Normal education has teachers following a strict curriculum, with little input from students. Adults decide what students must memorize and what is relevant for their future.
However, this type of education can be boring for students, especially those that do not adapt well to sitting in chairs and do not understand the importance of subjects. It also is detrimental to the ability to apply learning to real-life scenarios.
The inquiry-based approach to learning has students choose a topic they want to learn about. Teachers then customize curriculum to help them achieve their goal for learning. In a MindShift article, an example topic was hot summers. Students would have to learn why summers are hot, how to cool schools with air conditioning, and how to design a system that would cool their school; students would learn mathematics and science using a method that is relevant and motivating.
The problem with the inquiry method is that it is difficult to apply. Any form of customization takes an enormous amount of work, especially in education. Unlike factories that can apply a mass customization model using standardized components, educational topics are extremely varied. Teachers would also need training to learn how to adapt curriculum to student interests.
With the clear benefits of inquiry-based learning, should not teachers take an easy first step and have students learn about a topic of their interest in the related subject? For math, for example, a student could survey a fast-food restaurant to see which coin denominations are the most troublesome or the most frequently used, and how to apply pricing for a smoother payment experience–learning business, statistics, and simple arithmetic in the process.
For language learners, students can pick a cultural topic and learn the language required to express that topic in a natural way.
Education, regardless of the exact model or methodology used, must be relevant to and accommodate student interests. Projects are a simple way of doing this, but teachers could gain valuable insight by trying and learning new methods as well.
Image: Lindy Buckley.