Utilising inquiry

Humanities Coordinator Matt Bulger shares some examples of the benefits of inquiry-based learning at St Ives.


From a very early age, children are curious and inquisitive learners who seek to understand and question the world around them. Therefore, it is fitting that inquiry-based learning is an integral part of the boys’ education when they commence at St Ives Preparatory. Inquiry-based learning is a disposition and a pedagogy that leads our boys to ask most of the questions and seek out their own answers. Our role as the teacher is to design and guide experiences that promote discussion amongst the boys, foster collaboration, and encourage critical thinking. Inquiry-based learning enhances relationships and sparks curiosity in our classrooms, giving the boys a sense of ownership of their learning.

At St Ives, inquiry-based learning starts with our Preschool boys. For example, in their investigation of spiders they first read Aaaaargh Spider! by Lydia Monks and they then watch a garden orb-weaving spider making its web. The boys discuss how the webs are created and brainstorm how they will draw their own webs with gold and silver pencils. The purpose of this investigation into spiders demonstrates how art and the natural sciences are interconnected. The boys are able to pursue their own interest in spiders, develop their ability to practise scientific inquiry and then represent their ideas through their own art. This approach encourages indepth thinking and reflection, which are key outcomes of inquiry-based learning.

The video below shows some of the activities our Preschool boys engaged in during their investigation into spiders

This spider investigation is just one example of many where our teachers are focused on guiding the boys through questioning and probing, so that the boys formulate their own conclusions and enrich their experience and understanding of the topic. Application of inquiry-based learning occurs across all years and subject matter, complementing our well-established critical thinking learning practices.

It is important to note our boys are explicitly taught core content and skills within our English and Mathematics programmes. Likewise, we explicitly teach the stages of an inquiry process and the necessary skills and background content. Each boy is supported fully to ensure effective engagement in the learning.

Inquiry-based learning lends itself to the uniqueness of our boys, their love of reading, thirst for information and their keen desire to understand the world. While inquiry-based learning has traditionally been applied to History and Geography, there are broader applications in the disciplines of Mathematics, English, Art and Science.

Regardless of subject matter, inquiry starts with exploration and questioning, and leads to investigation into a worthy question, issue, problem, or idea. It involves asking questions, gathering, and analysing information, generating solutions, making decisions, justifying conclusions and taking action.

Our boys’ journey of inquiry culminates in the multi-disciplinary research project ‘Night of the Notables’, in their final year of Senior Primary. In this research project the boys draw on all of their experiences and learnings throughout their time at St Ives and can showcase their inquiry-based skills. Neil Basak’s (Year 6, 2021) reflection from ‘Night of the Notables’ aptly captures how this project had a profound impact on his learning and experience:

“He [Nelson Mandela] has been my hero since a young age, always inspiring me to follow what I believed in no matter what anyone else had said…All great people have a belief and I can only hope to find that sort of belief within me.”