Creating the time and space for self-directed, personalized, inquiry learning.

Background (Part 1 – Purpose)
The following image and description were created for an application for the Cmolik Prize. ‘Assignments’ like this are great because they force us (teachers John Sarte, Alan Soiseth and VP David Truss) to think about what it is we value, and strive towards as we build our program at Inquiry Hub Secondary School. Doing this has additional value to Coquitlam Open Learning (the district’s online school that was the founding program that Inquiry Hub developed out of), because embedded in the descriptions of possible programs below, online course credits and blended learning course credits could compliment and enhance many of the ideas and program suggestions made.

Here is a student created video of teacher John Sarte sharing a bit about Inquiry Hub Secondary School, inquiry learning, and some of the projects he has worked with students on.

Background (Part 2 – Design)
If I were to distill the concepts shared below into 3 essential points they would be:

1. Create time, space and supports for students to be self-directed learners.

2. Blend courses by:

a) Creating cross-curricular, ‘big idea’ projects that also give students opportunities to follow their own related interests;
b) Providing resources and supports online so that students don’t need a teacher in front of them for all the activities and assignments required in the course.

3. Students get credit for following their inquiry/passion projects: Develop or *borrow ‘local’ courses that are competency based, looking at ‘soft’ skills, which students can improve on regardless of the content of their inquiries.

* Here are two of our competency-based courses: Foundations of Inquiry 11 and Applications of Digital Learning.

Background (Part 3 – Implementation)
How can you use this information? Here are a couple questions for you, depending on what level you teach/lead.
     High schools:
The image and descriptions considered below, describe a typical 4-block semester schedule in a high school. It would not be hard to apply the same to a high school that runs full-year courses.
What is one unit in one course that you can transition from a more traditional model to an inquiry based learning model?
Which of the formats below can you find colleagues/administrators to work with you to implement?

     Middle/Junior High Schools:
It would be fairly easy for middle school teams to implement many of these ideas into their program right away, and for Junior high schools to start thinking about offering combined courses to integrate learning through big themes and projects.
Which courses/subjects can be combined to create dynamic ‘big idea’ themes that students will find interesting to explore with inquiry-based learning?
Are your students’ timetables designed to maximize flexible learning opportunities or can they be changed to provide more flexibility?

     Elementary Schools:
When you have your own students for most of the day, the potential to provide time and space for inquiry and cross-curricular activities is amazing, whereas it can often be challenging to find the time to work collaboratively with other teachers doing similar things… But collaboration time between teachers is a catalyst for great projects and for sharing innovative practices!
Which courses/subjects can be combined to create dynamic ‘big idea’ themes that students will find interesting to explore with inquiry-based learning?
Who can you collaborate/connect with to help you?


Here are 2 versions of the (infographic-styled) DCL image:

Creating Inquiry Time to Dream Create Learn – PDF, and

Creating Inquiry Time to Dream-Create-Learn JPG.


Below you will find the image broken into smaller sections, with greater detail provided after each image, then the full image is shared after a few final thoughts.



DCL’ at Inquiry Hub – Time to Dream, Create, and Learn

~ Creating the time and space for self-directed, personalized, inquiry learning..

At Inquiry Hub Secondary School we have embedded time for students to Dream, Create, and Learn (DCL) for greater than 30%, and up to as much as 50%, of their school day. During DCL, students have time to work on: assignments given to them by teachers, online-blended components of their courses, or inquiry projects that they design or co-develop with teachers.

Students get course credit for their self-directed inquiries and passion projects. By implementing so much time in a students’ schedule to DCL, teachers must redesign their program to create time and space for students to work independently. When teachers plan their teaching time with students it necessarily needs to shift to include assignments that connect to, facilitate and support learning happening during DCL time. By also explicitly teaching inquiry learning as a course (Foundations of Inquiry), we create space for students to work on projects of their choice, assessing competencies of core skills rather than on content they are learning, which can vary based in their passions and interests.

Here is a look at a continuum, starting with individual teachers implementing more DCL time in a specific class, and moving to a model of entire system change, designed to provide students more time to Dream, Create, and Learn as a significant part of what they do at school, rather than something that is added on to their schedule. The final section “Flexible School Schedule Designed Around Time to Dream, Create, Learn” describes a model that disrupts the typical one-block-per-class schedule seen in most high schools today. While Inquiry Hub Secondary is a stand-alone small program today, it has the potential to be a fully developed system in a much larger school with a redesigned schedule where every student is given time to Dream, Create, and Learn.



