Section 5: Additional Information

Inquiry Learning

At Sanibel Sea School, we recognize that much of teaching and interacting with kids is intuitive. Yet, no matter how long we have been teaching, there is always more to learn! This section synthesizes some existing research on inquiry learning – the educational term for learning about the world around us by asking questions.

Teaching through multiple perspectives and promoting many ways of knowing increases respect between people and their environment (Corral-Verdugo, 2009). This approach to teaching can be accomplished by implementing an inquiring framework through which students develop respect for other humans, other species, and the biosphere. As Colburn (2000) describes, the inquiry is an activity, a way of knowing. Through inquiring, we can discover the many perspectives for understanding the world, the diverse forms of learning, and how realities are constructed. We can promote a connection to nature, the desire to take action, ask deep questions, and increase the complexity of thought. 

Broadly, there are three methods of inquiry instruction (Colburn, 2000):

  1. Structured – The teacher provides a hands-on problem to investigate and a set of procedures and materials. Only the outcome remains a mystery to the students. Let’s use water quality as an example problem.

  2. Guided – The teacher provides materials and a problem and thus relies on the students to be capable of determining and following a set of procedures to arrive at an outcome.

  3. Open – Students formulate their problem to investigate and carry out an investigation of their design. This is often the most challenging for students, and when implemented at an advanced level, it is most useful for students capable of abstract thinking.

Colburn (2000) identifies several teacher behaviors that improve student learning: Experience with discipline, the ability to ask open-ended questions, providing appropriate wait time, and responding reflexively or acknowledging what the student has said without criticism. By applying these skills, attitudes, behaviors, and experiences, an instructor can scaffold the inquiry process, reducing the structure of the inquiry process over time while simultaneously increasing its complexity over time (Kuhn & Pease, 2008). This progression typically begins with structured inquiry and moves towards open investigations.

When we teach a student, instead of allowing the student to engage via discovery, we prevent them from understanding it completely (Piaget, 1964). Substantial literature supports the premise that students learn best by inquiry (e.g., Kuhn & Pease, 2008). To directly teach the process of inquiry constrains the scope of meta-level understanding in students (Kuhn & Dean, 2005). Teachers must balance direct instruction and inquiry learning to reach the most students effectively. An emphasis on direct instruction fails to give students the skills to explore broader issues through scientific inquiry, resulting in transfer failure. While explicit teaching is occasionally necessary, it is most effective in short increments that reinforce the essential framework of inquiry skills (Klahr & Nigam, 2004). For inquiry skills specifically, educators need to guide students to understand why and how we use inquiry skills. The execution of the inquiry will follow naturally.

Diversity and Inclusion


Pedagogy: The art or practice of teaching.

We are fortunate to engage with campers from varying backgrounds at Sanibel Sea School. To connect meaningfully with all of our participants, we must consider incorporating culturally relevant teaching, also called multicultural environment education, into our curricula and pedagogy. Banks (1993) defines multicultural education as “a movement designed to empower all students to become knowledgeable, caring, and active citizens in a distraught, ethnically polarized nation and world.” The concept of being inclusive of “everyone” has significant weight. It is one thing to articulate such an intention and another to cultivate the intention to fruition.

So, what does diversity mean? The reality is that we exist in a world where social identifiers essentially determine the privilege with which we navigate our world: age, socioeconomic status, gender, race, nationality, religion, ability, and sexual orientation (AORE, 2016). Regardless of how these categories define any individual, we need to be able to engage them through a pedagogy that makes knowledge accessible to all students.

Culturally relevant teaching can be built by teachers who connect the diverse experiences of their students to challenging curriculum goals and who understand their students and the way they learn and incorporate that in the strategies through which they bring knowledge to life. We need to respect our students, include students of varying cultures and prior experiences, and believe in the potential of all learners (Gay, 2002). Inclusion demands congruity between what is learned at camp and what is practiced at home. Just as the biodiversity of the natural world has direct implications on the resiliency, richness, and complexity of ecosystems, intentionally including a diverse range of voices and participants at Sanibel Sea School, and in all environmental education, will significantly enhance the beneficial impact that our we can have on the biosphere.

Overview of Key Principles for Equitable and Inclusive Education

  1. Inclusion is not primarily a special education, or even an education, issue. It is a fundamental way of seeing and responding to human difference for the benefit of everyone involved.

  2. An important foundation of social justice is equity and excellence in education. Critical analysis is required to recognize and analyze assumptions about education and outcomes for people with traditionally marginalized differences (including but not limited to disabilities, cultural/linguistic/racial background, gender, sexual orientation, and class).

  3. Traditionally marginalized differences are best understood and responded to within a broader construct of diversity. Each of us has multiple identities that can be represented or viewed in different ways.

  4. Marginalized differences are socially constructed; how we respond to individual differences is impacted by factors such as history, culture/ geography, race, gender, and socioeconomic status.

  5. Educational services in the United States were developed and continue to be based on largely unexamined assumptions about what is beneficial for certain students (e.g., that effective education for diverse students requires a separate program) that are unsupported by outcomes research (e.g., direct comparison of outcomes from inclusive and separate programs).

  6. All children are valuable members of classroom and school communities, with differing voices, strengths, abilities, and contributions. Inclusive communities embrace and expand children’s sociocultural repertoires while also dealing with controversy and conflict in creative and constructive ways.

  7. Students learn in many different ways. In order for students to be successful, educators must be flexible in their approaches, drawing from a repertoire of methodologies that value differentiation and support individualization.

  8. All behavior is a form of communication, including that which is labeled as “problem behavior.” Educators who understand the underlying message of the behavior (often an important need of the student) can create more effective instructional and environmental interventions.

  9. Effective education requires repertoires of advocacy to facilitate successful school change, including understanding factors that facilitate or hinder change efforts.

Learning and Development

While each child has their own unique experience of growing up, there are recognized patterns of development that ring true for most children. The Center for Parenting Education has compiled characteristics for six months – 16 years old. These characteristics are based on a series of studies and publications from the Gesell Institute of Human Development. This is an excellent resource if you are working with an age group of kids with whom you have little to no prior experience or are curious about how to differentiate a lesson plan or activity for an age group other than it was intended. There is a link to more information in the References section at the end of this training module.