The Spiral Inquiry Model

GreenLearning’s Spiral Inquiry gets kids excited about research and investigation. New inquiry models that encourage open-ended and student-centered investigations are now key components in provincial curricula across Canada, and our Spiral Inquiry method is a robust model that’s clear and helpful to teachers and students.

The teacher-facilitated spark and the four stages of inquiry guide students as they explore ideas and actions. The spiral nature of the model helps students understand that inquiry is not really linear or circular—it’s a process with many loops and possibilities, and the conclusion of one inquiry can lead to new inquiries in the future.

Spark – A Student Investigation

The “spark” is the key to igniting student curiosity and drawing students into thinking critically about a topic or an issue. The spark piques the student’s interest in a particular topic or question and becomes the starting point for [a] student investigation into something that engages them.

As the key facilitator of the inquiry, the teacher provides an enticing spark—this could be anything from a scenario or case study to a video, editorial cartoon or a story from the media that helps kids see the many possible avenues of investigation within the topic.

A teacher hosts a pancake breakfast, but only half of the students get maple syrup on their pancakes because maple syrup wasn’t produced that year in their area. Was it because of climate change, or normal weather changes? This can spark students to think about the impact weather changes have on other things, too, like skiing.

Hypothesize and Plan

Students take their spark, and brainstorm possible hypotheses, ultimately picking a hypothesis that’s testable and for which reliable information can be found. They also make a plan for their research and note-taking. Teacher feedback at this stage is key to help students focus on workable inquiries.

If climate change is negatively affecting maple trees in Ontario, then maple syrup production in the province will decrease.

Explore and Research

Students’ research and data gathering could include interviews, field work, surveys and contacting experts—they should be open to a wide range of sources and ideas. Teachers help guide students to finding reliable and age-appropriate source material.

Students could gather data on the ideal weather conditions for maple sap production, actual weather conditions that year, how much maple syrup was produced in the area that year, and how the conditions and maple syrup production compared to previous years.

Analyze and Check

Students analyze their data and begin to draw conclusions. At the same time, the teacher helps them check against their hypothesis, encouraging them to be open to modifications if necessary, which could mean additional research.

The students exploring maple syrup production could discover it was an El Niño year, so the winter and spring were warmer than usual. They’ll need to explore what impact that would have had on maple syrup production.

Communicate and Act

In this key step, the students plan actions that are natural outcomes of their research to reinforce what they’ve just investigated and learned, and to help them feel connected to creating a better tomorrow. They’ll share their conclusions with a wider audience—this could include creating memes, videos, a social media account or campaign, charts, artwork, written reports, or giving presentations. The teacher helps students connect to these opportunities and designs appropriate assessment material.

If students conclude that climate change had a negative impact on maple syrup production, they could create memes to share that information widely and raise awareness, or they might present their findings to a local maple syrup producers association.

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