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All Places > Explore > Parents as Partners > Primary Learners (Gr. 1-3) Curriculum Supports > Blog > 2015 > July

inquiry_based_learning_644x362.jpgTraditionally, classrooms in Ontario have followed the rote learning model, which is a technique based on repetition and memorization.


But recently, those classrooms are disappearing in favour of a more collaborative space, in which teachers are facilitators using a technique called inquiry-based teaching.


“Inquiry-based teaching is an approach to instruction that begins with exploring curriculum content and providing a framework for the students to ask their own questions which builds interest and curiosity,” says Louise Robitaille, an elementary teacher in Midland.


Encouraging students to be active learners, posing their own questions and problems and following through on those, rather than passive learners simply receiving information is believed to create greater student engagement and, in turn, create greater student achievement.


Inquiry-based learning is not a new idea. It is a teaching method born in the 1960s out of a response to the more traditional forms of teaching. It has steadily gained traction since then.


Ontario has adopted it as a way to reach learners that have traditionally fallen through the cracks of the rote learning model.


What does an inquiry-based classroom look like?

file5441262570484.jpgThe teacher is no longer the “sage on the stage” expounding knowledge for students to memorize. The inquiry-based approach encourages more "student voice and choice" in the learning. This isn’t to say that there is no role for rote learning, but rote learning cannot stand on its own.


“There is a minor role for rote learning in the classroom (as) certain skills require long term acquisition,” says Robitaille. “However, the focus should always be on expanding knowledge and skills and not on memorization. For example, memorizing history dates without learning the importance of the events is ineffective.”


In an inquiry-based classroom, a teacher will work with all of the learning styles found in his or her own classroom and design activities that students can collaborate on in small groups.


However, students may think in ways that are limited to their own experiences, and it is the teacher’s job to help kids notice what they might have missed. Teachers also build on spontaneous questions to allow for further thought and questions.


For example, if the classroom is discussing the life of the class goldfish, a child might ask: “If we take out all the plants, will the fish get sick?”


Instead of answering a question like that with a yes or no, the teacher may ask: “What do people think? It might help to first think about what sorts of roles plants carry out? Why are plants in the aquarium important?” These questions would lead students to learn more about aquatic life.


What can parents do at home?

iStock_000014262979Small.jpgRobitaille, with the help of Grade 4/5 teacher Pete Douglas, offers these tips:

  • Ask about what your child is learning in class.
  • Support and encourage interest and curiosity by following up with activities at home.
  • Encourage and practice good communication skills such as starting conversations and debates about current events.
  • Help your kids develop research skills online and from text.
  • Enjoy building projects together in the home.


For more information on inquiry-based learning:
  • Check out the Ontario Ministry of Education's resources.
  • Louise Robitaille runs a fantastic site on inquiry-based learning, showing examples of activities in the classroom, and useful tips. You can also follow her on Twitter @robitaille2011
iStock_000000931729Small.jpgTips for parents to help their kids build learning skills at home


Academic success is linked closely to the role a parent plays at home. Before homework frustrations set in, remember that it's a tool to review, consolidate, extend work done in class. In some cases, parents may not know how to help kids to build learning skills at home. You're not alone. Here are some tips:


  • Help your kids manage their after-school time. Keep a weekly schedule and fill it with regularly scheduled items like soccer practice, ballet rehearsal, dinner and bed time. Then, make appointments for homework. Does your schedule include enough relaxation and downtime? Post the schedule on your fridge or bulliten board where everybody in your home can see it.
  • Keep distractions to a minimum and help your kids keep focused by creating a homework haven that suits their needs.Make sure your kid is ready to learn. A good night's sleep is important.
  • Ensure they are well-nourished and hydrated. Breakfast is key in the morning. Drink lots of water throughout the day.
  • Show interest. Talk to your kids. From time to ask: "How are things at school?" "How did the math test go? The history report?" "Do you need help?" Pay attention for any signs of struggle. And arrange help when necessary.
  • Pay attention to report cards or letters from the teacher or principal. Also, listen to your kid's cues like, "He’s an awful teacher." Or "She goes too fast." But be cautious about contacting teachers without your kid’s approval or interest.
  • Read for pleasure. Your kids will learn by example.
  • Congratulate them when they work hard and celebrate learning. Encourage them to finish homework and to hand in assignments on time.
  • When either you or your child starts to feel overwhelmed, let’s keep in mind that their happiness shouldn't be completely dependent on academic success. Parents can build self-worth and confidence in other areas of their kid's life.


Research has shown that parent involvement in their kids' education has a significant, positive impact on their academic and developmental goals.


But parent involvement does not mean standing over your kids while they do math problems or write a book report - supervising homework has not been shown to have a positive effect.


That’s according to Carl Corter, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, who has researched parent involvement. “A major research review showed parents’ involvement in children’s homework had ‘negligible to non-existent’ effects,” he says. So policing due dates of assignments, editing class submissions and 'helping' your child with the origami project really don't help.


