5 Creativity in inquiry based learning

Ewelina Czujko-Moszyk


Conversations and discussions and other forms of activities at inquiry-based learning lessons are logically discipline. They are generally designed in this pattern: asking questions, creating hypotheses, investigating, generating new knowledge, discussing on discoveries, reflecting on discoveries or applying in practice, and asking new questions if possible. Can this pattern kill the creativity in learning? The answer is – no. On contrary, it encourages creative performance and it teaches students that there are different points of view. Thanks to this approach they tend to contribute more with their own questions or creative solutions. If we introduce units of inquiry to the classroom, we do not teach our students what to say but we provide an environment in which every student may find important what they want to say. Therefore, the role of teacher is reduced to a facilitator and it requires even more creative actions from him. Yet, the role of a student is even more challenging. An inquiry encourages students to think for themselves and ensures them that every point of view counts. Finally, we will not develop creativity in students if they do not enter into dialogue with one another. Thus, the best way to extract creativity is through communication and intelligent imagination.Creativity and intelligent imagination do not contradict logical reasoning but they strengthen it and contributes to full personal development of an individual. In the paper, there will be presented several ideas, games, and lesson scenarios that introduce meaningful inquiry and as a consequence creativity to the classroom.

KEY WORDS: inquiry-based learning, creativity, John Dewey, inquiry


Inquiry-based learning is growing popular nowadays. This is a method which is believed to be first introduced in the 1960’s as opposed to traditional forms of teaching and learning based on teacher’s instruction and memorization of facts by students. What is striking is that teachers hardly ever reflect upon the source of their teaching method. They normally learn it, make couple of interesting lessons but, unfortunately, use it without deeper insight, thinking that couple of ideas is good enough. As a result, teachers tend to omit this important knowledge about a method itself which simply may contribute to better exploitation of teaching approach and its creative usage. Aim of this paper is to develop in-depth insight into inquiry-based learning method, which by the way is something more than just a method. This may become a certain teaching philosophy that impacts the whole teaching approach.

As aforementioned inquiry-based learning is often linked to discovery learning movement of the 1960’s. David Perkins, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education points to the fact that inquiry-based learning should not be confused with discovery learning because the latter leave students to explore and develop understanding on their own; whereas “inquiry should be seen as a complex combination of structured learning with intentional opportunities for students to create, design, imagine and develop new possibilities”. Inquiry-based learning has rather its antecedents in constructionist learning theory of, first of all, Dewey, then, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Freire. John Dewey is mentioned at first here because he gives us remarkable insight into theory of inquiry and how learners think while reasoning. His ideas may be found crucial to develop meaningful inquiries. Once we find out more about inquiry-based learning, its philosophy, aims, strategies, tools, and other important features, this paper will draw our attention to creative aspects of this method and introduce some ideas of how to put this method into practice.


In order to prepare a good lesson plan and useful educational materials due to inquiry-based learning method, first, we need to consider what we understand by inquiry. What Dewey offers us is, in effect, an operational approach to the problem of inquiry, defining it as “the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate situation into one that is determinate in its constituent distinctions and relations so as to convert the elements of the original situation into a unified whole”. The whole inquiry is structured in some sort of pattern thanks to which we are able to reflect upon almost any complex problem without reaching a complete deadlock.

Starting with the first step, we may note Dewey holds that inquiry is initiated when we are exposed to a situation that we find somehow confusing, conflicting, or indeterminate.  “It is the situation that has these traits. We are doubtful because the situation is inherently doubtful”. Such situations interrupt our habitual interaction with the world and disrupt our established beliefs. However, when we ourselves happen to be exposed to an indeterminate situation, it does not follow that we will evoke reflective thinking: on the contrary, we might easily opt to ignore it, owing to the intentional and selective nature of perception.


This important feature of perception has tremendous consequences, both for education and for inquiry itself. Indeed, in order to initiate inquiry, we must first judge that the situation in question is problematic for us. So, at the initial stage judgment is crucial. We only get ourselves involved in a process of inquiry because we want to or need to, and register this fact. In terms of education, students would not usually find some lesson’s material interesting, conflicting, or indeterminate as a result of their selective perception. Here comes the role for teacher as a facilitator in this process. Furthermore, this is the necessity of a school to develop abstract and logical reasoning in students and draw their attention to something they could otherwise omit if not warned to focus on it.

