuum are highlighted in orange. Screenshot by author.     Right click to open on a new page.


This highest level of inquiry as outlined in both Lupton and Bruce’s (2010) work as well as that by Bell, Smentana and Binns (2005), is supported by the way the final inquiry sits within the GeSTE window framework.  The original recommendations suggested that the unit would fulfil both the Transformative and Evaluative Window as the students had a final lesson to reflect.  Upon further reflection on my part, as the teacher, I believe that the reflection lesson outlined in Week 9 fits more within the Transformative window as students are asked to reflect on their academic and social progress rather than their emotional response to the inquiry (although this is briefly touched upon.

Also although this framework is outlined in the new unit plan, it is important to reiterate just how transformative this new unit could be.  For some students the freedom allowed to not only choose an issue close to their heart, but to be encouraged to be active voice to change that issue will inspire students to dig deeper into the intricacies of the issue. It will also transform their lives both socially, emotionally and academically as they are given a very real sense of power in a situation (school) where they often feel powerless.  This means that students are likely to be highly engaged throughout the inquiry unit, an engagement that will hopefully spread to the rest of the subjects and beyond.

The last area that was not addressed by the recommendations above is how the new unit deals with Wilhelm’s (2007) Essential Questions. The last iteration of this unit only fulfilled four of the six questions, while the new unit fulfils all six as demonstrated below.

  • Addresses students need for inquiry to be relevant and interesting on their own terms as students can choose their own area of interest for their assessment and are encouraged to be active members of social change.
  • Addresses the heart of the discipline being studied. Students learn not only about their issue but also about the various ethical theories (Weeks 1 – 4.2) and practice and implement the fundamental reasoning skills learnt in the previous term as well as new skills that will help them evaluate and use sources.
  • Is linked to data. Students can find research to fit their theory from a multitude of different sources.
  • Is open ended, possible to contend and arguable. Students have to defend their solution which means that it has to be arguable and, given the topic matter, it is going to be something that is contestable in terms of wider society. They also have to create a campaign to change the situation which means that it, be default, has to be contestable as one doesn’t normally start a campaign to continue an excepted social norm.
  • Invite students into ongoing conversations and debate about real-world disciplinary issues. Students now have to pick a modern ethical issue and not only research it and propose a solution but also create a campaign to change it.  This solution and the campaign that goes with it will make the subject more ‘real’ than ‘hypothetical’ in its response to current issues the students normal engage in during high school.
  • Concise and clearly stated. The inquiry question and concept posed in this unit are now concise and clear. They are stated in the unit overview and the teacher is prompted to pose clearly stated and often ‘problematic’ questions throughout.
  • May lead to new questions. The reflection question at the end of the Unit (Week 9 – Lesson 3) means that students can pose new questions or reflect on where they want  to go from there.

At the end of this process I can say that I am very excited to be teaching this unit next year. I think it will extend student’s understanding of Philosophy and how it links to the real word as a practical subject rather than the theoretical subject that it is always presented as. I also think that giving students a voice and encouraging them to be active members of social change will empower and engage them – something that will be inspiring a love of a subject, engagement in the school and the desire to see the world change for the better.



Barell, John. (2008). Chapter 4 : How Do We Plan for Students’ Questions? in Barell, John, Why are school buses always yellow? Teaching for inquiry PreK-5, Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press

Bell, R., Smentana, L., & Binns, I. (2005). Simplifying Inquiry InstructionThe Science Teacher72(7), 30-3.

Gordon, K. (2000). Queensland School Curriculum Authority.

Lupton, M. (2016) Inquiry learning. A pedagogical and curriculum framework for information literacy. (preprint) in Sales, Dora & Pinto, Maria (Eds.) Pathways into InformationLiteracy and Communities of Practice: Teaching Approaches and Case Studies. Chandos Publishing. (In Press)]

Lupton, M. & Bruce, C. (2010). Chapter 1 : Windows on Information Literacy Worlds : Generic, Situated and Transformative Perspectives in Lloyd, Annemaree and Talja, Sanna, Practising information literacy : bringing theories of learning, practice and information literacy together, Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies, pp.3-27.

Wilhelm, Jeffrey, (2007). Chapter 3 : Asking the Guiding Question : Reframing the Existing Curriculum into Inquiry Units. In Wilhelm, Jeffrey, Engaging readers and writers with inquiry, (pp.41 – 74). New York: Scholastic.


Featured Image –  The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy By Unknown typesetter/engraver  via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)

Analysing Ethics in Society

Ethics in Modern Society

Please click on the link below to see the entire unit outline with lesson plans, an outline of the unit can be found on this page.

Introduction from the teacher

As the core Philosophy teacher at a Queensland Education State High School I have taught this unit, or one very similar, every year for the past eight years.  In my experience, this unit challenges students to find something that engages them but it does not provide students with a structure that allows them to have the full inquiry learning experience – that is to say that students only get to the express part of the inquiry model and do not undertake genuine reflection.  Also, although students can pick both their topic of inquiry and their ethical theories for evaluation purposes, they never seem to feel confident enough to explore the topic on their own and instead expect teacher guidance at every step of the inquiry process. The unit ends with a standard philosophy assignment where students compare and contrast the beliefs of two philosophies and how they impact on their chosen issue, but does not push students to explore any further than this.  This means that while this unit remains part of my current repertoire, it needs critical reflection and analysis in terms of its pedagogy and its ability to engage kids in both the inquiry process and in their understanding of Philosophy and Ethics’ global impact.

Student Prior Learning

Before examining the unit in the context of inquiry, it is firstly important to place it within  the school curriculum and within a student’s school experience.

Prior Unit of work:

It is crucial to understand the prior learning of the students before examining the unit itself. This is the first philosophy unit that students undertake after spending a term completing an introduction to the Reasoning part of Philosophy and Reason.  The previous unit is content heavy and relies on a ‘sage on the stage’ style approach as students are taught the building blocks of creating strong arguments including: identifying fallacies, generalisations and analogies as well as setting arguments into the standard form of premise, premise, conclusion.  Prior to Year 10, Students have no opportunity to study philosophy and so the previous unit is not only their introduction to the subject but also forms the foundation upon which later units, including the ethics one, are based.  The lack of prior opportunity to study philosophy also means that students have little to no idea about inquiry learning in the context of a philosophy classroom or about the complexity of ideas within the Philosophy part of course.

Therefore there are a large list of terms and ideas that students are assumed to understand that directly relate to Philosophy and Reason before they undertake the ethics unit of inquiry, some of which are included in the unit document and assessment item.  This aspect of assumed student knowledge has been highlighted in the analysis where appropriate.

Ethics in the Australian Curriculum

Although this particular interrogation of the Australian Curriculum is more concerned with the placement of ethics, rather than inquiry learning (which is included further down in the analysis), it is important to understand the background, or lack thereof, that students have when approaching this subject as this will inform the initial stages of the inquiry unit.  The Australian Curriculum argues that ethics will “…assist students to engage with the more complex issues that they are likely to encounter in the future, and to navigate a world of competing values, rights, interests and norms” (“Ethical Understanding – Introduction – The Australian Curriculum v8.2“, 2016) and therefore includes it in every syllabus document. However, it is primarily concerned with students developing their own set of ethics, rather than examining the more standard ethical theories.  Each syllabus deals with ethics in slightly different ways and to differing degrees. Philosophy’s two ‘sister subjects’, history and science, both contain ethical understandings* but look at ethics in a very different way to Philosophy in that History looks at “character traits, actions and motivations of people in the past that may be the result of different standards and expectations and changing societal attitudes” (Australian Curriculum – Ethical Understanding in the learning areas) while the Science syllabus asks students to “use scientific information…to inform ethical decisions about a range of social, environmental and personal issues…” (Australian Curriculum Science: General Capabilities).  Neither of these subjects examine ethics as a core unit and instead utilise them as a ‘bolt on’ rather than embedded thinking tool or a topic in its own right.  This means that while students may have been exposed to ‘ethics’ in other subjects it is often a cursory look at a complicated subject and covered by a teacher who, through no fault of their own, has little understanding of ethical theories in a wider context.

*interestingly Science is ranked second from the bottom when it comes to the subject areas with highest proportion of content descriptions tagged with Ethical Understanding, while History is second after F-6/7 Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS).  This is very important when it is considered that many students in past iterations of this unit have chosen ethical issues which are based in science and medicine such as; cloning, stem cell treatment, vaccinations and organ transplants.

Prior Inquiry Units

Students have undertaken inquiry units in History and Geography in Years 7-9. These inquiry units are the low-level inquiry activities as outlined by Bell, Smentana and Binns (2005), which rarely rise above Level 1 or 2 as students investigate a teacher-presented question through prescribed activities. Teachers often provides resources and the units are heavily structured to guide students through the inquiry process.


Inquiry Approach for Student Understanding

Philosophy, as a subject, is a full of questions that cannot be easily answered with a google search. Philosophy questions are contentious. They “demand further investigation and admit of different answers that may have one merit or another…they require children to think for themselves” (Cam, 1995).


screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-8-36-35-pmClick here for the unit plan

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-9-36-01-amClick here to download the original assessment item


There are three inquiry based learning activities within the unit. The two first ones are teacher-centred with the inquiry topic picked by the teacher and the results known in advance. Using Mandy Lupton‘s (2016) Levels of Inquiry Continuum, I have highlighted the sections of the levels of inquiry that are covered in each unit.  I have then analysed them to show whether the tasks are confirmation, guided or open and in what areas they fulfil each of those criteria as well as made recommendations as to how each inquiry could be strengthened to engage students and extend their skill levels.

