Drink the cool-aid? Thoughts on IBL and PBL

I have just finished reading the first part of Topic 3 for ETL401 on the TL and the Curriculum – Constructivist learning in the curriculum.

I am conflicted by this topic of Inquiry learning (IL) and Problem-based learning (PBL) from the perspective of a regular teacher, not a TL, and I’ll admit right off the bat that this is probably because I haven’t seen it in practice myself and haven’t implemented PBL or IL in a classroom where I am the teacher (or should I say facilitator?). I am a Teacher on Call in Canada, or casual teacher, so I come in for a day and usually never see the same students again. I also have to do what the absent teacher asks of me, so implementing this myself is not going to happen in the near future. The only full time teaching job I’ve had is 4 years at a Japanese senior high school where the Japanese aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to incorporate any modern  (western?) pedagogy let alone let students control their own learning.

The edutechwiki on the topic of IBL (found at, last updated April, 2012) left me wondering if I just haven’t drunken the cool-aid yet. The site presents the Cyclic Inquiry Model with its 5 global steps: Ask, Investigate, Create, Discuss, and Reflect. For each step it uses the example of how the step would look with 4 to 5 years old and the topic of “rainbows”. The fault I find in it is the lack of description of how the students (remember they are 4 to 5 year olds) get the required information because in the examples the teacher is merely an overseer as the students work through the model. At no point in this model, it seems, is the teacher allowed to teach the students the science behind rainbows and how they appear in the skies.  It seems for a teacher to teach is taboo in this 21st century classroom and I’m afraid in saying that I am walking a plank alone. I wonder then how the students come to answer the questions they have formulated and how well they are able to relate a prism or Round Light Source mentioned to the sky above them. When do the students get the facts they don’t yet know to add to their prior knowledge base?

Perhaps another of my faults lie in that I am a high school teacher, with most experience in senior high school, so the cognitive abilities of 4 to 5 year olds is not my specialty. Am I underestimating 4 to 5 year olds?

Lets switch gears and look at Gillon & Stotter’s 2011 feature article on Inquiry learning with senior secondary students: yes it can be done! They showed how IBL can be done in senior history class. It seems each article I read on successful IBL projects, it is most often within the Humanities – are humanity subjects at an advantage when it comes to IBL? Although I am not wide read on the topic, I would like to read a successful Maths or LOTE (being a Japanese teacher myself) IBL project so I can better see how this approach can be school wide.

But back to the feature article by Gillon & Stotter. While there are still state wide tests, I worry about getting through the required amount of work if a PBL or IBL project is undertaken for each topic. In the article each group tackled a different aspect of Black Civil Rights in the USA 1954-1970, then “taught” the rest of the class the information they learned so collaboratively the whole class learnt all aspects of the topic. This, however, took a whole term and left me wondering how many topics must be covered in Year 11 to meet the external exam requirements? Is it really just 4? I am not a history teacher so perhaps it is only 4. But when I try to relate that to the amount of topics that must be covered in Year 11 Japanese in NSW I strongly wonder how I would pull it off.

Overall I like the idea of IBL and PBL, especially from a TL perspective, but at the moment I am just struggling with how it is implemented to make sure our students leave school at least knowing facts about the world we live in. This blog post isn’t meant to be a critical take-down of the ideas, but a mental brainstorm of my ideas on the topic at present, and hope that these ideas will change once I learn more about the topic or see it in practice successfully myself. I’m hoping this will be my ignorant post before the enlightenment. Until then, I’ll pretend I’ve drunken the cool-aid and hope that it will sink in soon that this is the future of education and I better drink up.

Reference List

Boss, S. & Krauss, J. (2007). Reinventing Project-based Learning. Retrieved August 16, 2012 from

Edutech Wiki (2012). Inquiry-based learning. Retrieved August 16, 2012 from

Gillon, K. & Stotter, J. (2011). Inquiry learning with senior secondary students: yes it can be done! In Access, 25(3). 14-19.


One thought on “Drink the cool-aid? Thoughts on IBL and PBL

  1. Pingback: ETL401 Assignment 2 Part B: Critical Reflection | A TL's Learning Journal

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