Adding DCL time to a single class

~ No change to traditional timetable, single teacher, single class adaptation.

On an individual basis, teachers can implement varying degrees of self-directed, personalized learning within a single class. The limitations of this include challenges around integrating subject matter, when there is only one course being taught, and limited flexibility in creating the time for students to explore what they want to explore. While Genius Hour is an excellent example of how a teacher can implement self-directed, passion projects, there is no need for any real change to the traditional school timetable, and a change in teaching approach beyond the dedicated time allotted is completely teacher based.

Advantages: No system change required. Easy for a single teacher to implement.

Disadvantages: Not systematic, teacher dependent, limited flexibility.



Combining classes to create more opportunity for DCL

~ Little or no change to traditional timetable, potential for teacher collaboration.

There are two key variations to this model, with a significant difference. The first variation is simply to provide a single teacher with a double block of time to teach two integrated subjects. The second variation is to have two teachers teaching at least two courses, integrated with subject matter being provided through integrated assignments and embedded DCL time. A double block of time is given to students, ideally providing prep time in alternate blocks for the teachers during the shared class. In this second variation a teacher benefits from collaboration and teamwork with another teacher. If the teacher schedule is backed with prep time for the teacher not scheduled to teach during a specific block, there can be significant scheduling advantages with one teacher being able to take students longer for one day, and the other teacher doing same on another day. Furthermore, when students have their DCL time, teachers can co-support students and/or use the time to collaborate.

When courses are combined, and inquiry projects as well as online supports are developed, there is potential to provide more than 2 courses in the same time normally provided for just the 2 courses: Additional courses like Work Experience, Leadership, Digital Literacy, and Independent Directed Studies, or the new Career Life Connections 12 can be provided. This can further increase the prep and collaboration time of teachers since one of these 2 teachers can have an additional unscheduled block of time in their schedule to support these additional course, or a third teacher can be included into the teaching mix (responsible for integrating this third course into the student schedule, supported with online materials in a blended learning environment).

This could be an excellent ‘entry level’ approach to creating DCL time because it encourages flexible cross-curricular learning, provides built in teacher collaboration time, and combining two or more courses encourages thematic projects that can allow for student directed interests.

Advantages: Minimal or no system change. Easy for a small group of teachers to implement.

Disadvantages: More challenging to schedule in a block timetable. Enrollment in a double course can be a ‘hard sell’ for students, since it isn’t a full program.



Flex Block Model

~ Timetable adapted to provide clearly defined time for students to be self-directed.

In this model, students are provided flex time in their schedule, ideally to provide them self-direct learning (DCL) time to follow their passions and interests. The schedule can have flex block time every day, or there could be just one or two flex blocks provided each week. In addition to DCL time, flex block can also be used for students to catch up on school work, meet with teachers, get support for their current courses, work in teams on projects, or to extended class projects. Flex time can also be provided to integrate learning connected to specific courses for additional credit, such as Independent Directed Studies. Students do not necessarily need to connect with the specific teacher in their previous block before the flex block, but credit for work on self-directed projects would have an assigned teacher-mentor.

Advantages: This model can help a teaching staff find value in creating more self-directed time for students. It can provide teaching staff with opportunities to share their own passions and interests with students.

Disadvantages: Flex block compartmentalizes DCL time, limiting the overall flexibility to provide self-directed time beyond the time allotted daily or weekly.



Partial Program – Implementing DCL within a ½ Day or ½ Year Program

~ Teaching teams provide students with a 1/2 time, flexible, cross-curricular program.

Students dedicate a semester, or half a semester for a full year, to a program which provides student self-directed time and collaborative teaching time. Blended, cross-curricular courses in the schedule could allow more choice and flexibility during the program. As in all of these examples, explicitly teaching a course like Foundations of Inquiry, and/or Digital Literacy, can go a long way in creating opportunities for DCL time, where students are self-directed and doing inquiry-based learning.

Advantage: A more fully immersive opportunity for students. Flexibility for DCL time to be meaningfully integrated into the schedule. Students experience two different kinds of schooling.

Disadvantages: A specific program selection process needs to be implemented. Support for students in a program different from the block scheduling can be challenging.



DCL – A School Within A School Model

~ Students are removed from the traditional schedule.

