This thing we call “Sustained Inquiry”

55 million kilometres away, give or take (depending on the time of year), our closest neighbour Mars circles the sun — just like us. Two weeks ago, our species was able to land Insight on it — the seventh rover that is responsible for exploring the Red Planet. (They have not all been successful, because landing a robot on a planet 55 million kilometres away is presumably difficult.)

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First image of Mars taken by Insight.

I’ll admit it. I am completely addicted to this mission. I am constantly checking NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab website for updates on video, images, and now even sound. Here is the sound of wind on Mars, captured by Insight (You will need to use headphones or a sub woofer):

How amazing is this! We landed an object on Mars safely and now we are able to listen to the wind whipping over the solar panels of Insight from 55 million kilometres away! I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind and has me asking deep existential questions.

It was this inquiry — that is the inquiry demonstrated by the NASA team — that truly astounds me and has also directed our professional learning as a faculty. On Friday at the Maples Met School, we engaged with several ideas and scholars, including Yuval Harari, Suzie Boss, and Ken Robinson. We were determined to answer deep questions about our instruction, assessment, and our relationship with each other and our learners.


Suzie Boss from the Buck Institute and Edutopia speaking to the Maples Met School faculty about sustained inquiry.

One of the key questions we asked and discussed was: How do we structure our advisories for inquiry? That is, how do we foster learning environments that have the necessary structures and scaffolds to produce consistent moments of deep inquiry?

And this line of inquiry on our part stemmed from an incredible whole-school conversation led by our learners on Wednesday, where they put forth that they wanted more structure and scaffolding in project work, they demanded greater accountability from each other, and they want to go deeper with their internship projects.

Harari’s latest book, in particular his chapter on Education, provides learners with some charged advice. The advice is essentially to not rely on adults to prepare you for the future and to turn consumption on its head.  That is to say to produce new ideas (to create) and not to simply consume them. While with the former advice I take issue with, given that mentors will always be critical to our learning, I believe sustained inquiry – coupled with purpose, and creativity –  (all ideas that are interdependent) is the pocket or learning when we prove learners with time and space to create and to sustain their creative investigative questioning. This pocket allows affords us the opportunity to create, rather than simply consume.

And ultimately, this pocket provides us with moments of disequilibrium, elation, and connection to other human beings. It is this last point, that of human relationship, which in my experience is a huge factor in sustaining inquiry. That mentor-mentee relationship is critical to diving deep, creating anew, and flourishing with purpose.

And this is what flourishing with purpose might look like (Grab your cardboard VR viewer: