UTOPIA- Sharing knowledge

We wanted to see if 9-years-old children can find good questions and do a research on their own or if they need more guidance during inquiry-based learning. We did 2 lessons with different types of guidance to see which type is the best for the 9-years-old children.


Utopia is a European project that runs from September 2019 to December 2021. The project is a collaboration among six countries (Belgium, England, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria and Slovenia). Windekind (A primary school of Vorselaar) represent Belgium in this project. We were very excited to do the research for this project.

The Utopia Project aims to improve the quality of learning experiences and enrich the learning environment to better meet children’s needs. They hope to do this by training teachers in cross-curricular education and giving them insights into outdoor and community-based education. A helpful tool is the Utopia framework. With this framework you have to answer questions about WHY you are teaching the subject, HOW you are teaching the subject and WHAT you are teaching and you are encouraged to incorporate cross-curricular, outdoor and/or community-based elements.

Since community-based learning involves inquiry-based learning, our reseach focussed on: “To what extend 9 years old children are able to carry out the various steps of inquiry-based learning, and how much and which guidance do they need?”

Content is the reason search began in the first place. -Lee Odden

We developed two Utopia proofed lessons based on the little workbook of Vorselaar, made by An Jacobs, a teacher of Windekind.

In the first lesson the children had to think about (good) questions. We went to monuments in Vorselaar and listened to podcasts with information about the different monuments. The children had to write down some questions about things they wanted to know about the monuments. Our research question in this lesson was: “In what way can minimum and maximum guidance help to achieve that 9 years old children are able to ask search and research questions and distinguish both?”

Therefore, at some monuments the children got minimum guidance in posing the questions (they had to do it by themselves without help of the teacher, but the teacher was available as a coach), while at other monuments they got maximum guidance (we did it all together under the direction of the teacher). Afterwards, they had to divide the questions in the three categories: yes or no questions, search questions and research questions. They did a great job!

In the second lesson the children had chosen three questions, one of each type. They had to find answers to these selected questions. When they came at the research question, they had to do a real research. Here our research question was: “In what way can peers, teachers and the internet help to achieve the highest results in inquiry-based learning in 9 years old children?” So the children got one of the three types of guidance: by the teacher, by the peers or by a step-by-step-plan. At the end of the lesson, the pupils filled in an exit-card for self-evaluation. They were allowed to choose from three smiley faces that represented their feelings about this lesson and then they wrote down why they had chosen this smiley.

Method is the arithmetic of success. – Josh Billings

During these lessons we observed the children using a checklist. These checklists were based on the following resources: Observation Checklists, How To Create An Observation Checklist and Classroom & Teacher Observation Checklists. In this checklist were some criteria to see how the pupils behave during the whole walk. We gave the pupils a score on a scale from 1 to 10 and also give them a smiley. Because we didn’t have the possibility to observe the whole class, we chose to observe 5 pupils. These pupils were chosen by their teacher, so we had multiple personalities like a quiet pupil, an enthusiastic pupil, and so on.

We used two checklists to see if the children made good questions. One for the evaluation of questions in general and the other for the evaluation of the research questions. These checklists are based on the checklist of Molkenboer (2015) for the questions in general and for the research questions we took a look at a video from ‘Het Klokhuis- Sappige vragen’.

Finally, in conclusion, let me just say this. – Peter Sellers

It is difficult to make an unequivocal conclusion because we had to consider many different factors: the order of the monuments, the type of guidance, the motivation throughout the route and the type of monument. If we look at the following route, we can clearly see that the pupils asked many more questions at the first three monuments than at the last three monuments. The focus and attention decreased as the monuments progressed. With minimum guidance, the pupils find more good questions on average than with maximum guidance. At maximum guidance, the children were a bit prevented from writing down additional questions in addition to those we had thought up in class. At minimum guidance, they were more free to think up their own questions. One monument is easier to come up with questions for than another. In general, the pupils asked more different and good questions than we had expected.

During the second lesson we have experienced that to conduct a research, it is necessary for the pupils to be accompanied by a teacher. A step-by-step plan or help from classmates is not enough to complete the investigation. Generally, we can say that the children experienced it as fun, but that without much help from the teacher it was too difficult, which decreased the motivation for some children. We can also conclude that two teachers are too little to help the children sufficiently. It would be better if every group had a supervisor who could constantly help and support.

In the main, we can conclude that depending on the type of lesson, the pupils need much or little guidance. In lesson 1, in which the pupils came up with questions, minimum guidance was sufficient. In lesson 2, where pupils have to conduct a research maximum guidance (guidance by the teacher) would be the best option. Overall, we can conclude that sometimes you must dare to let the pupils go, so that their creativity and imagination can fully run its course, but that you must switch in time to extra guidance. When, after two hours of research and investigation, a pupil asks: “Teacher, can we answer more questions?”, it gives us great satisfaction.

There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.  – Robert Frank

Projectgroep & partners


Cato Dens, Anastasiya Galyarnyk, Lara Gibbs, Tetiana Isaieva, Joke Marien, Olena Zinkevych


Lieveke Hellemans


Windekind Vorselaar

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Wouter Diels
E wouter.diels@thomasmore.be

Greet Cuyt
Verantwoordelijke Innovaties in onderwijs
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E greet.cuyt@thomasmore.be

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