The first inquiry is a formative task that takes place in Week 2 of the Unit. This inquiry is conducted in a limited timeframe of 3 lessons and encourages students to find their own information about an ethical theory. They are then expected to teach their peers this information in the final lesson. In this past this mini-inquiry has worked well with most students responding to the responsibility to having to teach their peers. However some groups of student do not find useful information or spend too long on the research phase and present fragmented and disorganised information to the class. This shall hopefully be rectified with the analysis and recommendations outlined below.


First Formative Inquiry Task analysed using Mandy Lupton’s Inquiry Continuum. Areas which are met under the Continuum are highlighted in orange.  Screenshot by author.             Right click to open on a new page. 


The second inquiry is not well explained in the current unit outline. In this mini inquiry the students interrogate the information provided by the teacher on an ethical issue and then, taking on the role of expert in both the ethical theory they studied in the prior inquiry topic and the ethical issue, they formulate responses to a given set of questions. As part of a flipped classroom experience, students are allowed to use other sources than just the ones provided when answering the questions but it is still a predominantly confirmation or structured inquiry.


Second Formative Inquiry Task analysed using Mandy Lupton‘s Inquiry Continuum. Areas which are met under the Continuum are highlighted in orange. Screenshot by author.     Right click to open on a new page


Although there are two small guided inquiries at the beginning of the unit, neither is particularly well structured in terms of either lesson plans or student orientated resources and, therefore, students are left to ‘sink or swim’ rather than the much preferred gradual release of responsibility (Fisher, 2016).  This means that when students come to the open, student directed inquiry of the third task they are not well enough prepared to undertake the journey by themselves.  To rectify this problem, the first two guided inquiries need to be better structured with the first being a  teacher directed confirmation of re-search and the second being both teacher and student directed. This will hopefully mean that students can gain the necessary skills to undertake an open, student directed task in the latter part of the unit.

The third inquiry experience, and the one that forms the basis of the assessment item is student directed and open with some elements of guided inquiry.


Summative Inquiry Task (3rd inquiry task) analysed using Mandy Lupton‘s Inquiry Continuum. Areas which are met under the Continuum are highlighted in orange. Screenshot by author.                                                                                                                                     Right click to open in a new page. 


Despite the fact that the third inquiry is predominantly student directed, I would like to see it as a more open inquiry rather than the guided inquiry it currently this. This is because I,  as the teacher and writer of this unit, agree with the findings of Limberg and Alexandersson (2003) as outlined in Kuhlthau’s (2010) work that “for the most part students stopped at fact-finding with few going on to analyse and synthesise their understandings of facts” and that students approach the process as a simple collecting and presenting assignment.  By changing the assessment so that students can deliver the content in a  manner of their choosing, it will encourage students to formulate their own explanation and argument rather than waiting for the teacher to present a formula for their response.

Allowing students to choose their manner of delivery will also extend the summative research task to the highest level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.   The analysis of how Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy is implicitly demonstrated in the assessment task can be seen below.


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Please right-click on the images above to enlarge them.
The above images include the analysis of how Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy fits within the unit and specially within the summative assessment item that appears at the end of the extended inquiry (inquiry 3). Original Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy image by Tracy Watanabe used under (CC by  2.0) 


However, the level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy isn’t as explicitly expressed in either the unit or the assessment task as suggested by Krathwohl (2010) in his work A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Krathwohl argues that while most student objectives such as WALTs (What Are we Learning Today?) use terms such as ‘students will’, they often omit the phrase ‘students should be able to’ and that the verb part of the statement of objective (remember to/understand that/analyse the) directly correlates to the level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy that is expected. It is therefore recommended that the unit be changed to clearly use the correct level of Bloom’s Revised taxonomy in the WALT (What are We Learning Today?) and WILF (What am I Looking For?) as well as in the assessment item.  This will not only show students what is expected in their tasks but will also signify to both students and teachers the increasing complexity of the tasks within the unit.

Due to its unstructured nature the unit has never been mapped against any inquiry model. This is because the structure of the unit, as it stands at the moment, follows along with the inquiry models presented in the syllabus as well as being guided by my background as a history teacher.  Therefore it was an interesting experience to map the unit against three different inquiry models to see not only which one it fits best, but also how each part of the unit slotted into the different elements of the inquiry models.

The three inquiry models chosen for analysis were:

The mapping and analysis with recommendations can be found below.


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The above images include the analysis of the mapping of different inquiry models and their links to the syllabus. Analysis and screenshots by author.


Of the three models the one that fit the current model best was the Senior Philosophy Syllabus. This is because most inquiry models in Philosophy are based on this format and so therefore this unit was, probably, unconscious written to mimic this. However, the problem with continuing to follow this inquiry model is that it does not allow students to go beyond the Guided Inquiry outlined by Mandy Lupton (2016) as outlined previously. It also does not encourage students to present information in anything other than the standard academic text responses: extended written essay or multimodal (speech) presentation.  This means that students are not extended and do not get to engage with a truly open, student led inquiry.  It also means that students are stuck at the Generic Window of the GeSTE Learning Approach (Lupton & Bruce 2010) as they are only finding and evaluating information according to this inquiry model. Although there are stages where students can, using the inquiry model outlined in the QCAA Philosophy syllabus, extend their responses to encompass some of the Situated Window they can never go beyond this (see below for a more in-depth analysis of the Unit’s place within the GeSTE windows).

Therefore the inquiry approach that will be followed when rewriting the unit is the TELSTAR approach. As seen in the analysis above, this best suits the activities within the unit while prompting students to go further both in their research as well as in how they interact with, and eventually present the information.

The analysis of the inquiry approach has led to some specific recommendations which have been outlined below.



Restructure the first two mini inquiries to show students the skills that they will need to undertake a longer inquiry process.

Allow students to choose the way in which their assessment is delivered.

Change WALT and WILF to clearly use the correct level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy in the student objectives.

Change the wording of the student objective in the assessment task to clearly signal the level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (create) expected.

Create more opportunities for students to use group discussions to analyse their ideas.

Create documents or lesson activities that support student’s knowledge and ability to confidently use ICT independently during their research process.

Include an extra lesson within the unit which is solely designated for students to reflect on their own learning.

Create explicit skill sheets to help students with the inquiry process in terms of creating questions, and finding and critiquing resources.

Students need to take a proactive response to the issue. This will allow students to be more creative in their solutions as they will have to find a ‘real life’ rather than hypothetical solution.


Student Skills

Pintrich (2002) argues that students who lack knowledge of their own strengths and weaknesses will be less likely to adapt to different situations and regulate their own learning in them. This can also be said to apply to teachers, who need to understand not only the skills that students have before they walk into a classroom but also the skills that will be developed during the unit to find areas of strength and weakness. Students also need to develop their academic skills before starting senior subjects in order to feel confident in their own abilities as they move into senior school.

Although Philosophy does not appear specifically in ACARA’s current units except as mentioned above, it is still important to map the unit against the General capabilities that are expected of Year 10 students. This helps determine how Philosophy fits holistically into the National Curriculum as well as how it supports specific skill areas ranging from Literacy to Personal and Social Capabilities. As these documents are very long, each continuum was evaluated with only the criteria that specifically addressed the concepts, that in my experience are covered in Philosophy, included. Numeracy which, while relevant in other sections of Philosophy and Reason, is not relevant here was also not included.  The skills from the various Learning Continuum were then mapped against both the TELSTAR method of inquiry (as this will form the basis of the upcoming unit) and the original unit itself.


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The above images include the analysis of ACARA Learning Continuum and General Capabilities to both the TELSTAR inquiry model and to the unit. Analysis and screenshots by author. Please right-click on the images for larger pictures or see here for the original document


This analysis brought up some interesting points as some elements of the continuum which, while relevant to the subject, were not explicitly (or sometimes even implicitly) taught.  This has led to several recommendations which are outlined in the document above. It also has meant that I need to take a closer look at other skills that students are often expected to have by Year 10 but may not. This is either because they have not been taught the skills, the students have not retained the information, or they are not confident and comfortable in using these skills.  Regardless of the reason behind it, it is imperative that the skills needed for the inquiry are revisted within the unit to cover any areas of concern.

One of the skills that was not present in ACARA’s General Capabilities was questioning.  However, luckily, Philosophy IS the subject of questions. As a subject it is filled with questions ,”the answers to which inform our basic understanding of…some fundamental aspect of the world or ourselves in relation to the world” (University of Florida, 2016).   It is these types of questions that help engage students and also extend their skills.  This is fundamental to this original unit as it poses one of the “Problematic Scenarios” outlined by John Barell (2008) in his book Why are School buses always yellow. Barell proposes that the most engaging and exciting units for students are ones that pose problematic scenarios which engage students by asking them to solve real life dilemmas. This is what this unit, both in the inquiries outlined earlier and also in its assessment piece tries to do.  Barell argues that a Problematic Scenario should ask have the following elements; doubt, complexity, boundarylessness, robustness, be researchable, transferable, fascinating and have a sense of ‘stickiness’.


Assessment of how the current unit stacks against J.Barell’s Problematic Scenarios’ concept. Please right-click the picture to enlarge it or see this link for an interactive version.


