Inquiry Process through Problem Finding


I found this quote a few days ago on Twitter and it got me connecting to David Perkins’ book about learning by wholes. I am still not moving forward from chapter 1.  I revisited the pages and kept on questioning what I read and making connections to my learning journey.

My Post (4)
Source: Making Learning Whole. David Perkins pg.8.

‘Playing the whole game’ is the first principle in learning by wholes.  From this chapter, I learned that playing the whole game is some kind of inquiry. Hmmm..some kind (it made me smile when I read this line.  I still need some time to visualize it in my head though).  So, as I started reading the first few pages from this chapter, I directly made a connection to when real learning happens (to me and my students).

Has real learning happened to me (and my students)? Of course. Try to go down the list and I could tick some (not all yet but that means I am not at the end of the road….yet).  One thing that Tanmay Vora on the list is that learning happens when you ask more questions to get to the WHY of things (and then to what and how). Uh hu!  One can ask a question when some thinking is taking place, tickling the curiosity and is verbalized into a question. Now, why is asking a question is a crucial point?

“…The question is where learning begins…”

(Trevor MacKenzie)

“….Inquiry extends students’ learning when the exploration of initial curiosity generates new questions and wonderings….”

(PYP: From Principles into Practice. Learning and Teaching. Inquiry in the PYP pg. 40) 

I have been teaching for a while (I don’t dare to say ‘for a long time’ because there are many people out there who have more experienced than me) and I am glad that I am always willing to unlearn and relearn what I have already done.  I have taught fourth-grade years ago and this year, I am back dealing with pre-teenagers class.  I thought, ‘Well…teaching math has been always fun.  Lots of manipulatives, games and hands-on activities can be applied!’ (in the last 7 years, I had been in the lower primary).  But wait…this is fourth-grade, what am I supposed to do?

When I wanted to teach about decimal to the fourth graders, my question would be starting with the ‘how’.  I know the ‘why’ (as there is a conceptual understanding written on something we call ‘curriculum’) but the ‘how’ was also a crucial point.  My thought was taken many years ago when I learned decimals.  Textbooks, workbooks, homework and practice, practice, practice…..and ended with an exam.  Did I understand exactly why I need to understand and learn it? Not really.  Why?  Cause I was never asked. There were around 40 kids in

So, I do not want my ‘kids’ (read: the learners in my class) experienced the same thing that happened to meLearning is not a one-way street.  It supposed to be multi-direction streets which provide learners with many opportunities to explore.

Asking myself ‘How can I help the students to meaningfully learn about decimals? ‘ was actually the first step of how my inquiry into teaching decimal journey begins.  Thinking and asking the ‘how’ was actually me finding the ‘problem’.  I continued developing more questions (which would be another problem finding) – How should the students learn decimals if many of them of different ability and knowledge? How do I, as a teacher, cater to this need? …..and more and more questions appeared.  Could one wish that teaching decimals would be as simple as how I was taught in many years ago?  I would not wish for that.

My Post (3)
Source: David Perkins. Making Learning Wholes pg. 25-26.

Digging into David Perkins’ book made me realize that many of us may tend to focus on solving the problem instead of finding the problem.  Solving the problem requires finding the problem itself at the first place cause otherwise, we would have gone around and around without solutions. Every day, we would find problems. But that does not mean we can solve them all.  Some may be easy to solve, some may need some exploration until we can get to the core.  The problems get us thinking and tickle the curiosity cell in our brain.  This keeps us questioning and learning.  That’s life, isn’t it? Try to see it this way.  If I plan for my holiday and thinking of a place that will make me exciting,  a simple question like ‘Where should I spend my summer?‘ is enough to start a big conversation in my head. Then, more questions will appear such as ‘What about Greece? Why should I go there? What would I do? How can I have an exciting summer break in Greece? etc.‘  You see….lots to think about.

Now, put on my ‘teacher’ cap. If I plan to teach the kids about decimals, the initial question is ‘How can I support the kids who have the diverse ability and knowledge background to learn XYZ?‘ Then, more questions followed would be – ‘How do I plan a learning experience that allows me to incoporate the individual learning styles? How do I involve the students in their learning process? How do I assess if they know what they learn? Which technology can I use to support the learning process? etc.

It all starts with a question. When a question pops in our head, we find a problem. A problem does not have to be huge.  It could be a simple problem like ‘I am hungry, where can I buy the most delicious ramen in this city?’ would keep your thinking going.  You will then make an effort to find the solutions by going through a process of exploration.

Earlier, I mentioned that I learned from the book that playing the whole game is some kind of inquiry.  Well….it is, isn’t it?

In settings of learning, a whole game is generally some kind of inquiry …….

It involves problem solving, explanation, argument, evidence, strategy, skill, craft.

It’s never just about the content.  Learners are tying to get better at doing something.

It’s never just routine.  It requires thinking with what you know and pushing further.

It’s never just problem solving.  It involves problem finding.

It’s not just about right answers.  It involves explanation and justification.

It’s not emotionally flat.  It involves curiosity, discovers, creativity, camaraderie.

It’s not in a vaccuum. It involves the methods, purposes, and forms of one or more disciplines or other areas, situated in a social context.

(David Perkins. Making Learning Wholes pg. 30-31)

57989017_10157547331267214_1818948822001254400_nScreenshot 2019-04-19 at 05.15.15



  1. I really enjoyed reading your post about inquiry. I agree with the information that you show here; that to really spur on the inquiry mindset in students we need to spark the interest and find the problems (not necessarily in that order). This is essentially what inquiry learning is all about. How do we increase student interest and promote problem finding in the classroom though? Maybe greater flexibility within the curriculum to allow the free-flow of educational ideas and projects may direct more students towards inquiry learning. Also, by encouraging students to identify issues within their own community that they then must find solutions to could allow for deeper immersion in to a particular subject whilst helping with social issues. At the moment inquiry learning does occur in most classrooms, however it’s potential for moving students towards large-scale projects needs to be promoted and supported more by those who are higher up (i.e. Curriculum makers).


    • Hi Amy, thank you for your comment. I agree with you regarding flexibility in the curriculum allowing the learners to identify their interest/passion. Inquiry is a general term which can be interpreted differently. It can be too narrow as well as to general. People who are in charge for developing the curriculum (including us, educators who actually implement the curriculum) should definitely ‘steer’ the way we want the learners to be able to do.


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