Understanding Inquiry in Health and Physical Education | Ophea Teaching Tools

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    Understanding Inquiry in Health and Physical Education

    What is Inquiry-Based Learning

    “Inquiry-based learning is a process where students are involved in their learning, formulating questions, investigate widely and then build new understandings, meanings and knowledge. That knowledge is new to the students and may be used to answer a question, to develop a solution or to support a position or point of view. The knowledge is usually presented to others and may result in some sort of action." 1

    Central to the Inquiry-based learning approach are the following key concepts:

    • The process is grounded in the curriculum.
    • The process provides the opportunity to extend learning.
    • The process is recursive.
    • The student is involved in the construction of knowledge.
    • The process starts with questions/wonderings.
    • Higher-order thinking is involved.


    Benefits of Inquiry-Based Learning

    Students engaged in inquiry-based learning develop higher-order thinking skills such as analysing, synthesizing, evaluating, and reflecting, and they become more independent as they take responsibility for their own learning. As students pose their own questions their curiosity is piqued and as a result they are more engaged in the learning process. Throughout the inquiry process students also learn and practise collaboration and communication skills.


    Inquiry Framework for Health and Physical Education

    Adapted from the Ontario Social Studies, History, Geography, and Canadian and World Studies Curriculum 2 the Inquiry Framework for Health and Physical Education (H&PE) illustrated in Figure 1 consists of six components that can be applied to student learning in the areas of both health and physical education.

    Inquiry as a process for student learning can be considered in three stages: launching, facilitating, and making sense of inquiry, with the components of an inquiry process included throughout each stage. As part of launching their inquiry, students formulate questions to explore and investigate their topic. Educators facilitate the gather and organize component as students interpret and analyse what they’ve collected within the inquiry. Once students have collected appropriate information and evidence related to their question(s) they can move forward to making sense of their evidence—they evaluate and draw conclusions; communicate what they have learned; and reflect on what, why, and how they have learned. While the stages are progressive, educators can begin the process at any stage (see Figure 5).


    Figure 1: Inquiry Framework for Health and Physical Education: Six Components of Inquiry-Based Learning 3


    Stage 1: Launching

    Formulate Questions: Students formulate questions or make predictions about concepts, strategies, and/or the relationships between topics or skills, and plan investigations to answer the questions as they take an active role in their learning.

    Stage 2: Facilitating

    Gather and Organize: Students collect, organize, and record relevant data, evidence, and/or information from appropriate primary or secondary sources. They focus and clarify ideas, concepts, strategies, or relationships between topics or skills.

    Interpret and Analyse: Students interpret and assess data, evidence, and/or information, and analyse in order to identify patterns, relationships, currency, and bias; make connections; and potentially construct new knowledge.

    Stage 3: Making Sense Of

    Evaluate and Draw Conclusions: Students synthesize data, evidence, results, and/or information in order to make informed, critical judgments based on the reliability of the information and to explain the decision, choice, goal, or solution and its impact on themselves, others, and the world around them.

    Communicate: Students consolidate and communicate observations, decisions, conclusions, goals, choices, strategies, and/or solutions clearly, logically, and effectively by using correct terminology and expressing information/results orally, in writing, or through demonstration or performance tailored to audience needs. They collaborate with others to deepen learning.

    Reflect: Students reflect on initial questions, what they learned, what else they could investigate or try and what they could have done differently. They transfer learning to new situations and plan next steps.

    It is important for educators to understand that the inquiry process is not a linear process. Learners may have to revise questions or develop additional questions based on what information they find during the gather and organize component or the interpret and analyse component. Students may need to gather more resources once they begin to evaluate or draw conclusions. Reflection can be performed during any stage, not only at the end of an inquiry. As educators guide students through the inquiry process, the curriculum expectations within Health and Physical Education must continue to drive student learning and assessment.


    Adopting an Inquiry Stance with the Ontario Health and Physical Education (H&PE) Curriculum

    In Health and Physical Education, students have the opportunity to develop inquiry skills in the Active Living, Movement Competence, Healthy Living strands and within the expectations of the Living Skills. The 2015 Health and Physical Education Curriculum embeds “critical thinking skills such as questioning, predicting, analysing, synthesizing, examining opinions, identifying values and issues, detecting bias, and distinguishing between alternatives” 4 in the curriculum expectations. These critical-thinking skills are the same skills needed and used in inquiry-based learning.

    The Living Skills expectations from the 2015 Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum are taught in an integrated manner across all strands of the curriculum. Within these specific expectations, there is expected learning related to students’ knowledge of themselves, coping with challenges, interacting with others (collaboration and communication), and using a process for critical and creative thinking—all concepts reflective of the inquiry process.

    The inquiry skills for formulating questions, gathering and organizing, interpreting and analysing, evaluating and drawing conclusions, communicating new knowledge, and reflecting are all found within the Living Skills expectations. Figure 2 Inquiry Components in the Living Skills: Critical and Creative Thinking Example illustrates how inquiry skills can be integrated within the Critical and Creative Thinking Living Skills. A similar approach can be taken to make connections between the other Living Skill areas and inquiry-based learning.


