What does Inquiry-Based Learning Look Like @ AVS?


Constructivism is based on the belief that people learn by constructing their own understanding and knowledge of the world through experiences, observation, and reflection of those moments. In other words, learning derives from the interaction between a person’s mental model and their own experiences. When encountering something new, previous knowledge interfaces with the new perspectives, which then expands one's mental model.

The Lower School provides our students with key academic experiences that are revisited annually at each grade in various contexts (e.g., current events, research projects, science fairs, and Rube Goldberg machines), in a spiral-like formation so that essential competencies such as critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and clear communication are sharpened over time. This enables the students to revisit and potentially revise their mental models while deepening their mastery of specific skills. For example, for current events in kindergarten, a student chooses a research topic, reads one article from a reputable source on that topic, teaches their classmates on that topic, and then asks peers for questions and compliments. By fourth grade, a student chooses a current events topic, is given a rubric to prepare for the presentation, which involves the use of a slideshow, limited notes to read from, and accurate facts to demonstrate research from at least two reliable sources of information. The fourth grader's presentation is monitored for clarity in speech, length, and body language. The student's peers give feedback on readiness, quality of information, and presentation skills.In classrooms, students are encouraged to ask questions, explore, and repeatedly reflect on what they know and what they have yet to learn. Idea sharing and incorporating multiple perspectives are highly encouraged so that students broaden their mental models and world views.

There are many levels of inquiry-based learning, as illustrated in the image above. As we dive deeper into inquiry-based learning, we release more and more of the responsibility of learning to the students. Deep dive inquiry is defined as guiding students to generate their own questions about specific topics, create investigations, and share and discuss their findings to develop/deepen knowledge and spark the next cycle of learning.

Controlled Inquiry

In the research projects conducted in second through fourth grade, students are given a general topic, such as national parks, but the students choose a specific area of focus within that topic. Then the students develop questions with teachers' assistance and research answers within the resources curated by the educators.

Guided Inquiry

Engineering challenges are posed where teachers choose a problem and students explore materials and ways of using them to discover a variety of solutions.

Free Inquiry

Towards the end of book clubs, students come up with a theory or statement about a character and then choose how to present their theory/statement and the supporting evidence. Along the way, students are encouraged to follow questions that come up as they read. These self-generated questions lead to independent projects.

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Lower School Campus:

450 Somerset Street | San Francisco, CA 94134 | ​Tel: 415-467-3700 

Middle School Campus:

2558 Mission Street | San Francisco, CA 94110 | Tel: 415-510-8492