Inquiry Learning – a summation



I end this blog in the way I began with a wordle that sums up my knowledge of Inquiry Learning and as you can see this one has a lot more words than the first.


Questionnaire / Reflection Sheet 3

  1. Take some time to think about your topic. Now write down what you know about it.

I know that Inquiry learning can be an extremely valuable method for students learn a wide range of skills and in particular to develop a deep understanding of content. It can be a risky undertaking for teachers as they need to give up some of their long held beliefs about methods of instruction and act as a ‘guide on the side’ rather than a ‘sage on the stage’ but the benefits for students are great, including:

  • Developing skills through social interaction
  • Linking learning to real life and constructing meaning that they find valuable
  • Gain independence in research and learning and develop a strong sense of accomplishment
  • Experience a high level of motivation and engagement and come to a greater understanding of the affective domain of learning
  • Gain skills that are transferrable to learning situations outside of school

2. How interested are you in this topic? Check () one box that best matches your


Not at all not much quite a bit a great deal

3. How much do you know about this topic? Check () one box that best matches how much you know.

Nothing not much quite a bit a great deal

4. Thinking back on your research project, what did you find easiest to do? Please list as many things as you like.

The easiest thing for me was to:

  • select an ILA to investigate
  • set up a blog page
  • Write in a scholarly manner
  • Give feedback to group members

5. Thinking back on your research project, what did you find most difficult to do? Please list as many things as you like.

I found two main things difficult and challenging:-

  • Finding the hours needed to meet the requirements for this subject, I felt like I was behind from the start and this subject has been the most demanding of my Masters so far in terms of hours required just to keep up & complete set weekly tasks, do readings & lectures, and then the assignments required enormous commitments of time.
  • Technology- I found Jing easy, Evernote so/so but doing the video & trying to upload it with the sound embedded required me to use my technology ‘guide on the side’. Doing the blog on WordPress was OK as I had used it before but there were often finicky things like one table not uploading properly, having to revert to using HTML to make font size consistent that were time consuming and annoying to fix

6. What did you learn in doing this research project? Please list as many things as you like.

I have learnt so much it would really be difficult to list them all. When I first began this subject I had a vague idea that Inquiry was something about learning by doing & my understanding is now much more sophisticated than that. The thing that stands out for me from everything I have researched and written is the inclusion of the Affective domain as part of the learning process. Although I had experienced this for myself on many occasions when I first saw Kuhlthau’s model of the ISP it was like a revelation. This is what will stay with me most from this subject and what I will use constantly when guiding both students and my own children through the Information Search Process



The experience of giving and receiving feedback has been somewhat different the second time around for two reasons. Firstly we are all at different stages of completion with Kym having finished her posts and Heidee still working through the data analysis stage. Secondly, now that we have all received formal feedback from our lecturer we have a greater understanding of where our strengths and weaknesses are and are more confident to ask our group members for feedback on specific areas.

As with Blog Stage 1, giving and receiving feedback from my peers whilst working on this subject was a valuable way to feel less disconnected. I was able to take a step back from my own work and focus on what others were doing. This allowed me to confirm that I was on the right track and the opportunity to review other group member’s blogs was a great experience in becoming more aware of shortcomings in my own writing and presentation of ideas. I was particularly impressed with Heidee’s writing style as she seemed to be writing with an awareness of an audience wider than just that of other students doing this subject. Acronyms she used were explained, and in her posts prior knowledge was not assumed. After reading her blog I tried to ‘clean up’ my blog posts so that if someone read one in isolation they would not need to read the whole blog to know what I was talking about. I also included references at the end of each post for the same reason.

Kym had been disappointed with her mark from blog stage 1 and with this in mind I tried to give her very direct feedback if I thought she was missing something important from her posts. I still phrased this in a positive way (which is an ingrained teacher thing that is difficult not to do) but would directly ask: What about this? Have you considered this? There were some posts that I couldn’t find and she was going to check her blog to make sure they were visible and clearly labelled. Kym’s feedback to me usually ended with a question or point that would give me cause for reflection and begin a conversational thread which was great as I enjoy the interactive aspect of a blog. My main form of feedback to Kym and Heidee this time was in the form of editing their work. As their writing was of a high standard I felt like I had little to contribute in terms of ideas so I proofed their work to pick up on typos, spelling and grammatical errors. This was relatively quick and easy for me to do being an English teacher and both of them were appreciative of my efforts.

The formal feedback I received from Mandy on my video pointed out that more information on recommendations would be valuable and I was able to ensure that I gave that extra consideration when writing up that post in Blog Stage 2. The opportunity to review other students work and receive feedback on mine was particularly valuable as it gave opportunity for reflection which is essential for me to construct knowledge and meaning and improve my writing and presentation skills.



Critical Evaluation of the ILA.

The TechnoPush Inquiry Learning Activity (ILA) sits mainly within the science curriculum addressing learning outcomes in Science & Technology at Stage 3:

  • Investigating (Inv 3.7), Design and making (DM 3.8) and Using technology (UT3.9)
  • Physical Phenomena (PP3.4) and Products and service (PS3.5)

In addition to this it also provides strong links with the Stage 3 Key Learning Areas of English, Mathematics and PDHPE.

“Inquiry” has been a central goal of science education for decades and is the hallmark for current science education reform efforts (Quigley ,Marshall, Deaton & Cook, 2011; Abd-el-Khalick et al. 2004; Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005). The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) views inquiry as “basic” to science education stressing that teachers’ should focus on conducting inquiries and developing understanding (NSTA 2004). However, contained within current research, (Donham, 2010; Abd-el-Khalick et al., 2004; Zion et al. 2007) is much discussion and debate as to what authentic inquiry learning constitutes and how one would recognise it in a classroom. In this ILA it was clearly recognisable and the learning experiences sat for the most part in the Guided Inquiry domain whereby students investigate a teacher-presented question using student designed/selected procedures (Bell, R., Smetana, L., Binns, I. 2005, p.7). There were however some instances of Structured Inquiry whereby students investigate a teacher-presented question through a prescribed procedure (Bell, R., Smetana, L., Binns, I. 2005, p.7). These instances occurred when students needed intervention to help them develop particular skills. As is the case with Guided Inquiry, the project was determined by the teacher and students were responsible for designing investigations to answer the questions that occurred during the project. For example, “Which type of braking system will be the best for our Pushcart?” Students had to develop each component of the ensuing investigation including a hypothesis, procedures, data analysis and conclusion. The teacher, and other experts, (an engineer in this case) were used as ‘guides on the side’. A carefully planned and supervised approach is necessary for children in this upper primary age group as they are in a transition to more abstraction in learning. These students need guidance as they “explore ideas from various sources and integrate those ideas into their own thinking” (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007, p.28).

(For more information about the Levels of Inquiry that can be experienced in a Science classroom read the blog post Synthesizing the Information.)

Schools that participated in the TechnoPush challenge were provided with a package of suggested learning experiences for students to participate in and teachers were left to teach the lessons as they thought suited the needs of their students. Although there was no Inquiry Learning model attached to this, from my observations, the students in this ILA mostly followed the process of the SAUCE model (Figure 1. Bond, 2010). Most of the Inquiry Learning models follow a sequence that is influenced by Kuhlthau’s Model of the Information Search Process. This involves students moving through stages of Initiation, Selection, Exploration, Formulation, Collection, Presentation and Assessment.

Figure 2.The SAUCE model (Bond 2010)

This is certainly the case with Bonds SAUCE model, where students, Set the scene, Acquire and Use, however what was particularly pertinent to this ILA was the next step, Celebrate understanding. As the students in this ILA designed and built a working product in the form of the Pushcart there was a lot of excitement around their highly visible achievement which aligns with Bond’s model as there was a celebration of their understanding. Students were proud of their achievement and their efforts were recognised in the school newsletter and local media. Students were invited to include their Pushcart in a local festival as part of the parade and it was also on display and admired throughout several fundraising activities and the school fete. The wider community shared in the students achievements which made the students more aware of their sense of accomplishment. The Evaluation component of the SAUCE model where” the major focus will be on the process that the learner has moved through to complete the task” (Bond 2010) occurred when the students had to explain the entire process they had engaged in to a panel of judges at the two Challenge race days.

This ILA operated under the objectives set out in the NSW Board of Studies Syllabus Document –Science and Technology K-6. In this syllabus Science is described as, “concerned with finding out about the world in a systematic way… Science is not just a body of knowledge but is also a process of investigation” (1993, p.7) This reflects the view widely held by most scientific educators, as discussed previously in this blog, that scientific inquiry is viewed as both content and a vehicle for learning content. Although there is no specific discussion of Inquiry Learning in the syllabus, in the Designing and Making strand a flow chart (Figure 2) that strongly resembles the Guided Inquiry process is provided as a possible way to sequence learning experiences. The students in this ILA closely followed the process outlined with the exception of ‘reflecting’ which is discussed later.

Figure 2. NSW K-6 Science and Technology Syllabus (1991, p.32)

This ILA was highly successful in that students met all of the requirements of the criteria outlined by the brief at a stage 3 (years 4-6) level. Specific criteria are described below, and from my observations students also demonstrated that they met the criteria for Information and Communication even though this was not listed as a component required for the project.

