This morning marked the “end” of a unit development project in our SIPS class. For several weeks now, we have all been working on building unit plans for our various subject specializations, and today was a chance to peer-review them. Now before I get into the actual meat of the projects and the one I built with my partner (which I will share with you all in the next post), I’d like to introduce you to the website which made all of this possible.

Intelligence Online (IO) is, as the name suggests, an online workspace that you can use to build and organize your teaching. With a focus on inquiry, it guides its users through a step-by-step process through which they can structure inquiry-based learning. IO has a foundation in the work provided by the Galileo Educational Network Association, and has been streamlined by Dr. Pat Clifford and Dr. Sharon Friesen. Both networks share a common trait in that they support communities where educators can share their work with others in a collaborative environment.

The primary feature of IO is the ability to create “Projects,” and these will form the basis of your work on the network. For each project, you are tasked with completing several sections that will enhance and round-out your work. For instance, you will need to “Define Understanding,” which is to say if your students retain anything from this project, what will that be? You will also address other sections such as curriculum, technology, and assessment.

When you’re finished outlining your project, you can publish it to the IO community and it can then be searched and used by other educators with access to IO. This kind of collaborative environment is part of how we will continue to grow as professionals. Since any project created in IO requires a specified grade level and subject, your work can be searched using relevance criteria.

Now it’s time to reveal why IO is such a critical component in the generation of inquiry-based learning. Inquiry-based learning requires something we have come to know as “liberating constraints.” It sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s not. We all know, by this point in the game, that inquiry is not just giving your students a research project and then letting them loose upon it. That by giving them unlimited freedom in the way they complete assignments we are just confusing them further, and muddling the end results. How can you assess work that is so loosely defined that it could be as simplistic as a paperclip on a blank sheet of paper?

To truly achieve “inquiry” in students’ work, we must constrain it to give it freedom. With inquiry, there is always a purpose (without purpose, why would we do the work?) and so it requires that we focus said work in a specific direction. In the example above about researching with free reign, there can be no direction without you giving the students the answer from the very beginning. However, if you can set up the appropriate constraints, then the students are liberated to work in a way that both enhances their understanding and deepens the knowledge gained.

I have to add that gaining access to IO is not free, it requires a yearly subscription of $89.95. I will tell you now, that I would gladly pay to use this network for as long as it is around. It has been an incredible source of inspiration and has given me the chance to see what inquiry really means.