The Benefits of Inquiry-Based Learning & Cross-Curricular Teaching

Last year, YCMHS was one of just three high schools in the province chosen to provide a pilot program, called the Technology Advantage Program (TAP). TAP supports students in developing the competencies and skills needed to succeed in school and to pursue a career in the technology sector. While technology related innovation is at the core of the program, Cailen Langille, who develops and supports the TAP curriculum for TCRCE, says there has been another unexpected innovative outcome, related directly to learning strategies and techniques.

“Last year, we started trying to teach through inquiry-based instruction and moving that through all of the TAP cohort’s curriculum,” says Langille. “We are still meeting all the necessary outcomes, we are just approaching it in a different way.”

What is inquiry-based learning?

Inquiry-based learning is a teaching approach that focuses on students’ interests. It’s about posing questions and letting students steer the learning based on their own discoveries. This learning method is quite different than what most adults today might remember – it’s not about memorizing facts and listening to lectures.

How does inquiry-based learning work in TAP?

Last year, the TAP program started with inquiry-based learning in Math. By creating images using vector graphic designs, the cohort designed a logo to represent their class. Then, they morphed their Math work into Language Arts by presenting their ideas. The result? Cross-curricular teaching.

“The student engagement was so successful, I thought, what can we do around science nine outcomes?” explains Langille.  “We looked at our local connections to oceans and fishing and I posed the question to the class – how safe is our water?”

That question was the jumping off point for work in all of their other courses, says Langille.

“We started with little stations around the class and then students had to come up with their own ideas and questions. I didn’t ask the questions because mine would have been totally different than theirs,” explains Langille. “We came back and discovered what their interests were. I would have guessed there would have been an interest in the chemistry side, however, their questions focused on health and safety.”

Langille says because the students drove this project, their engagement was through the roof. “The buy in was there, we had them.”

Students then worked on their Language Arts outcomes, as they created presentations on this project. The students were asked to present their ideas at a Yarmouth Town Council meeting. Council was so impressed, they asked the students to think about solutions around recycling and composting in the town. This topic became the focus for their second semester.

“On the surface it was science based,” says Langille. “But then we incorporated this project into all their other courses, all while attempting to solve a real problem for our town.”

The benefit of inquiry-based learning and cross-curricular teaching goes beyond the students and extends to the teachers as well. Because the intent of this learning method is for the topic to transcend all classes, all the teachers involved must work in tandem to achieve success. Langille says teacher support has been incredible and many teachers are taking this technique and applying it in their other classes.

“It was a rewarding idea for teachers,” says Langille. “When students drive the learning, their engagement level increases significantly, resulting in better outcomes all around.”