InvestigatingINV S3.7Conducts their owninvestigations and

makes judgements

based on the results

of observing,



predicting, testing,

collecting, recording

and analysing data,

and drawing


PhysicalPhenomenaPP S3.4Identifies and

applies processes

involved in

manipulating, using

and changing the

form of energy.

UsingTechnologyUT S3.9Evaluates, selects

and uses a range of




materials and other

resources to meet

the requirements

and constraints of

investigation and

design tasks.

Designing andMakingDM S3.8Develops and

resolves a design

task by planning,


managing and

evaluating design


Products andServicesPS S3.5Creates and

evaluates products

and services,


consideration of


aesthetic, cultural,

safety and

functional issues.

Information andCommunicationIC S3.2Creates and



products and



consideration of the

type of media, form,

audience and

ethical issues.

Outcomes: Science & Technology K-6. Content and Learning Processes (2006, P.16-17)

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), in the national curriculum document for Science, recommends that students in Years 3–6 (typically from 8 to 12 years of age), work within a Curriculum focus of: recognising questions that can be investigated scientifically and investigating them

“In the early years of primary school, students will tend to use a trial-and-error approach to their science investigations. As they progress through these years, the expectation is that they will begin to work in a more systematic way. The notion of a ‘fair test’ and the idea of variables will be developed, as well as other forms of science inquiry. Understanding the importance of measurement will also be fostered” (2009, p.7)

If the TechnoPush ILA is considered in terms of requirements needed to meet the aims of the Australian Curriculum Science document it was a highly successful project. As represented in Table 1, there are ranges of ‘unifying ideas’ that are organised under three strands. ACARA states; “The unifying ideas are developmental in nature with subsequent unifying ideas building on those for the previous year grouping. In this way, unifying ideas enable students to accumulate knowledge over time for deeper understanding” (2009, p.6).

The students who participated in the ILA were given the opportunity to participate in the ideas highlighted in Table 1 and in most cases achieved the understanding and results indicative of the experiences.

Science understanding
  • properties and uses of materials
  • forces and motion
  • forms, use and transfer of energy
  • structures and functions of living things
  • life cycles of organisms
  • living things and the environment
  • changes on earth and in space
  • relationship between earth, moon and sun

  • earth’s resources and their uses.
Science inquiry skills
  • identify questions and predictions for testing
  • plan and conduct simple investigations
  • observe, describe and measure

collect, record and present data as

tables, diagrams or descriptions

  • analyse data, describe and explain relationships
  • discuss and compare results with predictions
  • draw conclusions and communicate ideas and understandings.
Science as a human endeavour
  • consider how science is used in work and leisure
  • become aware of science-related careers
  • recognise the effect of science and technology on our environment

  • be aware of the historical nature of science ideas.

Table 1. ACARA Unifying Ideas for Years 3- 6 in Science. (2009, p.8)

The learning experiences involved in the ACARA Science Inquiry Skills domain link to the thinking skills illustrated in Blooms Revised Taxonomy (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Blooms Revised Taxonomy (Overbaugh And Schultz nd.)

Each of the categories has a number of key verbs associated with it that describe learning experiences, as illustrated in Figure 4. Each of the levels allows students to engage either higher or lower order thinking skills. (For more information on the ILA and Higher Order Thinking Skills watch this video). Learners generally begin with the most basic tasks of remembering facts, figures, and other information then progress through understanding that information, applying it in new ways, analysing it to understand its parts, evaluating the information and supporting decision with it, and finally creating new information, a product , or a new point of view based on the original information (Overbaugh & Schultz, Bloom’s Taxonomy). The ILA was very successful in that students were continually required to access Higher Order Thinking skills.

Figure 4. Higher and Lower Order Thinking Skills. (Churches, 2007)

However, given that the students arrived at the remembering part of the process at the end of the ILA would seem to support the ideas put forth by Shelly Wright (2012) and Justin Marquis (2012) that it is time to flip Blooms Taxonomy so students start with creating right from the outset. Wright (2012,) states that the basic idea behind the flip is that students start by creating something within the area that is being introduced. This is a largely uninformed creation based on tacit knowledge, akin to a pre-reading, prior knowledge activation activity. Students then evaluate their creation based on comparing it to professional examples from the field. This is how the ILA students began, drawing ideas and making models of what a pushcart might look like. It was only after this that they began to research to make sure their pushcart met the specific design requirements. Their process is represented in the posters below.



Students presented the learning process on posters and in PowerPoint presentations.

Marquis (2012 para.9) argues that this process is very much in line with Inquiry or Discovery based learning where students are introduced to a problem or explore something to see how it really works; then they work towards developing an understanding of the principles underlying that discovery. However, in order for students to truly embrace the creative process, they must feel that the product that they are creating has real world value. This can be accomplished by linking the exercise to real clients or by providing a public venue for sharing the finished work. This was the case with the TechnoPush project, the final product and the application of it had real world value and it was shared publicly both at a local and state level with the general public and other communities of learners.