Once we have intentionally selected some matter as a subject of inquiry, it must be the case that we regard it as being in some way problematic. The unsettled, indeterminate situation may now be called a problematic situation. Nevertheless, even though it is commonly said that a problem well put

is a problem half-solved, in concrete practical terms this step does not take us all that far. The process of reflection here is not one that occurs between a subject and an object, but rather between a subject and an unresolved situation that has emerged within the environment. In case of this paper a problematic situation within school or lesson’s environment. In order to move ahead at this stage of the inquiry, we may wish to set up the problem as having the form of a series of questions: questions that need to be answered if we are to arrive at the results that we are hoping for from our investigation here – what might be called an agenda for our inquiry.

The next stage in an inquiry is that of formulating a problem-solution. A problem well stated might indeed be said to be on the way to being solved, but it is also the case that “determining the genuine problem is a progressive inquiry”. The first step towards developing a problem-solution, then, is to identify and separate out those constituents capable of possessing a stable, determinate existence, distinguishing these from those that are observable but, for some reason or other, indeterminate. And this, of course, is to be done on the basis of observation. Dewey calls these “the facts of the case”. They suggest possible solutions by determining the actual conditions of the situation which present themselves as ideas. Thus, an idea is, first of all, an anticipation of what may happen; it frames certain possibilities and predicts the future consequences of a given case. Ideas, we might say, are conceptual interpretations of how to deal with a problem. Since inquiry is a progressive process of determining solutions to some problem or other, ideas must inevitably differ from each other as a function of the particular stage of interpretation to which they pertain. First, they are vague, and occur as suggestions. They are, often, a spur to action, but so far lack any logical status. Suggestions become ideas when they are examined and found to be good enough to figure in or serve as a problem-solution. The investigation of an idea is carried out on the basis of our reasoning about its capacity to fulfill its role, but the final test is that of establishing whether it actually functions. Bleazby is surely right to claim that imagination plays an important function in Dewey’s conception of the process of inquiry, because it is imagination which enables us to reach beyond what is given in an experience and imagine alternative possibilities and means for resolution. Bleazby profoundly drew attention to something very important to education; that is imagination is something very important while employing reasoning to solve a problem. Consequently, the exercising of the imagination is most definitely not an obstacle to thinking, and rather aims to develop possible logical solutions, thus remaining crucial to the process of inquiry itself, and ultimately to that of education, too.

Then, a reflective learner must evaluate solutions through reasoning. Preferably, as a decent basis for developing an in-depth evaluation of a problem-solution, there should be a variety of alternative suggestions. Reasoning therefore provides for a suspension of judgment when evaluating facts, prompting further investigations or a search for more facts, should this prove necessary. In Dewey’s approach, the consequences of the problem-solution constitute its meaning – or, to put it another way, its value. Nevertheless, the process of inquiry does not reach its ultimate terminus with reasoning. It only arrives at a judgment about the problem-solution – and, moreover, this judgment remains preliminary in character. It is just a step on the way to formulating a plan to test the selected idea. We test such ideas with so called operational facts or trial facts. In Logic, The Theory of Inquiry Dewey claims that “the operative force of facts is apparent when we consider that no fact in isolation has evidential potency. Facts are evidence and are tests of an idea as far as they are capable of being organized with one another. The organization can be achieved only as they interact with one another”. The value of these tests – which are essentially falsifications of ideas (hypotheses) – is that they make it possible for us to exercise greater care when applying ideas that could potentially fail as solutions to the problem at hand.

The process of inquiry is not successful or, more precisely, does not count as completed, if we do not observe it working as intended. In Dewey’s model, ideas that have been tested and have proved successful in their applications are referred to as knowledge or warranted belief. The meaning, or value, of a hypothesis is just its use or purpose in bringing about the requisite (because intended) consequences. Dewey is able to bring together both the practical process of inquiry, which requires testing, application, and trials, and imagination, reasoning and theory.  Hence, it seems fair to say that inquiry implies, for him, a genuinely reciprocal interaction between the inquirer and his or her environment.

