Inquiry and Design Learning in Punakha, Bhutan

Editor’s note – This is the second installment in our travel blog of the Teton Science Schools’ team’s trip to Bhutan. To read the first installment, click here.

At the core of the Teton Science Schools’ framework are the interlinked inquiry and design cycles. In inquiring more about a place and asking questions, you find opportunities to answer those questions and to design solutions. This process takes practice, and that’s just what veteran place-based education teachers from across Bhutan have been doing for the past week in our workshop.

A highlight of inquiry learning from the first two days of the workshop was visiting Punasang Chu River across the street from our workshop site at Punakha Higher Secondary School. The meandering, turquoise-colored Punasang Chu River forms at the convergence of the Mo Chu and Pho Chu Rivers at the Punakha Dzong. The site of our inquiry was about 100 yards downstream of this confluence. To begin the inquiry, I asked teachers what they knew about macroinvertebrates, and then I posed a question to them: “Will there be more macroinvertebrates on rocks in the slower or faster moving sections of the Punasang Chu?” The majority of teachers hypothesized that there would be more macroinvertebrates in the slower moving river sections. Then it was time to get our hands and feet wet, looking on and under rocks to test this hypothesis. The river was teeming with caddisflies, mayflies, and stoneflies. The teachers eagerly picked up rock after rock, looking for the small creatures, while others tallied the results.

And their hypothesis was not supported; in the end, they found more macroinvertebrates in the faster moving river sections than slower moving sections. The discussion that followed about the health of the river as well as methods for collecting and studying macroinvertebrates showed that this was a reasonable project for the teachers to take on in their own schools and with their own students. Beyond that, this guided inquiry prepared the teachers to spend the rest of the morning investigating their own, open inquiry projects in small groups.

By the afternoon, it was time for the design side of the process. Nate McClennen, Vice President of Education and Innovation, asked the groups to design and present a solution to a problem revealed by their inquiries. The popular vote for most innovative idea went to a group that designed a new broom from cut-up, reused plastic bottles and sticks found around the Punakha Higher Secondary School campus. This new broom could be used to keep the school grounds tidy and serve as a way to reuse some of the many plastic bottles found around campus. Keep your eyes peeled for a photo of this practical example of the interlinked inquiry and design cycles.

Following two days of learning more about and practicing inquiry and design, the teachers reported having many new ideas to bring back to their classrooms. And with three more days of the workshop still to go, we are sure that this is just the start.

Travel Update: Our trip to Bhutan went smoothly – the six flights from Jackson, Wyoming to Paro, Bhutan took about three days. We arrived in Bhutan on January 11 slightly jet lagged but excited to be here. Our host, Mr. Wangchuk from the Royal Education Council, and our driver, Sangay, met us at the airport and took us to Thimphu, where we ran errands (buying ghos for Nate and Nick, getting our travel permits, and site seeing) and had dinner with Journeys School alumna Thinley Wangchuk. On January 12 we traveled from Thimphu, over the 11,800-foot Douchla Pass, to Punakha. The drive went smoothly, and we spent our afternoon exploring the site of our workshop, Punakha Higher Secondary School, and setting up for our workshop to begin the next day.

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