Marquis in his model of the flipped taxonomy (Figure 5) accounts for the social constructivist view that learning and knowledge creation are social activities. The students in the TechnoPush ILA were actively engaged with their peers collaboratively creating their products, discussing their decisions, and negotiating the underlying rules and principles behind what they were learning.

Figure 5. Blooms Flipped Taxonomy for the 21st Century (Marquis 2012)

The term Information Literacy is commonly applied to the ability to access and use information sources in the rapidly growing technological information environment (Kuhlthau et al. 1997 p, 77). The GeST windows (Lupton and Bruce) is a model by which one can view the different experiences of Information Literacy through the windows of:-

  • Generic – a set of discrete, neutral generic skills related to reading, writing and the use of technology (behavioural).
  • Situated – social practices involving solving personal, work, family and community problems (sociocultural).
  • Transformative – effecting social change through an emancipatory process (critical). (Lupton & Bruce 2010)

The literacy skills are not hierarchical but rather embedded or nested. Students in this ILA were required to go beyond simply locating and using information and experienced

 “relational” learning. They experienced Information Literacy mainly through the situated window as highlighted in Figure 6.

Figure 6. GeST windows (Lupton & Bruce 2010)

At times students worked between both the generic and situated window depending on what was required of them and also depending on their level of ability. The students experienced learning information literacy by ‘engaging in collaborative and participatory information practices’ when they created two group PowerPoint presentations that were published on the internet. These did not however critique society or lead to social action, nor was this a requirement of the task. They may however be accessed by students who are participating in this challenge in the future thus they have contributed to the existing body of knowledge on this particular topic.

If we consider the following descriptors for information Literacy from ALIA (2003) it is clear that the ILA has been successful as students have demonstrated their ability to achieve these and would be able to now apply these descriptors to themselves.

  • Information literacy means being information wise. It means knowing when a book may be more helpful than a computer. It means knowing how to find, evaluate and use information in all forms.
  • Information literacy is more than print literacy, computer literacy or media literacy.
  • It means knowing when you need information, where to find it and how to evaluate and use it in your everyday life.

They found the information they needed from a variety of sources, not just print, but also from experts. They have evaluated the validity and usefulness of this information and used it in their everyday life by designing, building and racing the pushcart. Overall this ILA has provided learning opportunities and experiences for the students that have allowed them to investigate scientifically, use Higher Order Thinking Skills, develop Information Literacy and collaboratively contribute to the existing body of knowledge on the topic of Pushcarts. Due to the nature of this ILA a community of learners has been created in which “knowledge that students have from the outside world consistently joins together with the curricular content, helping them to inform their own worldviews” (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.34). A successful Inquiry Learning Activity indeed.

Recommendations for Future Practice


Given that this ILA was highly successful there are only a few recommendations that I have to make and I believe that these would have occurred in the first instance if budgetary constraints weren’t a consideration. Effective inquiry-based learning requires a team of professionals to design implement and assess student learning (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007). One solution to help meet this challenge within a school context is collaboration, particularly between a teacher and teacher-librarian with a common vision. The teacher responsible for this ILA was both the library and science specialist who had the 4/5/6 class one day per week as part of the relief from face to face (RFF) requirements. Considering that all the research underpins collaboration (Kuhlthau, 2007; Quigley, Marshall, Deaton & Cook, 2011; Donham 2010) and the use of an instructional team (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007) as essential for the success of an Inquiry Learning project it would be ideal for the classroom teacher to have RFF on another day and collaborate with the ILA teacher during the TechnoPush project. This would have been particularly useful given the large amount of organisation throughout the project, particularly travelling and competing in the Challenge days and also for intervening in student learning, which is the next recommendation.

Given that there were a number of small schools in the region competing in the TechnoPush Challenge for the first time it would be beneficial for the teachers involved to collaborate amongst schools. Rather than delivering the learning experiences as an isolated, individual process teachers could share resources and ideas and support each other through the teaching experience. This could serve to foster greater links between schools and also give students a greater awareness of what others are doing on their TechnoPush project.


In Guided Inquiry it is recommended that the Instructional team employs intervention strategies at relevant times to assist students in “that area in which the student can do with advice and assistance what he or she cannot do alone or can do only with great difficulty”
(Kuhlthau, 2007, p.140). Throughout this project there were periods of great intensity when students were w0orking in small groups on tasks that required them to learn new curriculum content, social skills, physical skills and information literacy and with only one teacher in the room there was great difficulty providing useful intervention. If another teacher had been available, the types of interventions as recommended by Kuhlthau, in Figure 7, would have been able to occur.