As you can see from the above mapping this unit, and in fact Philosophy in general, is very good at asking the big questions that engage student’s interests. This unit, even in its present state, also helps students to examine a range of topics they would not normally access in a high school curriculum. This unit also fulfils several other questioning models such as Essential Questions (Wilhelm, 2007). In his work that outlines the Essential Question Framework Wilhelm (2007) argues that units should fulfil a number of important  aspects. Of these aspects, this unit current fulfils the following:

  • Addresses students need for inquiry to be relevant and interesting on their own terms as students can choose their own area of interest for their assessment.
  • Addresses the heart of the discipline being studied.  Students learn not only about their issue but also about the various ethical theories (Weeks 1 – 3) and practice and implement the fundamental reasoning skills learnt in the previous term.
  • Is linked to data. Students can find research to fit their theory from a multitude of different sources.
  • Is open ended, possible to contend and arguable. Students have to defend their solution which means that it has to be arguable and, given the topic matter, it is going to be something that is contestable in terms of wider society.

There are, however, two areas of Wilhelm’s questioning framework that could be done more explicitly within the unit. These are that inquiries should:

  • Invite students into ongoing conversations and debate about real-world disciplinary issues. Although this is currently done, by changing the assessment topic as outlined in previous analysis, to one in which students have to actively engage in the topic it will make the subject more ‘real’ than ‘hypothetical’ in its response to current issues.
  • Concise and clearly stated. The inquiry question and concept posed in this unit is not as explicit or as clear as it could be.
  • May lead to new questions. Currently when students finish a topic they do not, and are not encouraged, to seek new avenues of exploration.

Therefore the recommendations are to make the objective of the unit clearer and more concise and give students the chance to reflect on what they have learnt and how they can continue to be actively engaged with this topic, or one like it, after the conclusion of the unit.

Questioning isn’t just about the overarching question that guides the unit, it also has to be about the questions that the students pose. The framework for this is something that is currently not outlined in the unit and in fact, in the past, creating questions has been something that students have been mostly left by themselves to complete.

Before this lesson it is important that students have a good understanding of open, closed, surface and deep questions. Therefore it is proposed that students will be introduced to the Question Quadrant outlined in Philosophical and ethical inquiry for students in the middle years and beyond (Chesters, Fynes-Clinton, Hinton and Scholl, 2013).   In this lesson students will be given questions and asked, in pairs, to determine which quadrant they belong to. Students will then have to justify their decisions to the group. After the discussion students will then be asked to stand in the quadrant they think has best questions to discuss. This activity is not only engaging for students but also gets them to think about questioning and the difference between a surface question and a research question.


Question Quadrant. Image by author.


When students have a good idea of different types of questions,  they will then be taught how to create powerful research wonder questions. This shall be completed through a Generative Questioning Framework such as SQUID  where students create questions and answers.  Students will later be asked to use the questions generated from their SQUID exercise on the previously mentioned Question Quadrant to check that they are asking Inquiry questions  before they begin their research.

Once this has been done the next lesson will focus on Processing questions where students  outline the steps that they are going to take to progress through the inquiry. This is particularly important for students as they often get lost in the ‘process’ of inquiry and find themselves stuck on a particular step. Hopefully, with devoting part of a lesson devoted to process questions such as those outlined in the Knowledge Compass students will then have a framework to help them in case they find that they cannot move past a particular step.

The last step that students have to undertake in their research journey is critical evaluation of sources. This is an area that is not traditionally covered by Philosophy in the same way that it is covered by History. While it is something that was outlined by the General Capabilities and something that I think should be covered in Philosophy it is currently not within this, nor any other unit in the subject. This is because the way that sources are evaluated in Philosophy has more to do with their argument than the source itself. Even then Philosophy is concerned with the argument’s structure, use of reasoning (or lack thereof) and overall strength of argument rather than the traditional analysis approach that examines: bias, representativeness, ability to be corroborated and usefulness.   The closest that the Philosophy criteria and Senior syllabus comes to evaluating source is asking students to ‘interpret relevant ethical ideas and information’ and ‘evaluate philosophical theories, views and issues’. However, both of these subsections of the criteria can be done without sources as they are purely concerned with the information and philosophical theories.



The only relevant sections of QCAA Senior Philosophy Syllabus to inquiry learning. Screen shot by author. Please right-click to enlarge images. 


This lack of criteria concerning the evaluation of sources does not mean that there isn’t a place for source evaluation in this unit. Source evaluation is critical to logical reasoning and adding extra tools to a student’s arsenal of academic skills is useful regardless of the context. Therefore it is recommended that students are introduced to a critical evaluation of sources tool such as CRAAP Detection test early in the unit. Although the CRAAP Detection test falls into the Generic Window of the GeSTE windows as it only asks students to evaluate information within the confines of the unit.  However, it will still be useful for students to gain an understanding of how to question sources and critique information.(See below for more analysis of the GeSTE windows)

Hopefully by using the recommendations outlined below students will not only feel supported during their inquiry but they will also learn and use practical skills that will help with their holistic, academic development.  These skills should also lead to students becoming more engaged with the subject as they feel that the content and skills are accessible and transformative.


Create more opportunities for students to use group discussions to analyse their ideas.

Reframe the objective and overarching question for the unit so that it is clearer and more concise.

Create documents or lesson activities that support student’s knowledge and ability to confidently use ICT independently during their research process.

Students need to take a proactive response to the issue. This will allow students to be more creative in their solutions as they will have to find a ‘real life’ rather than hypothetical solution.

Students need to be explicitly supported with ICT re-search skills – Embed in Week 4 Lesson 1.

Need to embed lesson for students to crowd-source ideas for issues that they are having in their research.

Create or use a source analysis tool that fits within the Philosophy frame-work that still allows students to evaluate sources of information such as the CRAP detection test.

Add a lesson to the unit to allow students time to reflect on the inquiry process and how they would take further action.

Encourage students  to be an active member of change in their community on their chosen issue.

Reframe the second mini-inquiry as a Problematic Scenario (Barell, 2008) concept to help engage students.

Include Question Quadrant activity for students to gain an understanding of good question types.

Include Generative Question Framework and Process Questions from Knowledge Compass.


Student Engagement

Student engagement is one of the reliable predictors of student success in high school. It is very important that students not only see the value in what they are learning but also in being curious, learning independently and asking the ‘big questions’.  Inquiry based learning is one of those tools that engages students as it  “allows students to spend extended time on a topic that interests them while still, if structured correctly, allowing the teacher to support the student with the learning outcomes they require” (“Engagement in Australian schools”, 2016).

One of the ways that inquiry learning creates engaged students is by bridging the gap between the students’ world and the requirements of the curriculum and school space. Kuhlthau and Maniotes’ (2005) concept designates two spaces. The first space is the student’s world which encompasses activities outside of school along with their cumulative knowledge,  while the confines and edicts of the curriculum making a very teacher orientated second space. In order to engage students a third space needs to be found or created as frequently as possible in order to bridge the gap between the two spaces.This unit fulfils this part of the inquiry process quite nicely as it allows students to choose a topic that is important to their (first) world while also requiring them to analyse it and evaluate it using the key elements (ethical theories) contained within the unit (second world).

This idea of bridging the gap fits quite nicely with the work of Lupton and Bruce (2010) who argues that “inquiry learning provides an opportunity for learners to collaboratively explore topics of personal and social interest”. This idea of exploring ideas that are of personal and social interest means that students can take their (first/student world) problems and examine them with help from both the teacher and the curriculum framework of the second/school based world. Adding to the concept of engaging students is the use of the word ‘collaboratively’ in Lupton and Bruce’s argument.  This collaboratively could obviously mean several things such as a collaboration between teacher and students, between students themselves and between students and the community.  However, the assessment item for this unit is an individual response and does not give students the opportunity to work in groups for any part of the assessment which may further their understanding of the topic. This is easily rectified by giving students the ability to work in small groups, an idea supported by the concept of philosophical inquiry which argues that students learn inquiry as a social practice before they internalise it as “if they are to reason with themselves, they must first learn to reason with one another” (Cam, 1995). Despite the fact that students may work together on their research, for assessment equity and for students to be graded according to personal input and effort, each individual student would still have to submit and highlight their own personal contribution. Therefore it would be best if students were encouraged, as they are in the mini-inquiries, to work in groups on the research and planning components, even though their final submission will still need to be an individual response.

The research component of this inquiry task forms part of both the student inquiry skills (see above on student skills) and student engagement. This is because information literacy, the ability to find, decode and apply information, can be examined through a number of windows.  The GeSTE approach (Lupton & Bruce 2010) is one such approach which examines information through the Generic, Situated, Transformative and Evaluative windows.  These windows are a good way of evaluating not only the ways in which students use information but also the lessons and ideas that they draw from them. The simplest window, the Generic window, in which students only critically evaluate and cite information is the level at which this unit currently performs although there are some elements in the criteria that ask students to analyse their information through the Situated Window, where students examine opinions, gaps and silences instead.


As you can see from the diagram below that the aim of the rewritten unit is to move students beyond this and into the Transformative Window.


GeSTE Windows (Lupton & Bruce 2010)  mapped against the current unit design.


Although, as mentioned before, there are some parts of the assignment that can be found in the Situated window such as asking students to look at the impact of sociocultural contexts to both information and ethical norms as seen in the activities in Week 1 – Lesson 3 (see image below), overall there are limited opportunities for students to examine the way that the information is depicted or the impact that this has on their own world and self-view as outlined in both the Situated and Transformational windows.  This is due to the fact that the inquiry units are, at present, rather unstructured and students, having previously seen inquiry based assignment as a gather, evaluate, respond exercise will default to old practices instead of engaging in information in new and transformative ways.


One of the few times students are asked to engage with anything higher then the Generic Window. Screen shot by author. Please right-click on the image for a larger view. Alternative please click here.


