• The Core Collaborative

Inquiry in the Digital Classroom

by Lori Cook, TCC Partner Consultant


We have learned much from our months of teaching and learning from home; what’s important when it comes to learning and what is not effective. Students, parents and teachers all share that mindless busy work is not working for anyone.


The last thing students want to do is a digital worksheet.



Inquiry Empowers ALL Learners


Inquiry within the virtual classroom is just as necessary as it is within the physical classroom. Building strong learners involves asking students to wonder, question, hypothesize, consider different perspectives, create, and engage authentically in the world around them. Through this process students develop relevance for why the concept and/or skill is necessary in their world.


Inquiry is a way to practice the skills and dispositions of a learner, regardless of the subject.

In addition, to making sense of new concepts, we must provide opportunities for students to wrestle with problems, make mistakes, revise their thinking, create meaning within contextual situations, and ultimately co-construct success criteria. In other words, we must provide students opportunities to use the behaviors of Empowered Learners which are known as the Standards for Mathematical Practice, The Mathematical Process Standards and the Science and Engineering Practices. 


The Teacher’s Role in Inquiry


When considering how we wish students to engage in inquiry, we must consider what good learners do, and how we shift thinking from teacher-driven to student-driven learning. In other words, teachers craft the experience, activate learning, establish clear learning expectations, and allow students to explore, question, construct understanding, try strategies, collect data, and share new learning. 


This process puts students in the driver’s seat, but is far from a free-for-all. Teachers are there to push students deeper with their thinking, ask thought-provoking questions and facilitate discussions between the students.

Structure is always important within the classroom, but is essential within inquiry learning. Students need to know there is a process or protocol that they can rely on.

Choosing a protocol and explaining the different parts, provides clarity and allows students to relax and explore. Informing students about what should occur within each section is key. There is safety in knowing struggle is expected, collaboration will occur and new learnings will be summarized with the class.



Consider co-constructing what success will look like so students can self-regulate their behaviors. Several great structures/protocols for inquiry are:


The Student’s Role in Inquiry 


Students may need to be invited to the inquiry process and into their role as learners.  They must understand that the goal of learning is not just to get the answer, finish the task, or get the grade; their role is to investigate, explore, and share their discoveries. 


For example, in mathematics students may consider the following questions:  

  • What math operations were used?

  • What patterns are observed?

  • What makes sense?

  • What are the steps taken for success?

  • What could success criteria be for this type of problem?

  • What questions do they have of the mathematicians' work?

  • Where do they need more clarification or need to learn more? 

After an inquiry experience, learners come to the next class or small group meeting prepared to share their experience, discuss strategies or hypotheses that worked and didn’t, and develop success criteria as a group. In this conversation, students could also raise questions they have and what they need to learn more about. 

Since students engaged in inquiry, thought through their learning experience, and have seen models of other’s work, they have enough experience to develop or refine the success criteria. The focus of the process is sense-making and developing conceptual understanding.


After the inquiry and the co-construction of success criteria, students will need deliberate practice using the criteria to develop a deep understanding of the concept and/or skill.  Deliberate practice is attached to a goal and allows students to engage in rich tasks and continue to develop their understanding of the concept. This is the perfect place for the student voice and choice that are built into learning menus.


The Parent/Caregiver’s Role in Inquiry


Parents and caregivers will need extra guidance with the idea that learning is a process done through inquiry and is not focused on “answer-getting” and “getting” it in the fastest way possible. Many parents and caregivers may have had a very different school experience and did not learn conceptually nor through problem-solving, so communication and modeling what it looks like for them will be just as important as it is with the students. 


For this reason, recording important learning sessions when teaching students will be important as well as creating a video message to parents and caregivers about the benefits of inquiry. The videos can be linked to the virtual classroom page or even embedded within each task.  


Inquiry in the Modern Digital World


Learning is relational. It does not matter if it is in person or digital. Now more than ever we must take the time to connect with our students and encourage them through struggles, whether physically, emotionally, or educationally. We must remind them that Empowered Learners are students who:

  • Develop the belief that they have the ability to learn

  • Expect that mistakes are a part of learning

  • Regulate their learning

  • Take on Challenges and engage in INQUIRY

How will you create authentic inquiry for your students whether in the virtual classroom or physical environment? What next steps do you need to put in place to create a learning environment of exploration?

As a partner consultant with The Core Collaborative, Lori specializes in helping teachers create student-centered math environments. Her passion is partnering with educators to empower ALL students to become problem-solvers who persevere and explore math to make sense of it. Utilizing Impact Teams™, EmpowerED Assessment™ and EmpowerED Curriculum Design™, Lori supports K-12 teachers and administrators across the country to develop clarity of the standards, as well as develop best instructional practices that foster student ownership of learning.





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