Interventions for Learning in the Inquiry Process

Five Kinds of Learning

Types of Intervention

Curriculum Content gaining knowledge, interpreting, and synthesizing
Information Literacy locating, evaluating, and using information
Learning How to Learn initiating, selecting, exploring, focusing, collecting, presenting, and reflecting
Literacy Competence reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing
Social Skills cooperating, collaborating, flexibility, and persistence

Figure 7. Interventions for Learning in the Inquiry Process (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.141)

In the findings from this project students recorded ‘research’ as the hardest to do. It would have been ideal to intervene whilst the students were experiencing the Information Searching Process as they needed guidance to help develop their information literacy. Students were looking for sources of information and needed advice on how to find relevant, useful and pertinent sources of facts and ideas. Added to this was the affective component where the students were feeling frustration, confusion and uncertainty, intervention at this point would have allowed students to articulate their thoughts and feelings, thus giving them insight into the process of learning, which leads directly to the next recommendation, Reflection.


“Reflection and thinking about the ideas encountered in the inquiry process enable students to construct knowledge and meaning” (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.25). Given that reflection is a fundamental component of Inquiry (Kuhlthau, 2007; Alberta, 2004) it would have been worthwhile to utilise it more as a means of thinking about learning during each step of TechnoPush project. Students can learn by reflecting on their experiences (Dewey 1933). The goals for reflection in this case would be to ‘de-brief’, encourage group problem solving, develop a range of speaking and listening skill and develop higher order thinking skills. Given that the students engaged in the TechnoPush learning activities over the course of one day the ideal format would be for students to re-group for a period of time at the end of that day and be led through a reflection process by the teacher. This could include individual reflection in the form of a journal or answering specific questions i.e. those on the SLIM Learning Reflection sheets. Students could then discuss their feelings, observations, report on successes and difficulties and this could frame up the direction that the activities needed to take during the next session. All thinking and dialogue requires some form of reflection if learning is to take place. Students of this age in particular need time and reconsideration of events to put facts and ideas into sequence. Reflection activities would allow them a sense of intellectual ownership and a better understanding of oneself and one’s own abilities and of the learning process they are experiencing.


As this ILA was very successful the final recommendation that I would make is to share the story of the learning experiences and findings from the research project to parents and the wider community. Parents are important stakeholders in their children’s education… they want their children to be prepared for success. Parents can be most enthusiastic supporters when they see the engagement and interest their children have in school (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.59). In the case of this ILA parents also took on the role of experts, consulting with students during the design and building phases, this helped to bring the outside world into the classroom and enriched the learning environment, they were able to “give pertinent information at the point when it is needed” (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.73). The video presentation was completed for the purpose of presenting to parents, to allow insight into the valuable learning their children experienced, share the projects findings and show how their expertise had assisted their children and the others in the class. Parents also have access to this blog for these purposes.

In the future teachers could keep parents informed through the school newsletter and students could also present to the P&C and parent groups as a method of preparing for presenting on the Challenge days. Students also completed two PowerPoint presentations that are available on the internet that share the process they experienced. The school also received attention from the local media that included a variety of photos and articles about this project, particularly during fundraising efforts and they were also invited to participate in a parade for a local Arts festival with their pushcart. The positive acknowledgement that students’ experienced through sharing this project increased their pride in their achievements and fostered a greater sense of community within the school.


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Lupton, Mandy and Bruce, Christine. (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.

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TechnoPush – An Inquiry Learning Project


This video discusses the learning experiences of a class of year 4/5/6 students as they participated in the TechnoPush Challenge. It was designed mainly as feedback for parents to describe the learning experiences that students participated in and was included in the E-NEWSLETTER:-

“Jacqui Hinshaw has been completing a research project for her university degree and has offered to share her BLOG. The 4/5/6 class and TechoPush project were the basis for her project and she has put together an amazing analysis of the Inquiry learning that the children were involved in. If anyone is interested in having a look this is the link: may also click on the two previous posts on this site, these explain the whole process in greater depth.” KH




The action that was taken to improve learning after the first questionnaire and observation of the Information Learning Activity (ILA) was to consider the configuration of the groups that students were working in. This was based on my observations that students were having some difficulty with the research process in their current groups and this was supported by the data from Questionnaire 1, Question 5, where students had listed “finding true (relevant) information” as the hardest thing to do. Given that the students had selected their own groups it was simple for the teacher to reorganise them into more efficient working groups of three to four that had a range of ages, abilities and skills in them. This was in keeping with Kuhlthau et.als, (2007, p.36) recommendations for establishing a community of learners.

“Small, flexible groups provide students with opportunities to collaborate with others and share the many perspectives that they bring. Using small interest- based groups through the inquiry process allows students to co-construct knowledge while collaborating on projects.”