The assignment for this task has the wonderful opportunity to be a Transformative task in which students do something with the information and arguments that they have gathered. By changing the assessment to allow students the chance to rectify or change the status quo of their issue through a campaign of some description, students will be able to challenge society and the power structures involved.   This will also give students the opportunity to participate in the highest level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy as they will be creating a campaign to deliver change and will hopefully develop student agency where students feel empowered  “through curriculum approaches that; engage them, are respectful of and seek their opinions…relate to real-life experiences, are safe and supportive” (Value Centred Schools, 2016).

Finally students will also be asked to keep a reflective journal throughout and the lesson after the assignment is submitted will be spent on personal reflection about what they learnt and felt throughout the research journey. Hopefully this will allow students to engage with the final aspect of the TELSTAR inquiry model as well as the reflection aspect of inquiry outlined in the Senior Philosophy syllabus.




Allow students to work in small groups for the research part of the task – however the final assessment would still need to be an individual submission in order to fulfil school assessment requirements.

Change assessment task to ask students to create some sort of active campaign on their chosen ethical issue.

Include reflection journal as part of formative assessment.

Change unit plan to include a lesson where students actively reflect on their experiences both academically (reflection in the inquiry model) but also emotionally and cognitively (Evaluative window).


Where to from here?

Having finished the analysis it is now time to re-write and restructure the unit to take advantage of the recommendations listed above.

 See here for the new unit and analysis



Reference List


Barell, John. (2008). Chapter 4 : How Do We Plan for Students’ Questions? in Barell, John, Why are school buses always yellow? Teaching for inquiry PreK-5, Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press

Bell, R., Smentana, L., & Binns, I. (2005). Simplifying Inquiry InstructionThe Science Teacher72(7), 30-3.

Cam, P. (1995). Thinking together. Sydney, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association and Hale & Iremonger.

Chesters, S., Fynes-Clinton, L., Hinton, L., & Scholl, R. Philosophical and ethical inquiry for students in the middle years and beyond.Australia: Australian Curriculum Studies Association.

Engagement in Australian schools. (2016). Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.

Ethical Understanding – In the learning areas – The Australian Curriculum v8.2. (2016).

Ethical Understanding – Introduction – The Australian Curriculum v8.2. (2016).

Fisher, D. (2016). Effective Use of the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model.

Gordon, K. (2000). Queensland School Curriculum Authority.

Krathwohl, D.R., (2002): A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview, Theory Into Practice, 41:4, 212-218

Kuhlthau, C. (2010). Guided Inquiry: School Libraries in the 21st Century.

Kahlthau, C.C., Maniotes, L.K. & Caspan, A.K. (2007), Inquiry Learning in the 21st Century. Libraries unlimited.

Limberg, L. & Alexandersson, M. (2003). The School Library as a Space for LearningResearchGate.

Lupton, M. (2016) Inquiry learning. A pedagogical and curriculum framework for information literacy. (preprint) in Sales, Dora & Pinto, Maria (Eds.) Pathways into InformationLiteracy and Communities of Practice: Teaching Approaches and Case Studies. Chandos Publishing. (In Press)]

Lupton, M. & Bruce, C. (2010). Chapter 1 : Windows on Information Literacy Worlds : Generic, Situated and Transformative Perspectives in Lloyd, Annemaree and Talja, Sanna, Practising information literacy : bringing theories of learning, practice and information literacy together, Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies, pp.3-27.

Pintrich, P. R. (2002). The role of metacognitive knowledge in learning, teaching, and assessing. Theory into practice, 41(4), 219–225. Taylor \& Francis.

Philosophy and Reason (2014) (Authority subject). (2016). Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

Science: General capabilities – The Australian Curriculum v7.5. (2016).

Value Centred Schools – a Guide. (2016). Values Education.

What is Philosophy?. (2016).

Wilhelm, Jeffrey, (2007). Chapter 3 : Asking the Guiding Question : Reframing the Existing Curriculum into Inquiry Units. In Wilhelm, Jeffrey, Engaging readers and writers with inquiry, (pp.41 – 74). New York: Scholastic.

Willison, J. and O’Regan, K. (2008). The Researcher Skill Development Framework.

Featured Image: Ethics by Orietta.sberla (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0)

In deep – a reflection

The journey through inquiry learning has been interesting for a number of reasons. While I found out a lot about inquiry learning and its use in the classroom as both a method of increasing student aptitude and engagement, I also discovered a lot about the inquiry process itself. Although my characterization of my journey as the philosopher emerging from the cave was originally a bit of fun, it became quite a real and honest comparison as my journey progressed from a state of what I had always assumed to be true about inquiry learning to what I now know is more likely to be true.

Quite a bit of philosophy, much like inquiry learning, is focused on the reflections of the philosopher, what they knew, the journey they took and the exploration of their new understanding of the topic. Reflection is a key part of inquiry learning even though it happens after the product has been created or the journey completed because it is a time to reflect and work out where you are going to climb to next.

Some of my journey, but not all, mirrored the development outlined by Carol Kuhlthau in her work on Information Search Process. Kuhlthau’s work outlines the six stages and common experiences of inquiry learning.

I must admit that the first stage, initiation, where a person becomes aware of a lack of knowledge was something that I didn’t really encounter. This may have been due to the fact that I have taught two subjects, philosophy and history, for a number of years. Both of these subjects are deeply rooted in many of the aspects of inquiry learning and so I already had a handle on what inquiry learning looked like in a secondary classroom.


I quickly came to understand that inquiry learning was far more complex then my initial ignorance had led me to believe. I quickly became aware that I didn’t actually understand the many facets of inquiry, how it could be taught in different ways and how it actually engaged students. Reflecting on my own teaching practice over the last ten years made me suddenly realize that I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew – particularly about engagement. This is what made me select my first set of questions as I found myself questioning why we actually practiced inquiry learning in humanities and how it affected students results and engagement.

How effective is inquiry learning in improving student results in the senior secondary classroom?

How do we move students from being passive learners to active learners using inquiring learning?

How do we, as teachers, get students to effectively and authentically engage with the inquiry process?

Once I had formulated and distilled my questions using used McTighe and Wiggins’ criteria for an essential question, I now felt optimistic (which is part of the emotional affective aspect of ISP) about my search potential and was ready to begin what I (foolishly) thought would be the easy road ahead.

Although my search started off easily and I found a myriad of resources via Google and Google Scholar, I quickly found myself up against the very strange road block. It wasn’t, as Kuhlthau suggested, incompatible or inconsistent information but instead an avalanche (rock fall?) of too much information. I also realized that my initial question didn’t exactly outline what I wanted to know.

Initial Question:

How effective is inquiry learning in improving student results in the senior secondary classroom?

While my forays into side quests such as looking at learning communities like 

How do teachers build effective learning communities using inquiry

were interesting but there wasn’t enough information to pursue it as its own line of inquiry. I went back and reflected on what I really wanted to know about my line of inquiry and what was really driving me during this whole inquiry process. I realized that I also wanted to understand the other elements of inquiry learning, namely its impact on the students themselves, their curiosity, engagement and motivation as that is something that I have found humanities students, in senior secondary at least, struggle with.

I also realized that my side-foray questions had a common, underlying theme that of student motivation and engagement. I changed my question, and my focus to

How effective is inquiry learning in improving student results in senior secondary?

This question made my learning more personal and my goal clearer. I discovered that I had, unintentionally used Kuhlthau’s four criteria of:

Task – What am I trying to accomplish?

Time – How much time do I have?

Interest – What do I find personally interesting?

Availability – What information is available to me?

Now in the formulation and collection stage I found myself collecting sources almost everywhere I went. I found sources not only through my deliberate searches but also inadvertently when looking for and researching other subjects for my own teaching pedagogy. In fact it is fair to say that I began finding resources on inquiry learning everywhere I looked. Although I was originally frustrated in my choice of curation tool, I realized that it was mostly because I wanted to be able to take the time and space to present my findings in an interesting and engaging way, so that others could see their value also. This aligns almost exactly to the Presentation stage of the ISP development as I was now satisfied with my response and interested not only in the information but how it was going to be presented. This new knowledge that I had gained spilled over into my professional life as well. In a professional discussion I had with a colleague I found myself explaining the arguments against Hattie’s scoring of inquiry learning as a low 0.35 and instead promoting inquiry based learning approaches in the school. This professional discussion, my moment as the philosopher talking to those back in the cave if you like is what has prompted my new avenue of research.


How do we create a school-wide culture that actively embraces inquiry learning?


Reference list:

Kuhlthau, C. (1985). Information search process. Retrieved September 1, 2016

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. P. (n.d.). Essential questions: Opening doors to student understanding

Featured image:  Russell, A. (2016, September 1). Ice cave. Retrieved September 1, 2016, from Ice Cave. (CC BY 2.0)

Social Media – The Final Climb

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 2.57.01 pm
The Philosopher ascending from Plato’s Cave. Martin, Philosopher’s ascent, [CC BY-NC 3.0]
Almost at the top of the ascent, we are now going to explore Social Media as an avenue of research. My social media life began when I was about 15 and discovered MSN and Bulletin Boards. From there I quickly discovered that while social media can be very liberating it can also be a bit of a time sink – something that was reinforced with the advent of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Despite the fact that I would consider myself a frequent user of social media, I would never have considered accessing them to search for information that wasn’t recipes and patterns (Pinterest), company or event information (Facebook), or News (Twitter and Facebook). The only exception to this is Youtube, which I use frequently both inside and outside of the classroom predominantly because I love the fact that I can be doing something else and still listen to what is being discussed.


