Regarding your comment about the quote from Urban Myths about Learning and Education, it is probably worth considering the whole paragraph (Bruyckere, Kirschner and Hulshof, 2015, p.56-7):
“And why does problem-based education seem to score so poorly in professional literature? Research shows that in practice it is not really suitable for acquiring new knowledge. Some studies have even recorded negative effects in terms of knowledge acquisition, which means that students can sometimes even learn the wrong things. If, however, you use problem-based learning to apply previously acquired knowledge to a new problem, then it has a significantly positive effect. In other words, problem-based learning is very suitable for applying and honing existing skills and for making connections between different concepts. But it is far less appropriate for acquiring new knowledge or insights. This leads to the conclusion that it is very important for the teacher to play an active role in thinking about the different solution strategies and providing new insights.”
Just to be clear – what we are doing with FOSIL is Inquiry Learning not Problem-Based Learning. These two approaches are related but not the same. “Inquiry is an approach to learning whereby students find and use a variety of sources of information and ideas to increase their understanding of a problem, topic or issue. It requires more of them than simply answering questions or getting a right answer.” (Kuhlthau, 2007, p. 2). “Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem. This problem is what drives the motivation and the learning.” (Nilson, 2010). You can see from the definitions that Inquiry encompasses PBL but is much broader. Also, Inquiry is driven by a question (which may lead to a problem), whereas PBL is driven by a problem.
The whole quoted paragraph is important because it underlines some really important features of successful inquiry design:
A properly thought-out Connect phase which allows students to root what they are about to do in what they already know. This may involve some basic pre-research – it may also involve some front-loaded theory teaching. In this case Joe spent a lesson introducing some of the important theory and terminology students would need for the inquiry with a particular focus on key words and phrases. Students also read some carefully chosen introductory articles to help them to ground this theory. Yes, the inquiry began with new material, but students were supported through this and by the time they reached the Investigate stage (where they needed to go and look for new sources themselves) they had a good idea of what they were supposed to be looking for.
A ‘hands on’ approach by the teacher. It is very easy to look at inquiry as a break – “I can get my marking and reports done while they teach themselves this bit” – but done properly it is just as hard work (if not harder) than didactic teaching methods. You should be talking with individuals all the time about what they have found and what they think it means (and using tools such as the Investigative Journal, and a suitable Construct resource, to help students to make their thinking visible throughout the inquiry), guiding them down new paths and challenging misconceptions. I started my career as a physics teacher (with a secondary science PGCE and a background in Maths at university. I have since acquired an MSc in Library and Information Studies) and it made me smile to read “students can even learn the wrong things” as a criticism of problem-based learning. Really? And that never happens with didactic teaching methods? So why do science teachers find they need to spend so much of their time challenging and correcting student misconceptions? It is our job to spot and challenge misconceptions as they arise however that happens – inquiry learning /PBL is not an excuse to sit back and ignore them!
“It is very important for the teacher to play an active role in thinking about the different solution strategies and providing new insights”. Absolutely! I find it helpful to think of the role of the teacher in inquiry as an expert mountain guide helping the climber to reach the summit. You don’t stand by and watch your climber fall into a crevasse, you guide them around it, but equally you don’t climb the mountain for them and then just show them your photos when you get back.
As a final thought, as an adult, how do you now acquire most of your new skills and knowledge? These are my answers – yours might be different:
By listening to someone talking and making my own notes? Not really.
By repetitive practising? Yes, sometimes – but usually that is how I cement skills and knowledge I have already learnt, not how I learn new things.
By investigating, pursuing a question that matters to me, pulling information from various different sources (books, websites, personal conversations and experiences), consolidating and cross-checking it and drawing my own conclusions? Yes, all the time. And these are the skills we are trying to help students to learn and refine through inquiry in increasingly sophisticated ways as they progress up through the school.