The classroom teacher had knowledge of the students’ particular strengths and weaknesses in terms of their ability to research, process and present information and once she re-organised the groups according to student ability and skills the ISP progressed more smoothly. This strategy of the teacher assigning members to groups was utilised throughout the project and group configuration was changed with each new phase of the project.

 Given that Questionnaire 2 was completed at the end of the ILA the next action that I recommended was after an observation of the class whilst they were again working in small groups, after the cart had been built. The class was working on five group tasks: – pushcart decoration, scientific investigations, sponsorship letters, pushcart identity and poster production during the lesson. They were mostly in the initial stages of discussion and brainstorming with regards to these topics and the demands on the teachers’ time were enormous. It was a lesson where many students would have benefitted from guidance, described by Kuhlthau (2004) as a “zone of intervention, in which a student can do with advice and assistance what he or she cannot do alone or do only with great difficulty”.

 I was quite concerned about the demands that were being placed on this teacher, particularly given that she was both the library and science specialist in a small school who also took on a number of other leadership roles. Considering that all the research underpins collaboration (Kuhlthau, 2007; Quigley, Marshall, Deaton & Cook, 2011; Donham 2010) and the use of an instructional team (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007) as essential for the success of an Inquiry Learning project I thought it was important that she was supported throughout the process. To help address this issue I scheduled my next observations to coincide with the periods of intensive group work so I could both assist and observe on the same day and there was also a fourth year student teacher who was on prac for four weeks who was assigned to the class. Although this was not an ideal collaboration (as will be discussed further in the blog post, Recommendations for Future Practice) it did improve the instructional climate for students. The teacher also found benefit in being able to discuss and share ideas and creatively plan and solve problems.


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Quigley, C. , Marshall, J.Deaton, C.Cook, M, & Padilla, M.(2011) Challenges to

Inquiry Teaching and Suggestions for How to Meet Them Science Educator; 20 (1) 55-61 Retrieved August 12, 2012 from




The first three questions on the Learning Reflection / Questionnaire sheets aim to ascertain the student’s prior knowledge and interest level in the assignment topic. In particular, Question 1. “seeks to capture the existing knowledge of a topic that the student brings to the task” (Todd, Kuhlthau and Heinstrom, 2005, p.18). The first question was worded to specifically ask students what they knew about the TechnoPush project and building and racing a pushcart. As previously stated the first questionnaire was completed a few weeks into the project and the second (final) questionnaire was completed two weeks after the conclusion of the entire TechnoPush project. The student responses to question 1 were then categorised into knowledge statements and coded as fact, explanation or conclusion statements.

Figure 1: Class results for Question 1

The results presented in Figure 1 demonstrate an increase in explanation and conclusion statements. Todd et al. (2005, app.B ) state that this is indicative of a significant growth in understanding of the topic. This signals a significant conceptual change to the student’s initial knowledge and demonstrates evidence of deeper processing which is one of the aims of inquiry learning. In order to achieve processing at this level “engagement and motivation” (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari , 2007, p.26) are required. Figure 2 examines the students’ interest level at the beginning and end stages of the inquiry process and it is of value to compare the two sets of data.

Due to problems uploading this graph, click below to see it.

Figure 2  

Figure 2: Student Interest Level, Questionnaire 1 and 2

From the outset students were interested in this topic and their level of interest increased significantly throughout. On the first questionnaire 5 students (1/3), rated their interest as only ‘slightly’ but by the end of the project twelve out of the fifteen students record their interest level as being; ‘ very or extremely’ interested, the two highest ratings. The overall success of this Inquiry learning project can be attributed in part to the high levels of student interest. Student engagement in the project is essential for deep understanding and learning to occur (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.25, Alberta Learning, 2004). “People learn best when they are actively involved in making sense of the world rather than passive receivers of information” (Bruner 1994 as cited in Kuhlthau 2007, p.25).

To relate the data from questions 2 and 3 to the findings from question 1 a subset of six students were tracked throughout the Inquiry Learning Activity (ILA). Two students from each year level were selected and their data has been analysed in greater detail in Figure 3.



Yr.6 S1

Yr. 6 S2

Yr.5 S3

Yr.5 S4

Yr.4 S5

Yr.4 S6

Self Rated Level of Interest (scale 0-4)















Self Rated Level of Knowledge (scale 0-4)
















1 Fact










2 Fact














Figure 3. Table of responses. Questions 1 – 3.

Students 3 and 5 rated themselves at the lowest end of the scale, both in terms of interest and knowledge in Questionnaire 1 and although their interest levels had increased by two points in Questionnaire 2, Student 5’s self rating for knowledge had decreased. His actual measured knowledge in contrast had increased: In Questionnaire 1 Student 5 had only provided a fact statement.