Mayer, Facebook Logo , [CC BY-2.0]


As most people know, Facebook was started in 2004 by Mark Zuckerburg and has grown from a small University centered social media to a world-wide phenomenon and has over 1.49 billion users.

How to search – 

Searching Facebook is intuitive and doesn’t generally rely on Boolean Search terms. However, it does let you filter your results to find what you are looking for. A lot of the results are based on your connections to friends, places and institutions. Results are also often limited by other people’s security settings (Facebook Help, 2016). However, as pubic institutes, companies or high profile educators publish most of the results we are looking for, security settings are unlikely to be an issue.

Therefore I simply searched for “inquiry learning” AND engage. Facebook uses a complicated algorithm to produce results and so I was interested to see what it returned.

Facebook returned a result that included one post from a teaching colleague about inquiry learning and a hot of other relevant posts and pages. Doing my own filtering through the thousands of posts was exhausting so I filtered my search by clicking the pages link at the top. This, however, disappointingly didn’t turn up any relevant pages so I took out the word ‘engage’ and tried again.

Facebook Pages search
“Inquiry Learning Search” on Facebook. Screenshot by author

As you can see there are quite a few pages that are primarily concerned with inquiry learning and, apart from the Facebook only posts, they often link to fantastic information from other social media sources such as blogs and YouTube.   You can also limit your searches to groups rather than just pages or just posts. Joining a group is a good way of swapping information and having informal pedagogical discussions.

You can also search Facebook with hashtags (#) in a similar way to Twitter.  #inquirylearning #secondary #engage

Hashtag search
#inquirylearning search on Facebook. Screenshot by author


Who to Like

Mindshift – This is followed by a number of my teaching colleagues and I found their articles about inquiry learning over and over again throughout my social media searches.

Kath Murdoch – One of the main educators concerned with inquiry learning.

Inquiry Based Learning and Teaching – Although aimed at primary teachers they still link to many resources that are useful when examinging inquiry learning.

Let’s talk about Pedagogy – Discussion about pedagogy with many useful inquiry links.


  • A vast array of news articles and journal links
  • Intuitive searching in a forum most people use every day
  • Articles often collated in communities or under pages
  • Information changes everyday so there are always new things to discover


  • Search results are often overwhelming as there are thousands of results
  • Difficult to streamline search terms


27707, Twitter image,  [CC0 Public Domain]


Twitter is an online social networking site that enables users to send and receive short (140 character) tweets.

How to search – 

Twitter has two ways of search. The first of these this simply involves putting the hashtag (#) in the twitter search box along with your search terms . To this end I tried #inquirylearning as this would bring up results in which the tweeter had tagged.  This gave me a very small number of results.

Twitter hash inquiry
Twitter search #inquirlearning. Screencapture by author.

The second is just including the words “inquiry learning” and engage with no #hashtag.  This produced a larger number of results.

Twitter engage primary no hashtag
Twitter search with engage and “inquiry learning”. Screen capture by author.

Remembering that Twitter, like Facebook, has an American bias despite being an international website, I also tried #projectbasedlearing as that’s a term I’ve heard more frequently used when coming across American based research in my earlier searches. This increased the number of results, however they were now mostly primary school focused. I also found following the hashtags (e.g. #inquiryed) that other twitter users identified very useful to side-stepping into different areas.

However, what I didn’t know was that Twitter also has an advanced search which asks for elements and is a simple ‘complete the box’ form. You can then filter your results by video, accounts, photos and a host of other options.

Twitter advanced
Twitter advanced search. Screen capture by author.


I also tried #inquirylearning which returned over 555 results on Google. By incorporating the search terms I ensured that I would only find results that appeared on the twitter website.

Google twitter
Googles search for hashtags on twitter.

Tweeple to follow

ProjectBasedLearning – @FXA_AcademyPBL – A school based twitter account documenting inquiry learning in Years 7-8

Inquiry Partners – @inquirypartners – mostly inquiry based links to websites and interesting articles from some very dedicated teachers.

Leslie Owen (@leslieaowen) – Dean of Teaching and Learning who is passionate about both inquiry learning and engagement


  • Ability to follow threads and topics (through the use of hashtags)
  • Can access twitter users no matter their geographical location
  • Short, fast information about a topic


  • Searches turn up a lot of similar results
  • Sorting out useful tweets from not useful ones can be difficult as search details are based on hashtags

Things to note: Twitter bases results on personal connections and cookies. The fact my partner watches Video Game Commentator and Reviewer Jonathan Bane aka Total Biscuit meant he was my top search result as he once used the word inquiry.


Total biscuit
Demonstration of how the cookies work in Twitter. Screencapture by author.  


C_osset, Pintrest Logo and Pins, CC0 BY-Public Domain


Pinterest describes itself as the ‘world’s catalogue of ideas’ (Pinterest, 2016) and while most people use it to find life hacks and recipes to file away and never use, there are a large number of educators who use this forum to swap ideas about classroom resources, lesson plans, posters and educational pedagogy.

What is Pinterest

 How to search – 

Pinterest has a very useful Guide to Pinterest page but, to be honest, searching on this platform is fairly intuitive. Pinterest is made up of pins, boards and categories. Pins are visual bookmarks which link to the site that it came from while boards are what people save their pins too in order to categorize them for later reference. Pinterest also suggests that if you don’t know what you are looking for that a novice searcher tries categories first as this will bring up a large number of different results that you use to then narrow your search. Basically Pinterest is the Internet’s old library card file system with interesting pictures rather than the old fashioned yellow cards.

I originally put “inquiry learning” into quotation marks but Pinterest doesn’t like them and prefers to see terms as individual words rather than phrases. However it will take wild card searches with an * . Therefore I used the term engag* so that I would could get engage/engaged/engagement and so on.

Pinterest gave me a large number of results for my search term of inquiry learning and even helpfully suggested some ways of creating a smaller result by refining it futher.


Pintrest post1
Pinterest search and ways to refine it. Screen capture by author

I then tried searching for the terms – inquiry     learning     engagement   secondary. I had to use the term secondary as most of the original results were centered on the primary learning environment.   Unfortunately there were no boards for me to peruse but there were a large number of practical exercises for students to participate in a inquiry learning based classroom that will engage them. During my searches I found I often had to vary inquiry learning with other terms like project based learning or guided learning due to the American bias that Pinterest often displays due to its user base. With this user base in mind I also switched from secondary to high school.

Pinners to follow and pins to check out:

Edutopia has board after board dedicated to teaching practice and pedagogy, but I particularly liked this one as was concerned with project based learning.

Useful pins included:

School Teacher has a wonderful board of project based learning links including several options for ways of evaluating the engagement of students.

Useful pins included:

Jodie McKay has a huge number of boards to her name, but this one, which is related to inquiry learning, has many good resources for teachers who are on their own inquiry pathway.

Relevant to my search were

Not linked to any particular board, these pins are worth checking out


  • A vast array of resources are easily available to the savvy searcher
  • Interesting articles and other resources are usually linked together which means that they are easier to find as someone else has done the collating
  • Searching is intuitive although some Boolean search terms are still applicable


  • Resources are often American based and primary school orientated
  • It’s very easy to get side-tracked and end up on a recipe for spinach pie rather than what you started looking for
  • Often boards are filled with the same links that appeared on other boards for the same subject
  • As a visual learner it’s easier to by guided by the visual image in the link rather than the information contained inside.


ZyMOS, Youtube logo [CC0]


Youtube started in 2005 and has changed the way that we look at and create content, discuss and distribute ideas and entertain ourselves and others. Apart from a plethora of cute cat videos, Youtube has many very good resources that are very useful to teachers and students alike.

How to search: 

Google operates Youtube’s search system and so the search terms that Google uses are also useful in Youtube. This means that Youtube can be searched the same boolean operators and also that you can sort the results by their relevance, recency, view count and rating. The only problem with changing any of the options off relevance is that often your results will then become highly irrelevant.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 2.46.18 pm
Options for refinment on Youtube. Screencapture by author.

I searched (“Inquiry learning” OR “Project based learning”) AND engag*  which returned 15 700 results. I deliberately included “Project based learning” in order to capture international results.

I then refined my search futher by adding AND (secondary OR “high school”) which then refined my results to a still rather large 6950 results.


Youtube results
Youtube search for inquiry learning. Screen capture by author. 


I also found once I had clicked on a video that the “What’s next” widget on the side was very useful as this often links to other videos that, while may not contain the particular words in their descriptor that you were looking for, are still very relevant.

There are many, many useful videos on Youtube and below is a short collated collection of the most relevant ones that I found that support my inquiry.

Spend some time viewing:

The benefits of Inquiry Based Learning – a very informative and well presented video that does an excellent job of outlining the benefits of inquiry based learning.

Inquiry Based Learning – A rather funny video that uses a lovely Star Wars analogy to explain the benefits of inquiry learning. Also uses Lego which makes it doubly good.

Learners on Project-Based Learning – A series of interviews with students from prep to high school about their concepts of project based/inquiry learning. While this isn’t an educator perspective it’s very informative as to what students think of the process and what they find engaging. 

John Hattie on inquiry-based learning – A very interesting interview with John Hattie about the fact that, according to his research, the impact of Inquiry-learning is very small.


  • Content is uploaded by a range of other educators and often contains real life examples
  • Content is available on a range of devices and transcends geographical locations
  • Video and audio is often more engaging than academic texts


  • Descriptions of videos are sometime not accurate representations of video content
  • Viewing videos take time
  • There is no ability to scan the video as you would a text-based resource


Lawrence Wang, TEDx Desert Day! CC BY-SA 2.0


 TEDx is the international offshoot of the famous TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talks. TEDx talks occur anywhere in the world and are great ways to find new ideas from people with experience in a particular industry. I included TEDx as a separate category to Youtube because the TEDx talks serve a particular purpose to inspire, guide and provide examples. This is not to say that Youtube doesn’t do these things, but just that TEDx is a phenomenon that I believe deserves its own category.