    Figure 2: Inquiry Components in the Living Skills: Critical and Creative Thinking Example 5


    Within the Movement Competence strand students learn about strategies connected to various games and activities by actively exploring and investigating the strategies and tactics of the game or activity through modified versions of the games or activities. Students interpret and analyse the game or activity structure and the results from different tactics tried in order to make connections to other games or activities determining which strategies and tactics can be transferred to other games or activities in the same games category.

    The Teaching Games for Understanding methodology supports many components of inquiry-based learning in which students learn through “doing” and educators are facilitators of learning who ask open-ended questions and encourage students to ask questions in order to help them discover and experiment with tactical decisions and solutions. Students can communicate and demonstrate their new learning through a physical performance.


    Figure 3: Inquiry Components in the Movement Competence: Skills, Concepts and Strategies Strand 6


    In the Healthy Living strand there is shift from a focus on content knowledge to focusing on health literacy, which means building students’ skills and understanding of how to and use health information to make healthy choices and how to make connections outside of oneself for healthy living. The inquiry process can be used as a vehicle through which students develop knowledge and skills related to the various health concepts and communicate their learning to promote healthy living with others, across their school, and in the community.


    Figure 4: Inquiry Components in Healthy Living 7


    Educator Entry Points into Inquiry-Based Learning

    Inquiry is an approach to learning; educators may focus on the whole process or one or two of the components of inquiry. The educator decides at what stage of the inquiry process the inquiry is to begin and how much autonomy students are ready for, with respect to each component of the inquiry, as well as how much of the process to conduct with students.

    Educators can approach inquiry from multiple entry points (refer to Figure 5). They may use a structured inquiry-based approach in which the educator guides students to practise just one component of the process (e.g., generating questions). Or they may use a guided inquiry approach in which the students practise more than one component of the inquiry process at a time. At the opposite end of the spectrum of student autonomy, educators may use an open inquiry approach in which students direct each component of the inquiry process with the educator providing feedback as students proceed through the components.

    Educators may decide to use a structured approach for most parts of an inquiry combined with an open approach during specific stages, or may choose to differentiate parts of an inquiry for specific students in the class. For example, to engage a student who demonstrates strong reading abilities, the educator may have that student choose their own websites to research. For students who struggle with organizing their thoughts, the educator can provide graphic organizers for them to use when gathering their evidence. Considerations related to the entry point include:

    • student readiness;
    • educator comfort with inquiry-based learning;
    • prior student knowledge;
    • time, as some skills need to be taught explicitly; and
    • available resources and access to technology.


    Figure 5: Spectrum of Student Autonomy in Inquiry-Based Learning 8

      Gradient of Student Autonomy
      More Arrow pointing from More to Less Less






    Formulate Questions:

    Learner engages in Health and Physical Education oriented questions

    Learner poses a question

    Learner selects among questions, poses new questions

    Learner sharpens or clarifies question provided by educator, materials, or other source

    Learner engages in question provided by educator, materials, or other source

    Gather and Organize:

    Learner collects, organizes, and records relevant data, evidence, and/or information from appropriate primary or secondary sources, focusing on clarifying ideas or strategies

    Learner determines what constitutes data, evidence, and/ or information and collects it

    Learner directed to collect certain data, evidence, and/or information

    Learner given data, evidence, and/or information and asked to analyse

    Learner given data, evidence, and/or information and told how to analyse

    Interpret and Analyse:

    Learner interprets and assesses the data, evidence, and/or information and analyses in order to identify patterns, relationships, currency, and bias; making connections; and potentially constructing new knowledge

    Learner formulates explanation after summarizing data, evidence, and/or information

    Learner guided in process of formulating explanations from data, evidence, and/or information

    Learner given possible ways to use data, evidence and/or information to formulate explanation

    Learner provided with data, evidence, and/ or information and told how to use evidence to formulate explanation

    Evaluate and Draw Conclusions:

    Learner synthesizes data, evidence, results, and/or information in order to make informed critical judgments based on the reliability of information and explains the decision, choice, goal, or solution and its impact on themselves, others, and the world around them

    Learner independently examines other resources and forms links to explanations

    Learner directed toward areas and sources of data, results, and/or information

    Learner given possible connections



    Learner consolidates observations, decisions, goals, choices, and/or strategies; collaborates with others to deepen learning; communicates clearly and effectively by using correct terminology; and expresses information results orally, in writing, or through demonstration or performance tailored to audience needs

    Learner forms reasonable and logical argument to communicate information/results

    Learner coached in development of communication

    Learner provided broad guidelines to use, sharpen communication

    Learner given steps and procedures for communication


    Learner reflects on initial questions, what was learned, what else could be investigated or tried, and what could have been done differently; transfers learning to new situations; and plans next steps

    Learner independently applies self-awareness and self-monitoring skills

    Learner directed towards key learnings and areas of strength and improvement

    Learner given potential key learnings and possible areas of strength and improvement

    Learner given key learnings and personal areas of strength and improvement


    Start Where You Are

    Using an inquiry stance to engage students in learning may be new to some educators and familiar to others. Most likely many educators already model or use some combination of inquiry when:

    • asking students questions about game strategies within the TGFU (Teaching Games for Understanding) approach,
    • having students track (gather) and analyse personal fitness results, and/or
    • having students reflect on what they could do differently the next time they are in a conflict about their choices.