              It has wheels.

Whereas in Questionnaire 2, Student 5 provided both a fact and explanation statement;

One pushes and the other (one) rides. You have to do this together to race echother (sic) to the finish line.

So, in terms of knowledge gained Student 5 had increased, but his perception of his knowledge had decreased. One reason for this anomaly could be that insufficient reflection had occurred throughout the project. ” Reflection and thinking about the ideas encountered in the inquiry process enable students to construct knowledge and meaning” (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.25). Given that the student is only in year 4 he may have benefited from increased reflection, which is a fundamental component of each step of the Inquiry process (Alberta 2004, para. 8).

Three out of the other five students in the sample rated their knowledge higher and two rated themselves the same in Questionnaire 2. Their levels of interest also increased significantly. There was no great variance in interest between the tracked students in years 4, 5 & 6 but there was a slight difference between the year levels in the measured knowledge component.

On Questionnaire 1, the year 4 students only provided one fact each whereas all the other students (with the exception of S1- year 6) had provided at least two fact statements. This could be due simply to their age and level of cognitive development. However by the end of the project each of these students demonstrated a measurable increase in understanding.

Student 5s responses have previously been discussed. In questionnaire 1, Student 1 (Yr. 6) responded with a single fact statement.

               It has wheels and steering.

In questionnaire 2 he still only provided a single statement but it was an insightful conclusive statement based on the experiences gained throughout the whole project.

              Its (sic) not all about winning its (sic) about having fun.

Student 6 also provided a single fact statement in questionnaire 1.

              I knew what one should look like.

Then, by the end of the project in Questionnaire 2, he was able to provide two factual and one explanation statement.

You build a pushcart design then you choose people to make the design. You vote choose a pitcrew (sic).

Each of the students in this Inquiry project have demonstrated that their past experiences and prior understandings formed the basis for creating new knowledge. This is one of the basic tenets of constructivist theory which also maintains that connections to a child’s present knowledge are essential for constructing new understanding (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.25). This Guided Inquiry project has been successful in that students have been able to build on what they already know to form personal perspectives about the world around them. They have been involved in an active ongoing process of learning.

Data for the first three questions were coded and analysed according to the SLIM toolkit. For questions four and five and six, themes emerged from the data and coding categories were developed for these.

The responses on Questionnaire 1 relate specifically to research as this is what the students had been engaged in. However, Questionnaire 2, relates to the whole TechnoPush project and when experienced in its entirety research was only a minor component hence there is a great variation in emergent themes. The themes have been categorised according to the terms that students used.

Figure 4. Questionnaire 1. Student responses to questions 4 & 5

Interestingly, in the responses to questions 4 and 5 on Questionnaire 1 (Figure 4) ‘research’ and ‘write out information’ appears as both easy and hard in varying degrees. If time permitted it would have been worthwhile to interview the students and extrapolate exactly what they meant by these generalised terms. The seemingly conflicting data in these responses can be explained from an observation I did of the class whilst they were researching.

My initial observation of this class occurred during the students’ first research lesson and they experienced a number of difficulties with the information search process (ISP). They were attempting to find information about specific components of the pushcart i.e. steering:- rack and pinion or Ackermann; brakes:- pedal or hand; and so forth. This research was to help them make informed decisions as to which components to include on their pushcart when they constructed it and they also had to ensure they met the specifications set by TechnoPush (Appendix A).

The students were working in self selected groups of four and the information they were finding was complex and very little related specifically to pushcart design. When they did find relevant sites most students did not have the capabilities to extract the necessary information from them .So, even though the students could easily find sites about ‘rack and pinion steering’ finding exactly what they needed to inform their pushcart design was extremely difficult for them. This could account for the largest number of responses in hard to do being ‘finding true (relevant) information’. Added to this frustration were the large numbers of blocked sites that students encountered. This lesson left most of the students experiencing feelings of frustration, confusion and doubt which is common during the information search process. (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.19. Oberg, 1999, Para. 12).

Blocked sites were a common source of frustration for students during the ISP.

As Questionnaire 2 was filled in after the whole TechnoPush project had been completed the responses to Question 4 and 5 encompass this total experience. The emergent themes for Question 4 can be grouped under the broad heading of physical experiences (Figure 5). The students found driving, building and steering the cart easy to do. Added to this, from my observations they also found these physical aspects very enjoyable. The results they achieved during the race challenges would also support that the students performed extremely well in this aspect of the challenge, being selected to travel to Sydney for the finals.

Figure 5. Questionnaire 2. Q 4. Easy to do.