So what can parents do to help their kids be successful in school?


What Matters Most

Studies have shown positive impacts on student achievement with the following kinds of parent involvement:

  1. Having high expectations for your children (this has the most significant impact);
  2. Talking with your kids about school;
  3. Helping to develop positive attitudes and work habits;
  4. Reading to and with your kids.



“When parents communicate that they expect their children to succeed, children and youth do better (in school),” Corter says.


  • Let your kids know that you think it's important that they do well in school;
  • Tell your kids you believe in their potential;
  • Encourage them in their dreams.


For very young children, Janette Pelletier a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, says parents should remember that even little kids are competent and able to consider ideas and share opinions.


"Children have a natural curiosity that can and should be nurtured," she says. "Expose your child to (a range of new experiences) then ask your child about those experiences, bringing in new vocabulary here and there." Expect more of your younger child by broadening his or her horizons, she says.


Talking About School

Talking to your child about what happened at school has a greater impact on academic achievement than being home for your kids after school or limiting the time they spend watching TV.


Meanwhile, according to the EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) student survey (2012/2013), only 53 percent of Grade 3 and Grade 6 students in Ontario reported that they talk to their parents about their school activities every day or almost every day.


Asking your child to tell you about his or her day is a good place to start, says Pelletier. "(Asking your child) what happened next, etc. helps children to reflect on their day and to organize their thoughts sequentially. It also gives parents a sense of how the day unfolds for their child."


Ask kids:

  • What was your favourite part of the day?
  • What good things happened today?
  • Did anything upsetting happen?
  • Can you show me what you're working on in school?


Hoemwork_644x362.jpgDeveloping Positive Attitudes/Work Habits

“Parents’ critical influence on school success is found in how they shape their children’s attitudes, sense of personal competence and work habits,” and not through ‘teaching’ their kids, Corter says.


The goal is to help children become increasingly independent and able to plan and be responsible for their own homework, says Pelletier. "But this requires gentle encouragement and modelling of good work habits," she says. "Parents can talk to children about their own responsibilities and how they plan to meet them. (For instance, tell them) 'I have a meeting tomorrow at work and I need to do some reading for that. Why don't you do your schoolwork while I do mine?'"


Reading With Your Child

Only  28 percent of Ontario Grade 3 students reported they read with a parent or guardian everyday, according to the EQAO (2013). Another 21 percent say they never read with their parents and 25 percent say they only read together once or twice a month.


Meanwhile, an OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) study based on teenagers in 14 developed countries found reading to kids early in their lives was a significant trigger for developing children's reading skills that would carry through until they were teenagers. On average, teens who had been read to when they were young were six months ahead in reading levels at age 15.


Parents can read in any language and don't have to be particularly well-educated themselves for the impact to be achieved, the study says.

What was important was that parents read books regularly (several times a week) and that they talked about what they were reading together.


Involvement At School

Parents who volunteer for school trips and committees also have a positive impact on their kids’ education, Corter says.


But this kind of involvement does not have as much impact as the "what matters most" tips above: having high expectations, talking about school, developing positive attitudes and work habits, and reading to and with your kids.

Welcome to Five Minute Science where we offer up cool science experiments you and your kids can do together using everyday household items, in about five minutes!


This week you get to separate oil from water and learn some science too, from the experts at Let's Talk Science.



To show how oil and water don’t mix.


Be sure to ask your child what he or she thinks might happen before you do the experiment – what result is expected when you pour cooking oil into a glass of coloured water?





The Experiment


Oil and Water Before_644X362-450x253.jpg

  1. Cooking Oil
  2. Water
  3. Food colouring
  4. A clear glass
  5. A spoon


  1. Fill the clear glass about half full of water.
  2. Add food colouring to water and stir using the spoon.
  3. Slowly pour cooking oil into the glass with water.



Explaining the Science:

What happened when you poured cooking oil into the glass of coloured water? Did you see the oil rise to the top of the glass, forming its own layer? Why do you think that happened?


The scientific explanation is that oil and water are liquids that don’t mix due to their molecular structure. Water molecules are attracted to each other, while oil molecules are attracted to each other. Water molecules are not attracted to oil molecules and oil molecules are not attracted to water molecules, so when the cooking oil is poured into a glass of water, the oil and water molecules separate from each other.


But why does the oil float to the top, instead of the water? That's because the cooking oil has a lower density than the water, in other words it's lighter, so it floats to the top. This is the same reason why a blow-up toy floats in a pool – the air in the toy is less dense than the water.


Curriculum Connection:

This experiment is simple, safe and appropriate for any age. In the Ontario Science and Technology curriculum, Properties of Liquids and Solids is taught in grade 2.


Extra Credit!
  • What happens when you add other liquids like vinegar or carbonated water to the oil and water? Do they mix, float on top, or sink to the bottom? Why?
  • What happens when you add food colouring to the cooking oil first, and then add water? Why?