How to search:

You can easily find TEDx talks by simply adding TEDx to your search parameters. “Inquiry Learning” Engaging becomes “Inquiry Learning” Engaging TEDx. This yielded about 358 results of which nearly all are official Tedx videos.


TEDx Search. Screen capture by author


Talks to listen to:


  • Easy to find resources
  • TEDx talks are generally short and to the point
  • Comments are occasionally good to find further resources (see cons)
  • Can listen while doing other things


  • Most TEDx talks have imbedded advertising at the start
  • Comments can occasionally be off topic and inflammatory
  • There can be a disjunction between the description of the talk and what the talk actually conveys – time needs to be spent listening to ascertain if it is relevant


Sophie Janotta (Sophieja23), Blog-684748, [CC0]



I must admit that before this blog, the last blog that I created was in high school and it definitely belonged to the pink background, sparkly cursor brigade. Blogs are useful tools to follow particular writers or educators and often contain a plethora of useful ideas and links. There are many very relevant blogs out there on the internet so here are a few of my favourites that are relevant to my line of inquiry.

Most of the blogs I found were actually through links from other sites such as Facebook and Twitter. I did also search Google for blog AND “inquiry learning” AND (engage OR engagement OR data) AND (secondary OR “high school”)  and found quite a few blogs that I didn’t know about.

Blogs and Google
Google search for inquiry based blogs has a lot of results. Scree capture by author.

Who to follow:

Just wondering – Kath Murdoch – Like Edutopia, the work of Kath Murdoch has also appeared repeatedly throughout my search. As she holds seminars and workshops on inquiry learning her blog is a treasure trove of useful information and resources.

Fostering Student Questions: Edutopia – Edutopia has featured quite a bit in my social media searches and the information and resources they are produce are very informative and useful for my research question

52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry – I stumbled across this through a Facebook post made by a teaching colleague. This is a specifically Australian blog made by an Australian Teacher Librarian and relates to how inquiry works within a variety of contexts.

Inquiry Based Learning – Unfortunately this website is only intermittently updated, but the resources are practical and focused on how to engage students through appropriate inquiry based information 


  • A good blog contains easy to read information
  • Often multiple links to other resources and blogs
  • Bloggers often give you an option to receive alert emails when new content is posted.


  • Often you have to search for quite some time before you find relevant blogs
  • There are still a large number of search results using Google
  • Blog posts can be sporadic


Where to from here.  

As Plato’s Philosopher I have no reached the top of the climb and face the outside world. In Plato’s story the Philosopher took some time to adjust, to see the difference between this new world and their old one. Then, after their eyes had adjusted to the light (knowledge), they journeyed back down into the cave to share their knowledge of the world. I believe evidence is what will help convince others of this new paradigm and so I am going to collate ten of the most useful sources that I have found on my quest so far.

Cave mouth 1
Alistair Hare, Hoyle’s Mouth Cave (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Featured image – Paleo_Bear, Daylight shines through a cave’s mouth in Romania[CC BY 2.0]



Soloing through Proquest

As Plato’s little philosopher I can now see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. My penultimate stop is Proquest a scholarly database of journal and newspaper articles, reports and ebooks.

Proquest was the go to search engine in high school and university for me along with JStor. It was the one our teachers always recommended. However, it’s been a long, long time since I was in school and although I would love my students to use Proquest, it’s beyond our school’s budget. Due to this I have to admit that my research skills on this particular database are rather rusty but I’m keen to relearn how to search what I remember to be a fabulous resource.

Proquest offers a number of databases to research and I quickly discovered that it is important to make sure that you are remaining within the relevant database to keep the results on track. As Proquest logs you out after half an hour of inactivity and resets the databases that you are searching, it’s important to remember to re-choose the one you need.

Proquest simple
Simple Proquest search showing the database. Screen capture by author.

My research question has not changed from my last adventure through A+ Education as I now feel that I know what I would like to answer with my inquiry question. Even though searching is still bringing up alternate questions and pathways, my focus question is still:

“How effective is inquiry learning in improving student engagement in secondary schooling?”

Search String



(“inquiry learning” OR “enquiry Learning” OR “Project based Learning”) AND Students AND Engag* 4,950 Results Simple search string used from previous searches. I used this as a starting point of comparison with other search sites. Results were relevant.


(“inquiry learning” OR “enquiry Learning” OR “Project based Learning”) AND Students AND (Engag* OR Data OR “Value-added”) 4979 results By opening up the search to also include the terms Data and Value-added it gave more (but also more relevant) results.



Added the parameters of Secondary or High school to narrow the results away from tertiary studies and primary school examples.

Narrowed by Full-text but that only took the results down by roughly 200.

(“inquiry learning” OR “enquiry Learning” OR “Project based Learning”) AND Students AND (Engag* OR Data OR “Value-added”) AND (Secondary OR “High School”) NOT Technology 515 Added the distinguisher of “not technology” with at least one exceptionally relevant journal result.
(“inquiry learning” OR “inquiry method”) AND Data AND student AND (engag* OR Motiv*) NOT Science 116 Changed to ‘inquiry method’ based on thesaurus suggestion. Also tried truncated “motiv*” for motivation or motivated.


I also tried Proquest’s Advanced Search

Proquest swap
Proquest advanced search. Screen capture by author.


In their advanced search Proquest included a thesaurus which I found much easier to use than A+ Education. It suggested that I use “inquiry method” instead of “inquiry learning”.

Search String Results Reflection
“inquiry method” AND (“Student Engagement” OR “Student Data”) AND (Value added OR Engagement) NOT (Science OR Technology) AND (Secondary OR “High school”) 38 This search string did not return the information I was hoping for as it had multiple results that were concerned primarily with health care and nursing.


ti(“inquiry method”) AND (engag* OR Data) AND Student NOT (Science OR Technology) AND (Secondary OR “High school”) 1 ti(“inquiry method”) meant that the terms within the brackets had to appear in the document title.


Single result but very useful.

You can also narrow your search results to the particular type of text that you want including: scholarly journals, trade journals, magazines and newspapers. Also you can also narrow the publication dates as well. While most search engines offer this, Proquest shows you the number of results published in each year as a graph which means you can see what impact restricting your results in this way will make.


Proquest graph
Graph showing how to change dates of searches on Proquest. Image by author.



I actually really enjoyed using Proquest. I found the advanced search very easy to use and, particularly after honing my skills on the previous search engines and databases, it was easy to find the search terms that led me to some absolutely fantastic articles.  While I was occasionally booted from my search, the fact that Proquest actually invites to you look at previous searches was a definite plus.  This search has been my most productive in finding relevant academic sources that will help me answer my inquiry question.


  • There are options for your search which can limit the results to only those that have been peer reviewed.
  • The database has an autocomplete option which is helpful when trying to find new search terms
  • Many full text articles that are easily available and easy to download as PDF
  • Allows you to save your search



  • Difficult to access without a university or workbased membership.
  • Searches time out after 30 minutes
  • Have to make sure you are only searching the databases that you want to search

New questions

  • How do stand alone concepts such as Genius Hour help students engage with their learning in other subjects?
  • How can teachers structure their inquiry subjects so that they can allow students to reach their full potential?
  • How does inquiry help students who are struggling with literacy and numeracy?


Where to from here.

I am almost at the top of my climb from the cave. From here I am going to traverse the rather wild and time-dilating caves of Social Media then up out and out into the bright light of day.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 9.36.22 pm
The Philosopher ascending from Plato’s Cave. Martin, Philosopher’s Ascent [CC BY-NC 3.0]


Featured Image: Missvain (2016), Aggtelek Wikivoyage banner, Used under [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Bouldering through A+ Education

Before I climb the next flight of stairs, I decided I needed to pause and reflect on my main inquiry question.   Reflection is a key element in the inquiry learning process as it’s about analyzing and making judgments about what has already occurred. Reflection is an active and meticulous considering of knowledge as outlined in “How do I promote student reflection and critical thinking” and the work of Carol Rodgers. In other words reflection is a “meaning-making process that moves a learner from one experience into the next with deeper understanding of its relationships with and connections to other experiences and ideas.” (Rodgers, 2002). This is particularly important in terms of reflection as reflective learners “are aware of and control their learning (and participate) in reflective thinking – assessing what they know, what they need to know, and how they bridge that gap – during learning situations” (“How do I promote student reflection and critical thinking”, 2016).

“How effective is inquiry learning in improving student results in senior secondary?”

The more I think about my inquiry question, the more I realized that it is too specific – the area that it addresses a really narrow part of what inquiry learning is about. What I really want to know about is it engagement with classroom material that drives student performance.  The concept of bridging the gap as outlined above is the driving force behind changing my inquiry question.

Bridging the gap.  TravelingOtter , Bridge inside the Skocjan Caves, [CC BY 2.0]
My bridge across the research chasm will come from expanding my inquiry question. By doing this I will still be able to find information about data (the outcome of inquiry) while looking at engagement (the process of inquiry). As without good process, you won’t get the outcome you desire.   It also leads on from the side quest that I engaged in last week when I looked at how teachers build effective learning communities.

Therefore my new, main focus question is:

“How effective is inquiry learning in improving student engagement in secondary schooling?”

Again I broke this question down into its component parts and examined the possible alternate words that may help me with my search.

