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Using Inquiry Learning to Surprise and Delight Students

February 10, 2020

By: Elizabeth Kelsey, Kendall Hunt RPD intern, with contributions from the writing team of ByDesign Science

A slide in the cafeteria?

For one school, it’s all part of the culture of “surprise and delight.”

In Eminence, Kentucky, the cafeteria slide is only one part of the EDHub, a 30,000-foot technology-based space that forms the core of the school. There’s unconventional seating, eight “maker” labs, and open spaces with huge windows. Plenty of twenty-first-century technology options exist, from virtual reality to 3-D printers. The kids collaborate on community service projects, such as the hoverboard wheelchair that one fifth-grade class built for their classmate. Through the “surprise and delight” style of learning, students are always engaged by new and unique ideas

And it works. In the Eminence school district, which once had only 20% of students pursuing postsecondary education, students now achieve 100% college and career readiness under Kentucky state standards. Graduation rates and college persistence rates have drastically increased, and enrollment has doubled.

But for those of us not lucky enough to have pristine new educational spaces like this one, what is the relevance of “surprise and delight”?

Eminence superintendent Buddy Berry puts it best: “the building’s awesome, but it’s what’s happening inside … that’s really special.”

In other words, you don’t need a fancy building to use “surprise and delight” in your classroom. It’s all in how you present the information—in new and unique ways.

After all, “surprise and delight” learning works because our brains latch onto the new and the unique. Whether it’s an unconventional project, a virtual reality field trip, or a Skype session with an author, presenting content in new ways triggers new synapses in our brains and forges new pathways. This strengthens neural connections, making us primed and ready to learn new information. Psychologically, “surprise and delight” learning keeps kids on their toes and keeps them engaged because they always want to know what creative idea their teacher will come up with next. Physiologically, constantly learning in new ways keeps students’ brains active and ready to learn even more.

The feeling behind “surprise and delight” is what drives the kind of learning that’s not done behind a desk, out of a book. It’s keeping it fresh and interesting, learning by doing, and letting the students choose what they study and how. That’s not something you need an EDHub to do. It’s something anyone can do because “surprise and delight” is, in essence, inquiry learning.

Our ByDesign Science program has a rich base in inquiry science, which allows teachers to “surprise and delight” students with innovative and engaging activities. Through experiments, Explore-a-Lab features, and open inquiries, students get to study material in different ways in each unit or chapter. They might design their own wellness plan, test the strength of different materials, or even learn to care for animals. By changing it up and keeping students surprised with the different ways in which they can learn, ByDesign promotes student curiosity and innovation and primes them to learn more as they progress through our program for grades 1–8.

Our partnership with Victory VR also allows Kendall Hunt Religious Publishing to give teachers another “surprise and delight” option for students. Experiencing content through a virtual reality (VR) lens gives students a different way to learn and fires their curiosity (not to mention their synapses). With 48 virtual field trips, including excursions to outer space and the human cell, this twenty-first-century technology is on the cutting edge of inquiry learning.

“We want kids to be thinking differently and to make them creative, so ‘surprise and delight’ triggers new ideas for everybody,” said Berry. See how our ByDesign Science program does just that with our student-led, inquiry-based curriculum.

What classroom projects have "surprised and delighted" your students ... or yourself?