Foundations of Education


Links to an online reading which advocates for the 'education for inquiry learning' philosophy.

Graded Tasks

  • prepare for your seminar this week

Reading: Education for Inquiry Learning

Read and reflect on the "What the Heck Is Inquiry-Based Learning?" article that is published by Edutopia, one of the leading professional development websites for teachers in North America.

The Rise of the Problematic Situation

CREDIT: The text below is adapted from: Hutchison, David. (2014). Project-Based Learning: A Project Management Approach. St. Catharines, Ontario:, pp. 18 - 20.
The above reading opens with the following paragraph:

"Inquiry-based learning is more than asking a student what he or she wants to know. It’s about triggering curiosity. And activating a student’s curiosity is, I would argue, a far more important and complex goal than mere information delivery."

The philosopher John Dewey wrote about the importance of "activating a student's curiosity," to quote from the above reading.

Dewey posited the notion of the rise of the problematic situation as a change in the social context of learning which triggers in students the need for new learning (Dewey, 1916). A problematic situation is marked by a disequilibrium between a phenomenon that occurs in a learner's perceptual field and the learner's normal response to the same or similar phenomena, which is no longer perceived by the learner to be adequate. This disequilibrium is resolved through a process of inquiry in which the phenomenon that triggered the disequilibrium is studied and new understandings are formed.

Consider the example of a group of high school students who conduct a local community study that reveals grave disparities in the upkeep and safety conditions of public playgrounds in wealthy as compared to impoverished areas of the city. The students are surprised and alarmed by what they have discovered, which is inconsistent with their previous assumption that all public playgrounds throughout the city receive the same levels of attention and care. The students are intent on initiating a project that highlights the disparities they have uncovered. They utilize geographic information system (GIS) software to map the disparities between the upkeep and safety conditions of playgrounds throughout the city. They then present their findings to city officials.

In the above scenario, the local community study has given rise to a problematic situation, a disequilibrium that needs to be resolved in the eyes of the students. The conditions of the public playgrounds in the impoverished areas of the city are incongruent with their moral belief that public playgrounds should be treated with the same care regardless of location. The students feel compelled to better understand the issue and highlight it to others which propels them to initiate a project with these goals…

…Problematic situations that have their origins in social phenomena often arise within the context of the local community, the real-world social contexts in which students live and most likely identify with, perhaps through a story in the local media that piques their interest. However, problematic situations can also have scientific origins; for example, the need to explain a scientific phenomena under study or the need to develop a new technology to solve a pressing problem.

Whether they have social or scientific origins, problematic situations have the potential to drive student learning throughout the entire project lifecycle because students feel compelled to resolve the disequilibrium that challenges their thinking.

In this regard, instructors play a critical role in establishing the conditions for meaningful learning by planning learning experiences for students that thrust their attention outwards, exposing them to new social and scientific learning contexts, some of which may challenge their thinking in ways that propel learning forwards and open up new possibilities for project-based learning.


Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. New York: Macmillan.
📌 The community study project that is described above is a good example of an educational experience which bridges two educational philosophies: inquiry learning and social change.

Reading Analysis

In preparation for your seminar this week, write out an answer to the following question. Your TA may call on you to share your answer in the seminar:
Q22.3: Summarize a personal educatioal experience in which a teacher triggered your curiosity about a topic under study which then led to a meaningful learning experience. (Answer Length: 100 - 125 words | Format: Sentences)
Potential Seminar Question