Inquiry Driven Education – It’s Fun and It Works!

When I was still a tiny tater of a tot growing up in the foothills of my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains, my teachers had no idea what to do with me. I was the cynical interrogator, the easily-distracted kid who stared out the window, the child that couldn’t figure out what he had done to deserve the anguish of a Four-White-Wall education. One teacher even kept her blinds tied down…


And the questions they asked me! “What is this?” “What is that?” “Why do you think this?” “What is the reciprocal denominator of the past participle of the mitochondria?”

Oh, I could spit out the answers – I had a brain for memorizing random facts. It’s just that, well, I didn’t care about the answers, so they never stuck.

What is the remainder when you carry the square root of the verb through the world’s largest continent of Cory-Please-Stop-Staring-Out-The-Window?”


What I needed wasn’t free access to the outdoors, but simply the opportunity to ask and answer my own questions – to learn science by doing science.  Sure, there had to be limits, otherwise I would only have learned about Orangutans and Venus Fly Traps, but there also had to be a happy medium between chaos and those Four-White-Walls. For me, and for many other educators, that happy medium is found in inquiry-driven education.

Inquiry-driven education (let’s call it IDE) is a big, old concept – one that can’t fairly be covered in a single blog entry. The main idea is that in IDE, the learner asks his or her own questions about a topic, and then designs an experiment to help answer those questions. In doing so, the learner becomes invested in the process to find the answer, and hence, more willing to learn and retain the answer. Further, the answer typically invokes more questions. In fact, the answer is not as important as the process students use to find it. Certainly inquiry isn’t appropriate for every lesson, but isn’t it worth the effort to figure out ways of incorporating inquiry into those lessons for which it is appropriate?

There is substantial literature that attests to the power of IDE (I could go on and on), but in the eyes of this former Four-White-Walls student, IDE is powerful stuff. Because of the power of IDE to lead young children into becoming creative, self-driven thinkers, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and Project Dragonfly at Miami University have partnered to bring educators across the Tri-State the opportunity to learn more about IDE while earning graduate credit or even a Master’s Degree from Miami University. Yes, you read that correctly – you can get your Master’s Degree at the Zoo!

The Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) is a one-of-a-kind Master’s program devoted to Inquiry-driven education and positive social change. AIP graduate students become experts in IDE and learn exciting content in Zoology, Plant Ecology, and Conservation, among other topics. Through your work here at the Zoo and in on-line learning communities, you will become an expert in IDE, earn your Master’s Degree, and bring positive social change to the Tri-State and Zoo Community. It’s a win-win for you and the Zoo,  and you get to work with Yours Truly, which – I assure you – is a treat. As an AIP Master’s student, The Zoo is your campus!

For those interested in Professional Development opportunities without entering a formal graduate degree program, we also offer Zoo Expeditions, a set of weekend courses focusing on either Plants & People, Primate Behavior & Conservation, or Habitats, Adaptations, & Evolution. These courses provide you with amazing thematic content, experience using Inquiry, and graduate credit from Miami University. Previous students in the Plants & People and Primate Behavior course have become true representatives in Inquiry-driven education in their schools.

Please surf around on the Zoo’s AIP website, and feel free to contact me with questions – all my information is on the website. Applications for AIP are due by February 28, so hurry, the chairs are filling fast! For more information about other Professional Development opportunities, check out the Project Dragonfly website and tell ‘em that Cory sent ya.

Cory Christopher is Manager of Graduate Programs in the Education Department and a new contributor to the Zoo’s blog.