For Dewey, the results of an inquiry are formulated in some final judgment. Judgment is always individual: its structure consists of subject, predicate and copula. “The conceptual contents which anticipate a problem-solution and which direct observational operations constitute what has traditionally been called a predicate. Their functional and operative correspondence with each other constitutes the copula. Judgments formulated this way have their application to judicial verdicts but, from the point of view of education, also develop critical skills, reflective thinking, and reasoning. The outcome of an inquiry is, therefore, not a description but a judgment. It takes the form of knowledge or warranted belief.
But knowledge for Dewey is not finite: it is temporal, and also enables future inquiry. We start out upon an inquiry with a certain body of knowledge of our students. All new judgments and experience are necessarily based on their past knowledge. Every completed inquiry enriches our knowledge. By reconstructing our existing knowledge we also partake of what is sometimes referred to as the “constant spiral movement of knowledge”. In terms of education, all these processes lead to growth in life and in learning. Educational environment and contexts all grow, thus throwing up new problems to deal within new inquiries.


So far this paper presented a thorough theory of inquiry provided by Dewey in twentieth century. Dewey’s theory strongly resembles a present scheme of inquiry-based learning (showed below). Yet only, Dewey gives us a profound insight into an inquiry itself and explains what to take into consideration while reasoning. As mentioned in the previous section, logical reasoning helps to develop imagination and vice versa. An aim of introducing an in-depth theory of inquiry was to enrich the simple diagram and to help teachers reflect upon this method in order to provide more interesting, creative, and successful lessons. Combining both theory of Dewey and experiences of inquiry-based learning gives us larger room for maneuver to invite even more creativity to inquiry-based lesson plans.

Figure 1 :


Figure 2: http://www.inquirylearn.com/Inquirydef.htm


Now, we can have a look at the process of inquiry combining a given knowledge. First, we may easily notice that inquiry consists of several stages and has a cyclical character. At the beginning of the process, we need to pay students attention to certain aspects of the problem, we want to solve during the lesson, which might be confusing, conflicting or indeterminate but at the same time we do not kill their natural curiosity about the problem they might have. So, first, we encourage students to ask their own questions generated from their own interests and experiences. This stage helps us boost more creativity from the students at the early stage of the lesson. Very well, inquiry begins with skepticism and doubtful situation, called by Dewey – a problematic situation. Then, we separate what we consider as clear and determinate from vague and unknown. To this end, teacher as a facilitator may guide some reasoning questions such as: What we know and what we do not know? What do we know from previous lessons that could help us understand this problem? As a result, the whole class or class divided into smaller groups define a specific problem to solve. Teachers should not ask questions which are too general like: Do you have any questions? It normally does not encourage students to ask anything or, perhaps, it only gives a signal to those confident ones.

After that, our students have to formulate hypotheses or suggestions how to deal with the problem. In order to gather the information and involve some more elements of action, we can engage one of the students to write on the whiteboard all the facts that we know. For instance, the learner may organize all facts, hypotheses, and suggestions to solve the problem in a form of a memory map. Once we have it all done, students check the hypotheses by testing them with other facts, so called trial facts and construct new knowledge. Next, we submit our new knowledge or discoveries to reflection and discussion. However,
the reflection stage must finish with conclusion in a form of judgment. Students will memorize better the results of such a procedure if they apply the newly acquired  knowledge into practice or in their own life. For example, they can carry out an educational project.

Consequently, inquiry-based learning is to teach: how to ask questions, when to ask them, and what to ask in order to receive the best possible answers about the subject-matter. In terms of creative education, it teaches students that no question is unnecessary but, perhaps, their question is the one that will inspire other students and greatly contribute to the process of investigating the problem. Basing some questions on students’ personal interests and experiences, teachers encourage students’ creative engagement from the very beginning of the lesson.