    Educators who adapt an inquiry stance by asking effective questions are providing students with opportunities for deepening their knowledge and developing their critical-thinking skills of analysing, evaluating, and decision making.

    To begin to use inquiry in Health and Physical Education, consider:

    • approaching inquiry with enthusiasm and excitement,
    • understanding that inquiry involves the unexpected for themselves and for their students,
    • modeling the inquiry process in their instruction,
    • using the language of inquiry, and
    • facilitating the process through discussion, clarification, support, and monitoring.

    Educators who are experienced and comfortable with inquiry may consider taking it a step further by creating a cross-curricula inquiry question that addresses a number of expectations from multiple topics/courses.


    Considerations When Using Inquiry-Based Learning

    The following are some factors for educators to consider when adopting an inquiry-based learning approach.

    Shift in Educator Role

    To successfully facilitate inquiry-based learning, educators shift from the traditional role as provider of information and content to the role of a facilitator of learning. As experience and comfort with inquiry-based and student-centred learning increases, an educator becomes more of a guide and gradually releases responsibility to students to work more independently.

    Modeling and guiding the inquiry process and the information literacy skills that are needed to effectively inquire is paramount. Students need to be taught information literacy and inquiry skills to be successful. As students develop the inquiry skills and their understanding of the inquiry process, an educator gradually releases responsibility and acts more as a guide and/or mentor.

    Shift in Student Role

    An inquiry-based approach to learning may be new to many students in Health and Physical Education. With this approach, students move from receiving information from the educator to taking a more active role in their learning and in constructing their own knowledge. Students will need practice as they adjust to developing their “learning to learn” skills.

    To be successful in gathering evidence, students need to be able to find information that they can read and understand. Often, the information students gather is too complex for their age or grade. Though many students have done “research” projects, intentional instruction and/or guidance is sometimes required to help students because some may not have the information literacy or inquiry skills to research effectively. Educators need to incorporate time to instruct and/or review information literacy skills. The librarian in your school may be able to assist students in developing some of these literacy skills for conducting an inquiry in a variety of ways, by providing the following:

    • an overview of the various resources available in the library/learning commons
    • information on how to conduct searches for various types of print or digital resources
    • a variety of sources (e.g., print, electronic/digital, primary, secondary)
    • strategies for using a table of contents and indexes, navigating web pages, and using headings and sub-headings
    • tips for determining validity and reliability of sources
    • conventions for citing sources of information
    • tools for keeping track of information sources
    • strategies for skimming and scanning
    • strategies for using technology in the various stages.

    Safe Learning Environment

    In order for students to take risks, ask questions, and share their thinking, an emotionally safe learning environment is needed. The physical set-up of the classroom or activity area and the established routines and rules are important for achieving a successful inquiry-based classroom.

    When teaching health, educators may consider arranging a space in the room dedicated for learning and sharing, by placing desks in groups or in a circle. This can help create an environment conducive to student collaboration and shared learning.

    Educators should also review the protocols that are established at the beginning of the year or semester. If students know what to expect and are familiar with the routines, they are more likely to feel comfortable taking risks in their learning. For example, if students understand that a regular part of the class is to stop during game play and answer a couple of questions posed by the educator, they become familiar with this routine and contribute more freely during such activities.

    Educators may also consider providing opportunities for questions and reflection at various points in their lessons. Examples include having students pause and reflect about what they are learning and share their reflection with a partner; for example, they might stop and analyse game play, or strategize to achieve greater success.


    It is important for educators to consider the group work and social skills needed by students and to take the time needed to develop group work norms and teach the skills required. “In an inquiry based classroom students make sense together” 9. Groups are more effective when members are being open-minded and listening attentively. Groups run more smoothly if students know what to do when conflict arises, how to disagree respectfully, and how to give and receive constructive feedback.

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    1 Alberta Learning. (2004). Focus on Inquiry: A educator’s guide to implementing inquiry-based learning. Edmonton, AB: Alberta Learning.

    2, 3 Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013. The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1 to 6: Social Studies; Grade 7 and 8: History and Geography. Retreived from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/sshg18curr2013.pdf

    4,5,6,7 Ontario Ministry of Education. (2015). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1 to 8: Health and Physical Education, 2015 (Rev. ed.). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/health1to8.pdf

    8, 9 Watt, J.G., & Colyer, J. (2014). IQ: A practical guide to inquiry-based learning. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.