In contrast the responses to Question 5, hard to do, (Figure 6), can be grouped under three broad headings; physical, emotional and cognitive. Building the cart again appears and as noted on some of the individual responses a specific difficulty was learning how to use tools which is discussed further in response to Question 6. The other physical aspect that rated as hard was ‘running’. From some of the individual responses it would appear that the endurance part of the course was difficult as was the fitness training they did each week.

Running fast up hills on the course was hard.(S2)

I dont (sic) like running round the oval all the time.( S3)

Interestingly ‘research’ rated as the highest score in hard to do. This could be as a result of the difficulties experienced as discussed previously. In addition to this students had to re-visit their initial research several times throughout the entire project and present it in different formats emphasising varying elements. They had to use it for posters to explain the entire research, design and building process and also for two PowerPoint presentations required by the Kids Design Challenge judging panel. So, as students again accessed the research that caused feelings of frustration, confusion and doubt it seems that those feelings were again experienced to some degree with each new collection and presentation phase of the project.



 Students researched and presented posters in small groups, they then used these to present information to the TechnoPush judging panel.

An unexpected response from the students was the inclusion ‘cooperating’ as hard to do. Although only listed in this question by two students it is the equal highest rating in Question 6 and is discussed in detail as part of that analysis.

Figure 6. Questionnaire 2. Q5. Hard to do.

In the SLIM toolkit; Question 6. “What did you learn in doing this research unit?” gives the students an opportunity to reflect on their acquired skills (Todd 2005, p.19). However, as the TechnoPush project was broader than just a research project the question was reworded to: Question 6. “What did you learn in doing the TechnoPush project?” This gave students the opportunity to reflect on the project in its entirety and the emergent themes portray this.

Figure 7. Questionnaire 2. Q 6. What did you learn?

Constructivist theory recognizes learning as an holistic experience incorporating many ways of knowing. Children learn through all their senses. They apply all their physical, mental, and social capabilities (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.27) and this was demonstrated in the data collected for Question 6. Again the emergent themes can be categorised under three broad headings; physical, emotional and cognitive. The surprising result to myself and the ILA teacher was the emphasis on ‘cooperation and teamwork’. This was not an explicit goal of the project but working in small groups and participating as a large team was something students were required to do throughout. Interestingly, whilst this project was taking place the Year 5 & 6 students were also participating in a Peer Support Camp and learning about leadership skills and it is this cohort of students that listed the responses in the emotional / affective domain. Through their participation in this ILA they were able to further understand both the difficulty and value of the collaborative process as they were the students whom took on the role of group leaders.

When working togeather (sic) you have to learn to cooperate with each other, to prepare for whats comming (sic) and think before you act (S3)

To co-operate with class members (S2)

To work coropratively (sic) with all studants (sic)(S4)

The students in this ILA were engaged in social construction throughout the entire project. They were required to have ongoing interaction with peers, parents, siblings, teachers and strangers, thus participating in a learning environment in which they were continuously constructing and making meaning for themselves (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.28).

The greatest number of responses to Question 6 can be categorised under the theme of physical, which encompasses; Using tools, driving skills and physical fitness. Individual responses in this include:

           How to put a pushcart together and driving safely(S1).

           Leaning (sic) how to use tools (S6).

           Exsawsise (sic) and helthey (sic) eating (S5).

Learning how to use a variety of tools and how to construct the cart within the set time frame was challenging to most students in the beginning and there were affective feelings that mirrored the ISP experiences of frustration and doubt. However with weekly practice students were able to master the skills needed and became proficient at this task as is reflected in the number of responses in Figure 7 categorised under this theme.

Interestingly, research skills has a low number of responses and I believe that this is not because the students didn’t think that they learnt them but it is more to do with the timing of the final questionnaire and the wording of the question. The results of Question 7 ( Figure 8), support this theory as all students indicate that they they are either ‘confident’ or ‘happy’ with their research.

Figure 8. Questionnaire 2. Q.7.Feelings about Research.

This particualr ILA provided a holistic approach that simultaneously engaged students in a variety of learning experiences as evidenced by the results in Figure 8 and this has been the great success of the project. A wide range of resources in an array of formats presented through a variety of activities offers children a wealth of opportunities for learning (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.27). The students who participated in this Technopush ILA project were offered many ways to construct deep meaning of the world and their life in it. Thus students were able to achieve success at developing competence with learning from a variety of sources while enhancing their understanding of the content areas of the curriculum (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.28). This was evidenced both by the feedback sheet provided by the TechnoPush Committee (Appendix B) and the students individual assessment marks for the unit. Also, as demonstrated by the data collected and my observations of the group, students achieved an important aim of inquiry learning, “building deep knowledge and deep understanding of a topic and growing independence and ownership of their learning.” (Todd et al. 2005, p.8)


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