The role of a teacher seems very important but not in a sense that inquiry-based learning is teacher-centered. First of all, he is a facilitator but it does not mean minimal guidance in teaching. On contrary, it requires even more creativity from a teacher. Some people say, a teacher should be like a “provocateur”. He should find creative ways and know how to introduce students to ideas and to subject-matter that is of interest to them and would move them forward in their inquiry. Secondly, what is vital to this approach and boosts creativity in the classroom, is the idea that both teachers and students share the responsibility for learning. In order to achieve such approach, we need to let students believe that they are able to contribute to the process of inquiry in different ways. This is a very challenging role for a teacher to get to know their students and make sure they know they can take part in
the inquiry in many different ways. They can contribute in various kinds of way, for example: propose theories, build on a theory or idea, choose to agree or disagree with a statement, synthesize individual ideas and class-wide themes and make connections to related experiences in the wider world. Furthermore, the whole community of students need to be aware that they all have the same goal – clear understanding of the unit of inquiry. That is why different contributions, dissimilar views are actually welcome.

It is important to form a community rather than a group of individuals. Individual inquiry is certainly possible, but communal inquiry tends to be superior to the individual’s own thinking. It is an engine of growth and self-development. Creating a stimulating environment is crucial for success of the lesson. In order to bring about a community-like atmosphere, it is vital to arrange classroom benches in a circle, a square or U-shape involving all the individuals or form an arrangement of two benches together for smaller groups of four students, for example. Such preparation facilitates collaborative learning and, simply, enhances interaction because everyone can see each other.  According to Lipman, within
a community of inquiry we can distinguish certain characteristics. Firstly, the process of inquiry has its own internal goal, which is judgment and deep understanding. Secondly, when compared to discussion or conversation we find that inquiry also exhibits a sense of direction: arguments should lead to judgment. Thirdly, communal inquiry is a dialogical process: it may have two or more participants, and dialogue, in contrast to mere conversation, has a logical structure, so that it is governed by certain rules, just as parliamentary debate is. Finally, properly carried out forms of inquiry, whose aim is education, is constitutive of such values as reasonableness, creativity, and care.

There is a particular value to communal forms of inquiry, where ideas are tested via communicative intercourse with other individuals. The outcome is itself thus more intersubjective, and so more widely shared. An inquirer is not alone with the test. His or her ideas may be supported, countered, questioned or argued with, and revised. The inquirer empathizes with others, and comes to reflect not only on his or her own ideas, but also on those of others. The community helps the inquirer to develop his or her imagination, creativity, and broadens his or her field of experience. Thus, the community in the class is important.

Another advantage of inquiry-based learning method is its versatility. It can be perfectly applied to both humanities and science classes. First, we will give an example of history class at secondary school and how we can employ inquiry. Let us have a look at
the lesson on some momentous historical event such as schism within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther.

At the beginning of the class, we revise with students or check their knowledge about the Church situation at the beginning of sixteenth century. The approach at this stage of the lesson depends on their awareness of this historical fact. In order to find out what they know, we ask questions and check students’ knowledge, for example: “What do we know about the situation of the Church in the late Middle Ages? What religion dominates in Europe then? How important are the priests, clergy, and the papacy? To make the lesson more interesting from the beginning and make a use of technological aids, we can play the beginning of the movie “Luther” from 2003 until Martin Luther publishes the Ninety-Five Theses on the church in Wittenberg. We may try to collect all the direct factors that contribute to the schism of Western Church initiated by Luther, such as the sale of indulgences or perhaps his profound education in Theology. Perhaps, students may contribute to the lesson basing on their past knowledge or other experiences. It is good to encourage students to work in smaller groups of four to gather as much information and details as the four may bring together.

After gathering all the facts, perhaps the leader or writer of the smaller group can jot down his group ideas on a whiteboard or larger sheet of paper. Then, we move on to study the problem and assess the behavior of Luther by formulating hypotheses. This sort of subject obviously raises the ethical and moral criteria, whether Martin Luther did the right or wrong thing criticizing the Catholic Church. Since we are talking about the church, therefore, Christian canon law is to be discussed at least briefly. Inquiry must take into account also the socio-cultural context of Germany – it is worth comparing context of different European countries such as England, France, Switzerland, and the Czech lands indicating their situation and possible contribution to Reformation.

