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Piloting Three to Six Week Inquiry Projects

Student-driven inquiry projects using Flipgrid


In the spring of 2020, schools in Colorado’s Colorado Springs District 11 quickly shifted to remote learning in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. As students, teachers, and leaders navigated the move to online teaching and learning, educators began to wonder how they could improve a familiar yet still challenging engagement gap that emerged. That wondering led the team to pilot short-term inquiry projects that served as the seed for deeper work throughout the next school year.

"We noticed early on that teachers were feeling when they're teaching remotely and they're not getting that full engagement. [...]. So this group of educators came together and developed a guidebook for all of the rest of the teachers in the district, and all teachers were able to opt in. And it had different levels of inquiry, depending on where you had already been and had experience as a teacher, so you could definitely do a more shared inquiry model. You could do a more genius hour type model that was completely independent inquiry based on your comfort level as a teacher.” - Nicole Ottmer, Personalized Learning Systems Coordinator

These short-term inquiry projects set the stage for longer-term work in the new school year. “I think when you try something, you're always able to learn something that you can carry forward into your system and you also learn where those brake spots were and we definitely encountered a lot of those.”


Inquiry-based learning can serve as a powerful tool to increase student engagement and develop learners’ agency and independent working skills. Inquiry-based learning opportunities can help students deepen their understanding of learned content as they make cross-curricular connections. In an effort to increase student engagement for remote learning, D11 launched a district-wide teacher opt-in learning inquiry project, which lasted for six weeks. A group of educators from across the district came together to develop inquiry-based learning guidebooks for K-12 teachers to support cross-curricular student inquiry projects and help boost student engagement and agency.

Teachers were provided with differentiated guidebooks based on grade level that outlined how to approach designing a remote inquiry project. Each guidebook provided comprehensive overviews of how to structure and support different types of inquiry-based learning opportunities. They included:

  1. An explanation of the different types of inquiry learning

  2. Project design considerations outlining the mindset needed to engage in inquiry learning, how to communicate, and how learning will be shared

  3. The district’s graduate profile to support the project’s learning lens

  4. Sample project designs based on the type of inquiry approach
    1. Guided inquiry - Provide students with an inquiry question to design their project. Students will determine the format for their project (e.g., creating a documentary or comic book, building a model, etc.) and will receive feedback throughout the project to support the student in refining their final product.

    2. Controlled/guided inquiry - Provide students with an inquiry question and guide them to select multiple content areas through which they will use to explore the problem. Based on their findings through research, students will revise their inquiry question.

    3. Structured inquiry - For students that need more support, provide or co-create an inquiry question and embed multiple learning opportunities within lessons to support students in finding answers. As needed, provide students with resources to support their research.

    4. Free inquiry - For students that are able to independently drive their inquiry project, allow them to craft their question, engage in research, and demonstrate their findings in a manner of their choosing.

  5. A guide to inquiry question development for older students and sample cross-curricular inquiry questions for younger students

  6. A project timeline that identifies major deadlines and outputs

  7. Project scaffolds and support resources such as a guided notes template and sample learning plan

  8. FAQs outlining how to opt-into the project, to whom teachers can reach out for support, how to engage students, and more

Upon completion of their projects, students participated in a virtual demonstration of learning via Flipgrid. Approximately 600 students in grade levels K-12 across the district participated in the pilot online showcase.

This strategy is a part of TLA's Hop, Skip, Leapfrog release, which explores the concrete ways in which schools and systems pursued student-centered innovation during COVID-19. Explore the full guide to find additional strategies, insights, and resources.

Strategy Resources

Learning Together at a Distance: A D11 Inquiry Invitation Project Resources

This website from D11 includes leveled guidebooks for elementary, middle, and high schools that outline... Learn More

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