Question Breakdown 

For my next search I will be using A+ Education. A collaboration between RMIT Publishing and ACER (Australian Council for Educational Research), A+ Education searches over 195 000 resources dedicated to educational theory and practice (Deveson, 2016).

Simple Search

As I have never used A+ Education before I wanted to see how many results I would get with a simple search. After logging in via my University, I tried the simple phrase ?nquiry Learning (as it’s an Australian database I thought the use of the wildcard [?] would make sure my search incorporated both enquiry and inquiry). Using this search I found 3944 results. However, as the search string is quite broad and, as I could not use both the ? symbol and inverted commas to make sure that the terms inquiry and learning appeared together, I very quickly realised I needed to again use Boolean operators to refine my search.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 8.56.33 AM
Search of A+ Education database for spelling variants of inquiry. Screen shot by author.


Although my inquiry question has changed somewhat since my search on Google and GoogleScholar, I wanted to see whether searching on A+ education using the same search string would yield similar results.  Therefore I chose the closest search string from previous searches that would be useful in determining differences.


no results
Search string Same search string that yielded results on Google Scholar has no effect here. Screen shot by author.

Deciding I needed help, I discovered the A+ Education help pages. In particular I found the tutorial page really useful as their search style is very different to what I’m used to. I also went to their Prepare a Search page as that gives detailed descriptions of what each search parameter does. Using this to help me I again started searching. I used the search string “inquiry learning” AND (effect* OR improv*) AND engag* AND (secondary OR “high school”)

However, this search string only yielded 10 results

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 9.28.39 AM
A+ Education search using multiple instances of truncation. Screen capture by author.

Slightly frustrated I removed some of the search terms.  With the shortened version of  I now had 19 results, one of which was highly useful to my area of inquiry and the rest were mostly relevant in some way shape or form.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 9.37.37 AM
Shortening the search string and using the % operator gives some success. Screen capture by author.

As my question is focused on student engagement, I changed my search string to see if I could find any that directly related to student engagement as many results focused purely on teacher engagement. I also expanded my search by including the term Project based learning as I figured this would also include any overseas studies.

The search string (Engag* AND Student) AND (“inquiry learning” OR  “Project Based Learning” OR “enquiry based learning”) -tech* provided 56 results. Of these results many were useful to my line of inquiry.  I found the top result Transition to Student voice: Project based learning for wellbeing particularly interesting as the concept of well-being linking to student engagement and results wasn’t one that I had previously considered in the context of inquiry learning.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 12.44.44 PM
A+ Education database search – screenshot by author



Search Strings




(“inquiry learning” OR “enquiry learning”) AND engag* AND (secondary OR “high school”)


An interesting result return including information on creativity and it’s importance in the 21st century and how to measure learning in complex environments These results are very interesting and, while some are relevant others seem to be looking at learning in a rather more general sense.
inquiry % learning AND engag* AND (secondary OR “high school”)


Smaller group of results but the % between inquiry and learning should have expanded the parameters for results Many of these results are repeated from prior searches

Advanced search

I also wanted to try the advanced search to see if I could find different resources. The advanced search asks the searcher to put in different words and structures the response. My first attempt returned 385 hits.  I deliberately didn’t use terms such as KS3 as this is an Australian website and our education system refers to student as either in secondary or ‘high school’.

I refined the search again to see if I could find articles which were about student, rather than purely teacher engagement (although it is really important for Teachers to engage with the learning process as well – something that is often over looked in education).

and student.png
Advanced search results. Screen shot by author.


A+ Education also offers a thesaurus in their advanced search.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 1.01.56 PM
Thesaurus in A+ Education. Screenshot by author


Once I got to know the database search system, and particularly when I started mucking around with their advance search it became easier to find the results that I wanted. So saying, this search engine is not as intuitive as Google or Google Scholar, it also kept timing out which meant that I would have to log back into my University account and then re-enter my search string.


Australian based database

Academically based results

Manageable number of results

Useful help and tutorial pages


Frequently times out meaning that the user has to log back in again

Not intuitive and therefore accessible only be an intermediary searcher

Fewer search results is not necessarily an indicator of more relevant results


New Questions

  • How can you measure engagement levels of students who are undertaking enquiry given social science research issues such as confirmation bias and the halo effect?
  • How does inquiry learning engage the ‘average’* student in the learning process?
*average student – the part of the student body who is neither gift nor needing learning support.

Where to from here?

My little climbing philosopher is now reaching the half way mark of the journey. From here it is only a short ascent through Proquest, an entertaining and possibly time sapping endeavor through the searchable elements of social media and then into the sunlight.

A+ Plato
The philosopher ascending from Plato’s Cave. Martin, Philosopher’s ascent,  [CC BY – NC 3.0]


Deveson, L. (2016). Informit A+ Education (1st ed.). RMIT Publishing.

How do I promote student reflection and critical thinking. (2016). Retrieved 12 August 2016,

Rodgers, Carol. Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking. Teachers college record 104.4 (2002): 842-866.

Featured image: Judge, D. Postojna banner Postojna Cave,  Used under [CC BY 2.0]




Google Scholar – The Second ascent

Second stage – Google Scholar


I was talking to a colleague this week about the using a cave analogy for my inquiry-learning project. “Isn’t that depressing?” She asked. “Caves are dark and gloomy places.” I had to shrug at that. Caves can be dark and gloomy places where Cranky Bear lives and Gollum hangs out, but as a philosopher they are also places of wonder, where you find hidden treasures and, hopefully, diamonds galore.

Like this…

Snowwolf 55, Linderhof Venus Grotto  CC BY-SA 3.0

Google Scholar is my second landing, another place to catch my breath and examine the sources that surround this stage of inquiry.   As my little inquiring philosopher I am now here…

Plato progress 1
The philosopher ascending from Plato’s Cave. Martin, Philosopher’s Ascent [CC BY NC 3.0].
I started again with my first research question. This is so I get a clearer picture of what is available to a researcher trying to find the answer to the question.  At first I stuck with my original search strings to see how effective they were in this new setting, I also decided to refine them as this, I believe, will help narrow my results and lead to faster, more relevant search results.


“How effective is inquiry learning in improving student results in senior secondary?”


Search String



Effectiveness AND “inquiry learning” AND “student data” 866 Some interesting sources about how teacher engagement with inquiry in pre-service teaching made teachers more likely to use it post graduation. Useful for my other inquiry question.


Guided inquiry 1
Simple search terms  as outlined above and Google Scholar’s results. Screen capture by author.


While this was dramatically lower than the 95 800 responses I had through Google alone,  I refined my search string to.

((“inquiry learning” OR “enquiry learning”) AND (effect OR improve) AND (secondary OR “high school” OR KS3) AND data) -science 675 Success! Of these results three of the top ten results were immediately flagged as being useful for answering this inquiry question, although there were still some less than useful results as the image shows. The ‘-science’ part of the search string was brilliant for finally deleting the science based results.
inquiry learning or enquiry learning
Refined search string as outlined in table above. Screen capture by author.


As I was finding multiple articles that were blocked behind paywalls, I changed my settings to only include articles that were available through the National Library of Australia and my local University library.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 10.15.50 AM
Accessing the Google Scholar settings can ensure your results are not blocked by paywalls. Screen capture by author.


Resuming my search I tried

((Effect OR Outcome) AND data) AND (“inquiry learning” OR “Project Based Learning”) AND (“High School” OR secondary) -Technology  -Science -Health 601 This search string was refined to exclude information regarding science, health and technology as these results were cluttering the results. However, I realise that excluding Technology may be detrimental (as many classrooms use technology within inquiry based learning).
((Affect OR Outcome OR change) AND (“inquiry learning” OR “inquiry guided learning”) AND (“High School” OR secondary) -Technology -Science -maths 479 Google suggested that I change effect to affect. I also excluded maths from this search string, however, I quickly discovered that although I excluded science from my search I still received results from science classroom based studies as they used the subject specific terms of physics/chemistry/biology instead of just general science

There were still some irrelevant returns, however overall this search string was very useful in finding relevant results.


Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 10.39.00 AM

((~effect OR Outcome OR change OR) AND (“inquiry learning” OR “inquiry guided learning”) AND (“High School” OR secondary) -Technology -Science -maths


The use of ~effect should have opened up to fuzzy terms. T his search returned many relevant results.
intitle:“inquiry learning” AND ((~effect OR Outcome OR change OR) AND (“High School” OR secondary) -Technology -Science -maths


The use of intitle:inquiry learning meant that only articles that used the term ‘inquiry learning’ in their title would be included which dramatically cut down on results


Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 10.34.24 AM
Search including the use of [intitle:] to limit results. Screen capture by author.

I feel like this has been a far more transformative and illuminative search session. I have far more avenues to explore now and have found far more useful websites in a much shorter timeline than with my previous search. I think this is down to the fact that Google Scholar is only looking at the more academic based journal articles and the fact that with refined search strings I easily got rid of results that were not relevant.

However, as the Inquiry Process should be on-going rather than static it should have periods of reflection. Using Kath Murdochs’ (2010) phases of inquiry (see image below), I believe that I am still in the Sorting Out phase as, while I am beginning to answer my first question, new questions have developed. I do believe that the most important thing to understand about inquiry is the direct impact that it has on children’s development and it is unfortunate that, in the modern world, a lot of that comes down to improvement in data as this is, to be frank, measurable. Therefore while I am going to divert in the next section to examine another avenue of inquiry, I think that looking at the impact of inquiry learning in a classroom is still the most important aspect of this inquiry.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 9.58.08 pm
Inquiry Learning Cycle diagram based on Kath Murdoch’s work on Inquiry Learning.