A full program that can run completely independently of the regular timetable but can also take advantage of courses such as electives, which are challenging to provide in a smaller program, if

it were run independently, like the Inquiry Hub is currently being run. Teachers can be fully dedicated to the program, or they can be scheduled to support this program while also having courses in the regular schedule as well.

Advantage: A completely immersive opportunity for students. Opportunities to extend learning beyond the school become much easier with full student scheduling.

Disadvantages: A specific program selection process needs to be implemented. Support for students in a program different from the block scheduling can be challenging. Can produce scheduling challenges that make the model more expensive to support than a traditional model.



Flexible School Schedule Designed Around Time to Dream, Create, Learn

~ An entire school designed to support flexible, self-directed, cross-curricular learning. 

A student does not have a program defined by courses in a traditional block schedule. Students might still be grouped into teams or school-within-a-school programs around their interests, but not necessarily by their grade levels. Elective teachers would have scheduled times when they would support passion projects and theme-based learning challenges designed by students and teachers in different content areas. Learning commons provide support in different content areas. Students get support developing not just content related competencies, but also core competencies.

Advantage: A completely immersive opportunity for students. DCL time is scheduled as part of every student’s schedule. Done properly, no additional resources needed to implement. All structures and student supports are focused around meeting the needs of students in a self-directed, inquiry-based school.

Disadvantages: Very challenging to schedule, unless teams are created to have students cycle through elective and content areas. Support structures needed for students during DCL time. Considerable collaboration time is essential for teachers to support student needs.


Final Thoughts from David Truss

I’d love to see a public K-12 school implement a Montessori style elementary (with a focus on self-directed, exploratory, inquiry-based learning), followed by an IB Middle Years style program where teachers teach interdisciplinary and thematically (but without being an IB school), followed by an Inquiry Hub style high school, where students have the freedom to do epic projects that can impact their community and the world. But for now, I hope the options I suggest can provide educators with an opportunity to increase the time students get to Dream, Create and Learn, during their school day. When we provide opportunities for students to explore the world through inquiry learning, (whether those opportunities are teacher-guided or self-directed), we create an environment where relevance amplifies learning, and our students will develop projects that they will remember beyond their years at school.

How will you help your students Dream, Create, Learn?



Creating Inquiry Time to Dream Create Learn - JPG

Resources for the Inquiry Hub BCSSA 2015 Fall Conference Presentation

Share the following resources as you wish. We request that if you improve upon any of them, please share back!

Board Approved Courses developed for Inquiry Hub Secondary School:

Foundations of Inquiry 11 BAA Course

In this course students will be required to demonstrate the ability to efficiently and effectively navigate the digital technologies required to accomplish specific goals and tasks. Primarily, the goal of digital literacy is that individuals are able to select the correct digital tool at the right time for the right purpose behaving ethically, responsibly and always protecting the personal security and privacy of themselves and others. There are 4 areas of study: Social Networking, Personal Learning Environments and Networks, and Principles of Digital Presentation and, Principles of Inquiry.

Applications of Digital Learning BAA Course

Foundations of Inquiry 11 is a process-based course reflecting the necessary skills for effective participation in contemporary society. Learners will participate in inquiries that are designed to be a complex combination of structured learning with intentional opportunities for students to create, design, imagine along with developing new possibilities. Students will cycle through the stages of inquiry in an overt, intentional and planful manner across the curriculum, at
the appropriate times for the appropriate purpose.



Inquiry Hub Cross-Curricular Competencies focus around:

Identity, Stewardship, Communication, and Design



Positive Personal & Cultural Identity:

How I think and act with respect to myself and others in this social, cultural, historical moment.


A commitment to act responsibly in the care of common spaces and shared resources for future generations.


The process by which a sender transmits a thought to a receiver.

Design Thinking:

An intentional and informed process to create a solution to a problem.
(Creative and Critical Thinking)
(Inquiry Learning)

Core Competency Rubrics: (Based on above and connected to the new curriculum.)

Short/Simplified Rubric – iHub rubric-2015-v1-short

Full Rubric – iHub rubric-2015-v1

 Other resources:


The Points of Inquiry

The Points of Inquiry: An interesting aspect of Inquiry is that it is messy. We use the BCTLA Points of Inquiry as a visual to emphasize that at any point during your inquiry journey, you might move from point to point (in no particular order).

For example, as you construct something, you might make new connections that result in a different line of questioning (reflection) that perhaps you should look into (investigate) a different plan to construct something new, or take on a new approach that you will need to present (express) in an altogether different way than you had originally planned… Inquiry is not a linear approach to learning.





