LIMA — When it comes to conservation efforts, problem solving is the name of the game. To that end, the Inquiry-Based Learning Institute, based in Hillsboro, held an Inquiry-Based Education Summit conculding Saturday at OSU-Lima. While John Hoffman and Jennifer Randolph, the institute’s co-founders, came into this summit with conservation at the forefront, the methods discussed are useful in any educational environment.
“Today, our program is for teachers and educators, both formal and informal,” Randolph said. “Our conference is about using an inquiry-based learning approach with students, which is a hands-on method involving problem solving and having students generate questions, come up with a way of testing those questions, and then carrying the tests out.”
Randolph and Hoffman’s method of learning is an acroynym of the word inquire: investigate your surroundings, narrow your focus, ask comparative questions, uncover your prediction, initiate an action plan, research and collect data, and examine results and communicate findings. In finding new solutions for environmental and conservational issues in the future, being able to follow this method will help future educators and conservationists think outside the box, according to Hoffman.
“It’s all about criticial thinking and problem-solving to help people learn how to create knowledge to help solve some pretty complex problems we all face dealing with conservation,” he said. “Community based conservation and inquiry based learning go hand in hand.”
While this model may seem to oppose the more traditional lecture-based method of learning, Hoffman argues that they are both necessary when it comes to education.
“Traditional learning is very important and inquiry-based learning complements that,” he said. “We don’t want to sacrifice one for the other. Traditional learning complements inquiry.”
To complement Hoffman and Randolph’s efforts in the summit, the Allen Soil and Water Conservation District and the Ottawa River Coalition held a Water Festival on campus Saturday, giving children a chance to get hands-on education regarding local water conservation efforts.
“I went to an education conference and we talked a lot about trying to get kids started early in thinking about the environment and conservation,” said Jane Higbie, public information coordinator for the conservation district. “If they learn early and embrace the lifestyle, it’s easier for them to carry it on.”
Children in attendance had the opportunity to learn about what can lead to water pollution and how to recognize it.
“We have a station on the water cycle and I run a station on water pollution, especially dealing with storm drain water,” Higbie said. “We also have one dealing with macroinvertibrates. You can base the water quality on which organisms you find in the water.”
By encouraging young people to make inquiries into water conservation and gain a passion for environmental issues, Higbie hopes to raise up another generation who will keep the Ottawa River clean and healthy.
“We hope to have some kind of group come from this that can do watershed tours and such things,” she said. “At the conference, I saw where one group started a Junior Watershed Academy, and I’d like to start something like that in our county. Hopefully we can grow this to where we meet once a month and learn more. It probably won’t be this year. We have a good river, so the goal now is to keep it that way.”