Another useful activity in this class would be printing out subsequent Reformation events and, possibly, their reasons and consequences. After having it gather, teacher may cut them out from each other and tell students to organize them out chronologically in smaller groups as a teamwork activity. Once, we have this activity finished, we may investigate the impact of Luther and try to judge his conduct once again.

The newly acquired and constructed knowledge finishes with a judgment on Martin Luther actions and his contribution to Reformation process in the Western Church. In order to maximize the judgment, we may end up the lesson with submitting knowledge to practice and ask students to carry out a school project expressing their judgment of Luther’s actions in
a form of a poster, for example.


By contrast to humanities, in biology classes while discussing botany, inquiry-based learning may take a form of an investigation. Students would play the role of plants detectives – each one of them would be like Sherlock Holmes. At the beginning of lesson, the teacher provides a brief training on the appearance of plants. Students, in turn, draw and describe the patterns of his engravings. Depending on the stage of the education of students, teacher enters the appropriate number of plant characteristics that should be familiar to them at their age. Then, the teacher presents questions which will form the guidelines for recognition of plants such as: What color is the plant? What color are the fruit flowers? How does it smell? What is the inflorescence? What is the shape of the leaves? How does the root look like? How does the stem look like? How are the leaves spread on the stem? When does the plant bloom? What is the use of the plant?

After such preparation, the class is divided into groups – pairs or teams of three to four people. All groups of pupils define the guidelines defining the plant. They jot them down on a sheet of paper and pass the sheet to the neighboring team. As a result, for instance, one team gave the other the following description: it belongs to the family Rosacea, reaches a height of 15 meters, has large leaves, the fruit of orange-red fruits are spread mainly by birds. The team, which has received such a description, has to draw the plant on the transferred sheet and determines the species. The correct answer in this task is: rowan (mountain ash). Time for the task should be limited up to five minutes. After that, the answers on the sheets are checked. Poorly identified plants shall be re-investigated, but this time by the entire class. At this stage, students can ask further questions in order to identify the plant.

In this lesson, atlas of plants or tablet could be useful for each group. The lesson can also take the form of class competition. For example, the team which recognizes most plants wins and receives some reward. The last five to ten minutes of a lesson shall be left for reflection and revision of newly constructed knowledge. At this point, students judge their investigative methods used in the game. To sum up the lesson, we ask students questions such as: Which methods were used? What research methods have proven to be the best? What strategies in searching the plants were the fastest? Which strategies will be helpful in future investigations of plants?

Whether we decide to form a competition or a simple play without a reward, still we provide a game based on creative tension that exists between rules and freedom, as well as between something that is known and unknown.


Firstly, exciting inquiry for students is the one that is authentic. It means that a teacher must find out a task, project, problem that is important or relevant to students and actually connected to the world in which they live. Learners need to feel that what they work on concern them and is worth their time and effort. For instance, if we teach about water pollution, let’s give students a project to find out what is the water pollution in their neighborhood. Then, teacher can ask such questions: is a river, or a lake, etc. polluted? And if it is, then how it is polluted. What needs to be done about it? If it is a chemistry lesson, we may go a little further and take samples of neighboring waters to examine them regarding pollution.

Secondly, loads of questions and ideas generated from inquiry undoubtedly boost creativity but, unfortunately, they also may confuse. Developing creativity and self-confidence in students is crucial but we also need certain rules for that. Controversies and different points of view teach tolerance but too many of them lead to dead end or relevance, which makes it difficult to solve problem and generate final judgement. It is important to remember that deep understanding of the problem is the mission. That is why, it is vital for teachers to prepare themselves with conceptual framework with a leading question: What is the one concept students need to know in order to really understand a particular topic? Once we establish main aim of the inquiry, it would be helpful to set subsequent goals of the inquiry. David Perkins encourages teachers to ask themselves the following question to establish what qualities, skills, or competences they want their students to achieve: What do you want your students to get better at through this task?

