Shanti Elangovan is the founder of inquirED, an online platform that provides affordable curriculum and professional development to meet the demand for inquiry-based learning, a hands-on, experiential method of teaching and learning. After obtaining an M.Ed. from Columbia University, Elangovan moved from classroom teacher to coach to curriculum director. Eager to help educational organizations scale, she went on to earn an MBA. Elangovan quickly put those skills to work by envisioning and implementing strategies to amplify the impact of the National Center for Teacher Residencies.

How did your education and previous professional experience shape your current work at inquirED?

In the Spring of 2012, I visited The Family School, the K-5 school in the Bronx where I first taught Science after graduating from Columbia Teachers College. I was swarmed by former students. "Ms. E do you remember our butterfly project? Our Science Fair? Do you remember when we built…" Year after year when I visited my former students, they would bubble with pride at what we had created. For me, these responses sparked the first question that led to the creation of inquirED: Why did these experiences create such deep learning in students?

As I continued teaching in Iowa City, IA, I became convinced the answer lay in the power of inquiry-based learning to create authentic experiences and give students ownership of their learning. But I also wondered why more teachers didn’t practice inquiry-based learning. When I began working as an instructional coach, I began to realize that while teachers recognized the benefits of inquiry-based learning, they didn’t have the resources or training to practice inquiry-based teaching in their classrooms.

After obtaining an MBA, I moved to the National Center for Teacher Residencies, in part to explore how to scale innovative ideas in education. As I worked, I began to wonder if technology could be used to scale inquiry-based learning practices in schools across the country. InquirED is a result of that final question. Our team has built an integrated platform of curriculum and professional development to empower teachers and engage students. The creation and improvement of the platform is a complex process, but the result inquirED seeks is simple: an empowered teacher guiding a class of students who are inspired by what they are creating.

How have learners responded to the curriculum by inquirED?

We’ve had some really great stories from the classroom. Teachers have been amazed by the effect inquiry has had on their students’ learning and their own growth in implementing inquiry. Some favorite quotes:

"Although we may all have felt uncertain and unclear at the start of this journey with inquirED, I really felt like today we had arrived at that first ‘rise’ for which we had been striving, where we could look back and see how far we’ve come, without even realizing it." Instructional Coach, Houston, TX

"Last year we’d talk about content, and they’d forget about it a few days later. This year we’ve gone so deeply into the content that they not only can tell you about it, they can apply it to other things they’re doing."
5th Grade Teacher, Kansas City, MO

"This Rubric Generator is amazing; we can adapt it to work with our Learning Support teachers, customizing it to meet our specific needs."
3rd Grade Teacher, Houston, TX

What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?

I think we’re truly at an inflection point in education. The pendulum had swung pretty far in the direction of standardized testing. Educators are starting to speak up and say that approach is not equipping our students with the skills they need for the 21st century. With states across the country adopting inquiry-based standards like the C3 Social Studies Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards, we’re seeing a shift to valuing the development of skills and application of knowledge rather than just learning content.

What, if any, are future plans for inquirED?

InquirED is laser-focused on supporting schools and districts in making the shift to an inquiry-based approach. We’re starting with social studies because we’ve heard from teachers over and over again that they see the power of inquiry in social studies and are hungry for resources to support that work.  But elementary social studies is really just a start for us; true open inquiry has the power to be interdisciplinary and can span the course of the school day. We’re currently finishing up our elementary social studies product offering and will be launching that in schools and districts across the country next fall. We’ll be adding grade levels and other subject areas in the years to come.

Who are the most interesting people you are following on Twitter?

In terms of organizations I follow, C3Teachers is pretty great, as well as Deeper Learning and MindShift.

Image: Courtesy of Shanti Elangovan