Canadian Education Association’s Ken Spencer Award

for Innovation in Teaching and Learning



Learning Through Failure

F.A.I.L. – Failure Always Invites Learning

Failure is failure and nothing more if there is a lack of reflection, support, resources or effort. However, if you try something epic, and you fail… there can be some incredible learning along the way. There is an invitation to learn from failure, but it is an opportunity, not a guarantee.


Two quotes epitomize this acronym:

Student: “If it works the first time, you probably did something wrong.”(Your question was too easy, or you are not fully comprehending what needs to be accomplished. This is only true if you are trying something very challenging.)

Teacher: “I don’t know half of the things I talk about, I’m just comfortable in the not knowing.” (Students will ask big questions you don’t know the answer to… and they will likely get to the answer (knowledge/information) before you can… However, you can help them with the cognitive skills they need to find the answers (as Marzano mentioned yesterday).)

Read more about this: Learning and Failure (Blog post)


Resources from other schools:

Blog post: In Query

Including this great resource:

Work that Matters: This guide is for teachers. It explains how to design and run projects for students that begin with an inquiry and end with a tangible, publicly exhibited product.




Inquiry Hub Links

(Shared or discussed in our presentation)

Website: :: ‘About’ Page  :: Facebook :: Twitter

Sample Student Portfolio: Jay Jang. And his Leapiono Inquiry

Student Garden (group blog):

Lettuce Sprouting Inquiry by the Green Inquiry Team

Student created polling site for election: And: A local news article about it.

Brandon and Josh’s Attendance App (Facebook Video)

Visit us during our Open House on December 2nd, 2015!

Click here to RSVP


 BCSSA 2015 Presentation

By Stephen Whiffin & David Truss



Presentation Description

The SD43 Inquiry Hub (iHub) is a program of choice for grades 9 to 12 students. It provides an innovative, technology-driven, full-time program which allows students to pursue their own learning questions by shaping the educational experience around their interests instead of structured classes.  Despite having a full-time face-to-face school day, the iHub leverages online learning materials creating a blended learning environment where deep learning is achieved through mentorship relationships and independent directed studies (IDS) while gaps in curricular outcomes are addressed through flexible online materials.

Key features of the iHub include mandatory courses in learning through inquiry (Foundations of Inquiry) and Digital Media.  Foundations of Inquiry introduces cycle of investigation that supports students as they study topics of their own choosing on a small scale, within set timeframes, and culminates in presentations that demonstrate skills across multiple subject areas. Senior level IDS courses run similarly to the smaller projects in grades 9 and 10, but require far more focus, deeper learning and commitment (100-120 hours).

Teachers encourage students to pursue their interests and make learning visible through the design of new products, services and experiences. Students are challenged to seek mentorship beyond the school boundaries, but reaching out to subject area specialists in the community to create a “network of support” to guide their inquiry processes.  They are also encouraged to promote stewardship through action by taking care our school, their community and the world.

The Inquiry Hub won the 2015 Canadian Education Association’s Ken Spencer Award as the most innovative educational program in Canada.  The iHub’s application of blended and inquiry based learning through personalized experiences are strongly connected to the BC Education Plan and will provide BCSSA members with a tangible example of how, by removing traditional constraints from the learning environment, a school successfully transform the learning experience.

iHub Garden Build

Last Friday three students at the Inquiry Hub Secondary School, in Coquitlam BC, organized a garden build. It started with Grade 9 student, Shauna, applying for and getting a World Wildlife Fund grant. This led to some inquiry questions around the best soil, water and temperature conditions for growing lettuce. And Friday’s garden build was the latest progress in developing an urban/inquiry garden for our school.

"iHub Green Inquiry Garden - Photo By Richard Stewart"

Everything about this garden has been coordinated by the @GreenInquiry team, from: getting permission from the school district; to coordinating students, parents, community members, and teachers to help; to purchasing plants, seeds, supplies, equipment & materials; to planning for summer maintenance; to future community outreach, and education programs for a local elementary school. By implementing a series of IDS – Independent Directed Studies courses, we will be building a high school program that allows these students to design a fair bit of their inquiry work time at the Inquiry Hub, while earning credits for high school graduation.

I’m speculating now, that by the time these Grade 9 students graduate, their Green Inquiry website will be a learning portfolio that will have any university they want to go to very interested in these students!