Third, what is useful and is a core of inquiry-based cycle is a discussion. In inquiry-based lesson, it may adopt a form of guided discussion with elements of a play, because it makes students more creative and engaged in the lesson. One of a very interesting form of discussion for students, but perhaps at the secondary stage of education, is an Oxford debate. In this debate, students discuss over a thesis. Students play certain roles in the debate. There are: advocates, opponents, waverers, a marshal, and audience (which also can take part in a discussion if only a marshal allows). The debate is strictly based on rules but leaves a lot for creation for students. In my opinion, in inquiry, the best place for Oxford debate is at the stage of creating hypothesis. Here, a hypothesis has his advocates, opponents, and waverers. A marshal initiates a debate explaining rules of the debate and its topic. There is also a student who functions as a secretary. He watches the time and keeps the debate in order. A marshal gives floor to the advocates and to the opponents. First go the advocates of the thesis and the participants take turns. At the end, the advocates as well as the opponents summarize their arguments. Now, it depends on teacher whether he wants to settle the debate on the basis of general voting or by jury that normally consists of four people. Personally, I prefer voting because it strengthens the community of the students.


First, creativity starts with thinking. It is not something that appears out of blue. To boost creativity in inquiry-based learning classes, we need to help it emerge. Nobody should do the thinking for our students. They need to think for themselves. As Matthew Lipman once said: “[creativity] is rather a transformation of a given into something radically different – not a rabbit produced by magic out of a silk hat, but a silk purse produced by art out of a sow’s ear”. To introduce creativity, teachers should have it set as a goal. This needs to be a quality that we want our students to master. Inquiry-based learning invites creativity to its method but it is a role of the teacher to bring it about to the classroom. In addition, teacher can use various kinds of educational tools and methods to develop meaningful discussions through inquiries.

Secondly, inquiry-based learning is very democratic. It gathers students together to form a community. Communal inquiry develops imagination and creativity in students thanks to interaction. Students check each other’s reflection by agreement or disagreement with their statements or hypotheses. They stimulate one another and it helps them learn faster than if they were doing it on their own.

Another thing is the environment and sense of engagement and that is crucial. Educators should not teach what to say but create an environment in which students find  important to say what they want to say and not what they are told to say. Encouragement of thinking at every stage of the lesson should guarantee the creative solutions. Thus, thinking and creativity are inseparable.

Finally, what need to be stressed is that inquiry-based learning may not be a single method within a lesson scenario. It is even more creative to provide a curriculum, methodology and a lesson plan where inquiry-based learning is an important part but not the only constituent. Most of all, truly creative educational process is based on variety of ideas, diverse but coherent methodology solutions and both teachers’ and students’ engagement. That is why inquiry-based learning could be a vital constituent of other popular or innovative methods such as phenomenon-based learning, project-based learning, service-based learning and so on. Moreover, inquiry-based learning can be used only partly. For instance, a process of inquiry may serve only as a starting point to conceptualize a project or a presentation. Consequently, inquiry-based learning can be used in various ways and to limited or extended version. It is, however, up to the teacher and his or her autonomy how and when he or she uses this method.


Bleazby, Jennifer (2013) Social Reconstruction Learning: Dualism, Dewey and Philosophy in Schools Routledge International Studies in the philosophy of education, New York.

Capacity Building Series https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/CBS_InquiryBased.pdf

Dewey, J. (1997)

How we think New York: Dover Publications Dewey, J. (1938) Logic, The Theory of Inquiry New York: Henry Holt and Company

Introduction to Inquiry Based Learning by Neil Stephenson http://www.teachinquiry.com/index/Introduction.html

Inquiry Principle 2: Deep Understanding http://teachinquiry.com/index/Understanding.html

Lipman, Matthew (2003)Thinking in Education Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

McDermott, John J. (1973) The Philosophy of John Dewey, Volume I, The Structure of Experience G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York

Primas. Promoting Inquiry In Mathematics And Science Education Across Europe


Wikipedia: Inquiry-based learning, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquiry-based_learning


Creativity in inquiry based learning Copyright © 2016 by Ewelina Czujko-Moszyk. All Rights Reserved.


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