Using the questions from the previous phase I decided to examine a side path –

“How do teachers build effective learning communities using inquiry”


The key words I identified from this phrase were: teachers, effective, learning communities, inquiry.

I also am going to add  secondary or high schools (with the extra terms as shown above) to my search terms so that I narrow my search to the areas that directly relate to my teaching field. As this was a new question I also ran a parallel search in Google.

Search String



“learning community” AND effect AND (secondary OR “high school” OR KS3) AND ~teach)


407 000

A lot of information about whether professional learning communities were good for teaching.

The use of ~teach has expanded the results as this now returns anything that contains teach/teacher/teaching


Google Scholar

41 600

“learning community” AND (“secondary” OR “high school”) AND (classroom or environment) AND (“Inquiry Learning” OR “Project-Based learning” OR “inquiry guided learning”)




Most of these results were not relevant to the question or contained quite a lot of advice as to how to create effective learning communities without mentioning inquiry

In Google Scholar, results were more focused, however there was still some highly irrelevant search results that were, again, focused on learning communities in general

Google Scholar


With those types of results in my re-search, I’m not going to go down that particular tunnel, but I am going to keep the question in mind when I collate my sources to answer my primary research question.

Benefits and Pitfalls of Google Scholar

There are some benefits and some pitfalls to do this type of search on Google Scholar which are worth mentioning.


  • Access to a range of journals at your fingertips. Particularly journals that you might not necessarily have access to.
  • Easy linking and availability of journal articles through your University Library
  • Google Scholar searches about 1 billion journal articles
  • Can limit results to a specific period of time easily
  • You can change settings to only search articles that are either freely available or available through the university, however there can be issues with this (see below)


  • Biased towards American content which means finding relevant local (Australian) information can be more difficult
  • Journals are often behind pay walls which mean they can be inaccessible for researchers who are unaffiliated with Universities
    • Universities may only subscribe to some journal publications which means some relevant articles are still behind pay walls
  • Changing the settings (see above) limits your search quite dramatically

Overall judgment and reflection.

Google scholar has been very useful in finding recent and relevant information to help answer my inquiry question. With my refined search terms I have managed to find better quality sources which has made researching less stressful as I can easily identify what is relevant. Being able to see the articles by linking my search to my local university has also circumvented many of the pay wall issues that surrounded my initial Google searches.

Firstly more questions:

  1. How does inquiry learning affect the results and engagement of disengaged students?
  2. How does inquiry learning help students to open up* in the classroom.
*discuss, evaluate, collaborate, ask for help.

Armed with new questions I am going to climb further onwards and upwards to see what I can find next. I am going to move on to the next level as I make my way up and out of the cave. The firelight and flickering shadows are now behind me. I can see glimmers of true knowledge and more understanding – or at least more questions and more avenues of research.

Unsplash. (2015) CaveUsed under CCO – Public Domain

Up to the next tunnel and further into my journey.


Murdoch, K. (2016). Home. Kath Murdoch. Retrieved 1 August 2016.

Featured imageUnsplash. (2015) Cave. [CCO – Public Domain]


Google – The first leg

The travelogue of my inquiry progress

As Plato’s newly released, would-be-philosopher, I decided I should probably spend some time with the search engine that I am most familiar with rather than stumbling around in the dark. Therefore I went to my usually most trusted, and probably most abused, search engine. I have a long history with google searches, being part of my school team for the Google Search Games at the Royal Brisbane Show back in the late 1990s as well as lazy afternoons spent dawdling through random search strings.   Although we were taught Boolean search strings in high school, I must admit that in the almost 20 years since then most of it has been forgotten.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 2.57.18 pm
The Philosopher ascending from Plato’s Cave. Martin, Philosopher’s ascent, [CC BY-NC 3.0]

First Leg – Google 

My first steps into the world of inquiry were merely looking at the number of search results thrown up by Google without the help of Boolean search terms (even though Google adds the AND between words without you having to type it and ignores what it terms as “Stop” words – those short words like of/on/with).

I decided to go back to the search engine and try again, this time spending more time constructing a variety of search strings to see if I could narrow my focus. Narrowing your focus I believe is particularly important when you consider that there are over 1 billion websites in the world.

I decided that the best way of looking at the questions, and working my way out of the cave, was to pick the question that I would most like to answer and develop a series of search terms that would help me find the most relevant information.  Even though this might then divert onto another track, it was at least a plan of how to navigate the grotto.

The question that I have decided to focus on for this part of my topic is –

“How effective is inquiry learning in improving student results in senior secondary?”

I broke the question down to its key terms and created a mind map of all the alternative terms or ideas that I could use.

Mind map of ideas and terms related to inquiry. Image by author.

Some terms had more related terms than the others but I think that’s due to the difficulty of defining a term such as ‘effective’, which has imprecise boundaries. For this question I went with the concept that effective has to mean, in a data driven school environment, something that has a meaningful, long term, positive effect on student results.

Search Strings




Effective AND “inquiry learning” AND “student data” 95800 Some really interesting scholarly articles linked through Google Scholar at the top of the page.Many curriculum and pedagogy documents from Australia and Australian based websites. Google is probably using my location information in my IP address to determine useful locally based resources. I found some papers that look at the impact of inquiry learning on standardized testing which was not something I thought inquiry learning would have a direct and obvious impact on  which may warrants further research.I think the simple term effective is oddly narrowing my results as there are many other words used within education when discussing effective student learning
((Effective OR Outcomes) AND “Student data”) AND (“inquiry learning” OR  “Project Based Learning) 64900 An interesting assortment of responses from a range of websites including Pinterest (links to Kath Murdoch) and schools who have conducted their own in-house research While the double brackets around ((Effective OR Outcomes) AND “Student data”) narrowed the search quite substantially, they did not make the results as relevant. Therefore I’m going to use some other search tools to find information to help answer my inquiry question
Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 9.46.22 AM
Search for ((Effective OR Outcomes) AND “Student data”) AND (“inquiry learning” OR  “Project Based Learning). Screen shot by author.

Search Strings




improve AND ((“Inquiry based” OR “project Based) AND Learning) AND results


This is the largest return of results by quite a margin. However, the results are quite useful. The use of the term “Project based learning” has opened up the results to American based research, however, many results are now looking at Primary School data only
(Improve W/3 achievement) AND (“Inquiry Learning” OR “Project based learning” OR “Guided Inquiry Learning”)  AND (“high school” OR “secondary School”)


Results are predominantly from websites examining the effect of project-based learning

Using the search parameters W/3 meant that the search was looking for the word improve within 3 words of the second term – improvement

Most of the websites are predominantly concerned with project based learning which, while relevant, is slightly different from inquiry learning.

See search below for different results

Improve W3 Project
Image of Google Search with use of Boolean operator W/3 and the term “Project Based Learning” . Screen shot by author.


Search Strings




(Improve W/3 achievement) AND (“Inquiry Learning” OR “Guided Inquiry Learning”)  AND (“high school” OR “secondary School”)


Results have gone back to being predominantly from Australia.

Removing “Project-based learning” seems to have narrowed the results while still maintaining their academic qualities

Some very interesting results from studies conducted in out Nigeria.

This was probably the most useful search string to find useful, relevant results.

Improve w3 no project
Screen shot of Google Search for using Boolean search term W/3 but without the use of phrase “Project-Based learning”. Screenshot by author.

I also tried Google’s Advanced Search as this provided a far more streamlined approach to creating complex search strings and also made it much easier to search through particular site or domains.


Search Strings




“inquiry learning”   learning OR education OR achievement OR data OR effective “secondary school”  –“primary -school”


A large number of academic resources from Google’s sister site.

Search results have been reduced by limiting it to sites with the domain of .edu.


Interestingly Google does not add the () operators around OR when it creates its own search strings.

Initial Google Advanced
Google’s advanced search. Screenshot by author



Search Strings




Student  (Data OR Achievement) AND (“Inquiry Learning” OR “Enquiry Learning” OR “Guided Enquiry Learning” )”secondary school”  -“primary school” -“elementary schools”



Results are mostly not on topic and the -primary school term seems not to be working.


Creating search terms in google’s basic search is far more effective as I had to continually play with the search terms it created to find something worthwhile.


Google advance irrelevant
Google’s advanced search had to be significantly manipulated to return results. Screenshot by author.


I found a really interesting difference between Google’s basic search and their advanced search. Namely that it was actually harder to control my results with their advanced search. I had to significantly alter the strings that Google created and I still ended up finding more irrelevant results than using their basic search tool and good Boolean search strings.

A last point about other interesting resources.

Thanks to the recommendation of one of my own students I discovered Google Fight which encourages you to input two search terms to see which one has better visibility on Google. This is one of those tools which makes searching Google more fun and will actually help students engage in their own inquiry learning with the added benefit of helping them delineate between useful and non-useful search terms.


Google Fight
Google Fight between ‘inqury learning’ and ‘enquiry learning’. Screen capture by author.

Where to from here?

At the end of my Google search I realized that I now had more aspects of inquiry that I would like to research.   While I think it would be good to stick with only one question – as this will make it easier to compare results between search engines – I really want to explore the side tunnels on my journey upwards even if they turn out to be alcoves rather than passages to the surface.

Avenues to explore in future

  • “What is active learning and how do I get kids to engage in that kid of activity?”
  • “How do teachers build effective learning communities using inquiry”


Further Reading



Total number of Websites – Internet Live Stats. (n.d.).

Featured Image: Knuth, D. (2014), Son Doong Cave, [CC BY-SA 2.0],


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