Inquiry-Based Learning

Key Terms

The BEST Teacher Grant Program seeks proposals for inquiry-based learning experiences. We also welcome proposals that adopt principles of Project-Based Learning (PBL) and/or Place-Based Education (PBE). Here are our definitions for these terms:

Inquiry-based Learning is a form of learning that starts with the development and exploration of questions, problems or scenarios—rather than simply delivering information or facts. Inquiry learning involves students in investigations, research, phenomena-based or problem based learning experiences in which they construct knowledge. It is often facilitated with a teacher helping to guide the inquiry process. While more time consuming, research suggests that inquiry-based learning in all major content areas results in deeper student learning of conceptual knowledge. Also known as problem-based teaching or simply as ‘inquiry,’ this approach puts students’ questions at the center of the curriculum, and places just as much value on the component skills of research as it does on knowledge and understanding of content. Inquiry based instruction is a broader term that encompasses PBL.

Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method where students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge. When the BEST Teacher Grant team uses the term "Project-Based Learning", it is in reference to PBL as defined by PBL can be challenging to implement and learn unless in a school that has fully committed to PBL. At these schools, teachers are given the time, support, schedule, and training they need to actually take up PBL.

Place-Based Education (PBE) is an educational approach that uses all aspects of the local environment, including local cultural, historical, and sociopolitical situations and the natural and built environment, as the integrating context for learning. In its most developed forms, it includes a clear focus on learning through civic engagement and participation in service projects of obvious relevance to the local school and community.

Inquiry-Based Learning

Multiple models have been developed to describe Inquiry-based learning. We invite you to view this presentation to learn more about some of these models.

inquiry models

Project-Based Learning

As defined by, Project-Based Learning includes seven essential project design elements and seven project-based teaching practices. Of these seven essential design elements, the BEST Teacher Grant rubric specifies three: (1) Challenging Problem, (2) Sustained Inquiry, and (3) Public Product. See the rubric for more information.

As you develop, design, and draft your grant application reflect on how your project address the following project design elements:

  • Challenging Problem: The project is framed by a meaningful problem to be solved or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge.

  • Sustained Inquiry: Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of posing questions, finding resources, and applying information.

  • Authenticity: The project involves real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards, or impact, or the project speaks to personal concerns, interests, and issues in the students’ lives.

  • Student Voice & Choice: Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create.

  • Reflection: Students and teachers reflect on the learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, and obstacles that arise and strategies for overcoming them.

  • Critique & Revision: Students give, receive, and apply feedback to improve their process and products.

  • Public Product: Students make their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to audiences beyond the classroom.

Project-Based Learning in Action

The Water Quality Project features teacher Rayhan Ahmed at Leaders High School in Brooklyn, NY, with his 11th grade chemistry class.

The Taking care of our Environment Project features Sara Lev of Citizens of the World Charter School, in Los Angeles, CA, with her kindergarten class.

In 2020, the BEST Teacher Grant team developed a series of virtual professional development sessions on Project-Based Learning for BEST Grantees. You can access recordings of these series below.

Place-Based Education

In a Place-Based Education approach, land managers, civic leaders, teachers, and students enter into long-term partnerships that direct learning activity to local places, resources and circumstances, enhancing student understanding of and attachment to local natural and cultural resources and public lands. Participation in these projects has a lasting impact on students, leading to a culture of volunteerism and stewardship, and building real solutions to local problems.

In the Fall of 2020, the BEST Teacher Grant team hosted a Webinar on Place-Based Education. Access a recording of the webinar here and Padlet containing project ideas here.