Here is a wonderful time lapse taken from our learning commons window. There are some images shared afterwards to show some of the things missed by this point of view.

Here is a Storify of the day… Comments and images shared online:


Congratulations to the Green Inquiry team, and to the Inquiry Hub community on their incredibly successful garden build!

Update: See their blog post, Successful Garden Building Day!

Lettuce Sprouting Inquiry

We are now working on our third inquiry projects at the Inquiry Hub.

What wasn’t mentioned in this video is that one of our students has applied for a grant to start a garden, and it is hoped that some of what is learned here will help us with the location and resources used in our garden.

In Query

The HUB Blog is “The Inquiry Hub‘s Professional Learning Blog”. As such, it is a place to share what we have learned, what we are learning, and what we are still trying to figure out.

One of the most exciting things about being an educator is sharing great learning moments with our students… discovering answers to questions that neither teacher nor student knew beforehand. In that way, it is vital for educators to see that they are not just teachers, but equally as important, they are also learners. After all, we are in the ‘business of learning’ and modeling fearless learning is probably one of the most influential ways we can instil curiosity and a love of learning in our students.

"Inquiry Hub :: Connect | Create | Learn"

One of the key premises of the Inquiry Hub is that we will help students develop their own questions, based on their interests, and then help them find the answers. With that in mind, I’ll share some resources based on a couple key questions that I have asked myself:

Where can I find some of the best resources on inquiry based learning? 

– And –

How can we best foster a culture of curiosity and meaningful inquiry in our community?

Hopefully the links below will be a start, but the best use of this blog won’t be just as a repository of useful links and resources, but rather a ‘living’ documentation of our insights, reflections and our own inquiry into what our learning community is exploring at the school. Connect. Create. Learn.

Here are some great resources for inquiry based teaching and learning. (Previously shared here.)

These are for sharing, discussing, and questioning. They are conversation starters between colleagues in schools and students in classrooms. Attempting to use these resource in isolation is a recipe for frustration and exhaustion. Together, ‘we’ are much smarter, more effective, potent.

Connect! – The Professional Learning Journal of the Calgary Science School. Follow along as the staff at CSS continue to learn and share.

Discipline-Based Inquiry Rubric – from The Galileo Educational Network. It takes a while for planning with this rubric to become a habit of mind.

Exemplary Learning and Teaching posters – These are in every classroom at CSS, and the students and staff live and breathe these concepts! Here is the CSS blog post on this!

Exemplary Collaboration – Staff at CSS have just developed this!

Examining Student Work: A Collaborative Inquiry into Exemplary Teaching and Learning produced by the Calgary Science School.

Calgary Science School Strategic Plan 2011/2012 – “Centre of Exemplary Teaching and Learning through Collaboration, Research and Innovation”

"Inquiry at CSS"

Work that Matters: This guide is for teachers. It explains how to design and run projects for students that begin with an enquiry and end with a tangible, publicly exhibited product.

Introduction to Inquiry Based Learning: A great website by Neil Stephenson, with excellent examples from CSS!

Points of Inquiry: A Framework For Information Literacy and The 21st Century Learner.

Blog posts by Shelley Wright: Life in a Technology Embedded Classroom: Science, Life in a 21st-Century English ClassWhy I Love Project Based Learning and Flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Blog posts by Chris Wejr: Power of a Student-Designed Curriculum and 6 BIG Assessment (AFL) Practices.

A Step-by-Step Guide to the Best Projects: But we are in Canada, so instead of #1. State Standards, think ‘Learning Outcomes’.

Inquiry learning – from knowledge to understanding – 6 minute video by Vic Hygate – How do you use inquiry learning to move from knowledge to understanding?

Environmental Inquiry: A Pedagogical Framework on Natural Curiosity – a resource for teachers.

Challenge Based Learning: Take action to make a difference.

Describing 16 Habits of Mind: ”Habit of Mind” means having a disposition toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems, the answers to which are not immediately known.

Next Steps: Creating a focus on Learning. Good notes on the value of culture.

"DeFour - Critical Questions"

And now here is what I believe is THE MOST IMPORTANT RESOURCE! One that we have to collectively create in our school:

An inquiry driven,

collaborative culture,

that is pervasive throughout our school,

including parents, educators, and students.

Hopefully this blog will provide a space for us to share parts of our learning journey in our efforts to build such a community.