Inquiry-based projects are the main educational approach to PYP. Transdisciplinary education entails the application of multiple subjects to broaden and amplify the learning and understanding. For example, if the lesson is about “volcanoes”, it may be explored by the point of view of Geography, Geology, History, Math, Physics, Chemistry, Technology, Peoples and their Cultures, Spelling of Exotic Vocabulary, and even, How Natural Occurrences Caused Human Migrations Through The Times, in a way that different topics are interconnected, expanded, and lead to new ideas. Usually, “Volcanoes of South America” are a fun topic, and students enjoy very much learning about them. They get enthusiastic after learning Chile has about 200 craters, around 90 of them still active. Discussion sizzles when we find out that Easter Island belongs to Chile and scores 6 volcanoes in that explosive Chilean list. Then, a kid decides to map search for this “mystery island.” After a flaming race for the magnifying lens, they spot a “tiny mount of lava” far, far away from Chilean shores nicknamed “the world´s belly button”, and the reason is that the island stands as the equidistant point on the Pacific Ocean. But... what does “equidistant” mean, by the way?... Now, the atmosphere becomes volatile by curiosity and anticipation to learn more about the island´s Moai statues, their mysterious builders. “Maybe they got lost in the immense ocean?” someone ponders while a heated debate arises. Their inflamed inquiries transport them (their imagination along) to the distant Polynesian Archipelago, where they might discover other peoples and cultures all linked to Easter Island. Who could tell our learning adventures would take us so far? “What shall we do now?”, the group considers. Their inquiry-based project about volcanoes of South America took them away on an unexpected journey into the unknown. “Let´s start a project on Polynesian Ethnicities and their cultures!”, everybody shouts in agreement. Where will this new project take us? We shall see.
STEM disciplines (Sciences, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) are popular when it comes to planning inquiry-based projects. Nonetheless, almost all subjects allow creating connections, as the example above demonstrates. Inquiry-based projects are based on a transdisciplinary theme. They contain a central idea, which is an assertive statement. Topics are explored through one or multiple lines of inquiry driven by students’ interest and curiosity, and mediated by a mentor who will lead the group to the understanding of key concepts, such as responsibility, citizenship, values and beliefs, and so on. These concepts provide an important framework for the ideas and issues we explore with our students. The main idea of an inquiry-based project is to offer the chance to learn through a collective experience of doing-creating-building, of exploring-investigating, of how to manage time and activities, how to distribute tasks effectively, sharing information, being responsible for production-presentation of researched material. The follow up phase provides for critically thinking about the outcome. This newly acquired knowledge will be connected to other thoughts and ideas, and so on.
There is far greater benefit if students are learning about what is timely for them, see relevance and meaning in what they do and the practical application of their efforts in real life situations. It’s vital they see and value learning as a dynamic process where they are constantly making connections and moving on to the next step. If students are challenged by the next step and empowered to set realistic goals, they will continue to move on with greater enthusiasm.