Curiosity is the key to learning.
I believe that inquiry-based learning is about curiosity. By definition, the theory of inquiry-based learning is that knowledge is gained or discovered by exploration and reflection. IBL involves students in their own learning. The process starts by posing questions, problems or scenarios. I have personally experienced the power of IBL over the past 5 months, culminating in a mere 3.5 day trip to La Habana, Cuba.
I have been a culture-hound since 1987, when I traveled and lived in Italy as an exchange student. I learned Italian the hard way, by living in a household where not a word of English was spoken. I learned the language by the books (grammar) and with my heart (boyfriend) and began a lifelong quest for culture from that point on. Fast forward three decades, through dozens of subsequent trips to Spanish-speaking countries, hosting a Colombian exchange student for a year, and sending my daughters across continents in a quest to learn language and appreciate culture. That’s the short story.
My literature of choice are autobiographies. Over the past decade, I have read dozens of books by survivors of the Holocaust, and regimes in Cambodia and North Korea. I’m not exactly sure why I am drawn to such depressing subject matter, but the pattern is consistent with wanting to glean an appreciation for the human condition and read personal stories that must be told.
Last July, I leapt at the opportunity to visit Cuba on a “cultural, historical and educational” Visa (a condition imposed on visitors from the USA). Motivated by curiosity and a million questions, I read four books on Cuba ( three personal accounts and one tour book) and watched a multitude of video documentaries to familiarize myself with the political and social history of a Caribbean island that has been ruled by a dictator for 57 years. The tour organizers gave a further reading list, and I delved even deeper, spurred by my own curiosity to learn and assimilate. This was inquiry-based learning at its best.
The trip to Cuba took place last week, Nov. 3-6, 2016. My most interesting connections came from speaking with Cuban emigres in Little Havana, Miami (who are VERY opposed to the Cuban government, having escaped with their lives alone) and from deep philosophical discussions with my two Cuban tour guides, who have been indoctrinated in the Communist system and pointed out that I was indoctrinated in ‘Democracy’, too.
My personal reflection is that this trip to Cuba was profound on a political and social level. I have gained insight and perspective to a culture and political system that I could never have forged from books and videos alone. Literally placing myself in that environment solidified all the learning and inquiry I had delved into through my personal inquiry.
Next on the agenda is to share my photos and my personal story with the 450 students and staff at my school. The questions and discussion will be beckoning the next students towards a personal inquiry of their own somewhere in the world.
Above. A classroom of 7 year olds in Old Havana, Cuba. Below, the workers at the bodega where Cuban bring their ration cards for monthly rations of rice, sugar, eggs and meat.