Inquiry in Real-World Contexts

Ms. Jennifer Wilkinson, PYP Coordinator

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) regularly engages our students in authentic inquiry, nurturing curiosity and developing their enthusiasm as lifelong learners. Learning through inquiry requires students to think critically and creatively, it challenges their ideas and provokes them to question further, reflect and take action. Engagement, motivation and a love of learning come alive when students are provided opportunities to be thinkers and inquirers in real-life contexts. When students have real-life problems to inquire into, an authentic purpose for their inquiries, and a genuine audience with which to share their learning, the spirit of inquiry drives student learning in a magical way. 

In the weeks leading up to March Break, this magic was alive in the Lower School. Excited students talked about their inquiries with each other and adults unprompted. They eagerly asked if we were coming to their class presentations and events and proudly shared their learning along the way. This enthusiasm grew out of the real-life problems posed to students as part of their units of inquiry:

  • Grade 1 explored how people develop systems to meet their needs. The Grade 1 inquiry centred around the real-world challenge of creating a culminating market that they held for their teachers and Grade 8 reading buddies to attend as customers. Students collected and analyzed data to identify the preferences of their target audience. With the help of parent volunteers, Grade 1 students prepared a range of goods and services and created signs and advertisements. Market Day was alive with excitement as each group of Grade 1 retailers sold their real goods and services to their real customers. The students weren’t collecting play money or playing make-believe. This learning experience put the Grade 1 learners at the centre of real-life economics where they learned about counting money, the difference between needs and wants, goods and services, and how people earn, spend and save money. The Grade 1 classes earned $340 and collectively made the decision to spend their earnings by donating to the Breakfast Club of Canada for local children to access food for their basic needs.
  • Grade 3 students inquired into systems and structures within the real-world context of SJK’s own learning community. Mr. Pereira, Assistant Head of School, Community, spoke to Grade 3 students about how schools think about planning for growth in their buildings and infrastructure and posed the problem to Grade 3 students of how SJK might foster community and belonging in its systems and structures as the School’s enrolment changes over time. Students took this authentic challenge seriously and engaged in in-depth research to learn about systems and structures in schools worldwide. This Grade 3 inquiry culminated in a showcase of proposals from highly engaged students of potential additions to SJK’s learning environment. Their inquiry wasn’t solely for the sake of learning about systems and structures; it was for the very authentic purpose of improving the SJK community, something which the Grade 3s are highly invested in. 
  • The youngest scientists to participate in this year’s Science Fair were the Senior Kindergarten (SK) students. Their unit of inquiry led them on an exploration of the scientific method and what scientists do to learn about the world around us. Science is not just for big kids and grown ups! In fact, anyone can be a scientist if you ask questions, make hypotheses and observations, draw conclusions from data …. and wear a lab coat and goggles! During the SJK Science Fair, SK students showcased their scientific investigations, born from their own experiences and curiosities, alongside the Science Fair projects of Upper School students. Our youngest scientists confidently explained their questions and findings for the authentic purpose of communicating their scientific thinking to visitors and judges. Their scientific investigations included:
    • What will happen to an egg if we put it in different substances?
    • What will happen to the bag if we push different objects through it?
    • Can we fly like lemurs?
    • Will objects float in jello?
  • Grade 6 participated in small group, on-campus field trips this week as part of the Maple Syrup Project to support their How the World Works unit of inquiry about how scientific principles can be applied to innovation and development. Each group of Grade 6 students had the opportunity to participate in a hands-on, in-depth exploration of each step of the maple syrup process through a scientific lens. They learned about the process of measuring, filtering, and sterilizing sap and reflected on the application of scientific principles to further develop the process from traditional and modern Indigenous perspectives. These hands-on, real-life experiences further provoked student thinking and wonder about other innovations in the world around them.
Our aim as IB teachers is to engage our students as thinkers and inquirers, to guide them in developing a passion for learning and an intrinsic motivation to follow their curiosities, and to grow and develop into lifelong learners. These examples of learning, centred in real-world situations, with authentic purpose and real audiences, elevate student engagement and learning. These learning experiences lit a flame of enthusiasm and a hunger in our students to find out more. These lasting memories, as well as the inquiry skills and passion for lifelong learning, will stay with our PYP students as they continue to grow through the Lower School and beyond.

St. John's Kilmarnock School

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