Although the inquiry process is as much about the journey as the final destination, there's still room for students to share what they've learned when it's time to wrap up a project. The act of sharing new knowledge gives the students the opportunity to employ three particular skills: synthesizing ideas, framing for an authentic audience, and making a presentation.
When we synthesize ideas, we reflect on the various concepts we've discovered and look for patterns and relationships, particularly between the ones that may not seem to connect. A student researching various military conflicts throughout history, for example, may discover some unlikely similarities between wars that at first might not seem to have much in common. With time to reflect, students may begin to see that strategies used in the Vietnam and Gulf Wars follow similar patterns. Or they might discover that military leaders from very different countries and eras made similar decisions, based on common motives.
A great way to help students engage in synthesis is to encourage them to use visual tools: creating their own charts or graphs can help them see connections that might not be obvious in conversation.
Bringing authenticity into an inquiry project means producing knowledge for others, rather than reproducing it directly from a source. As students move towards sharing their new knowledge with others, they can do so by placing their ideas in real-life contexts that their peers and community members will find relevant. Rather than explaining how the rules of the Electoral College were first established, for example, a student might describe to the class what their own school's student senate elections would look like if those same rules were used. Students can even seek audiences outside of school; after conducting research on newly developed recycling practices for an Environmental Science project, students can compose and send a letter to their local community leaders or news editor, presenting their findings and calling attention to new sustainability options.
The key to authenticity lies in considering the audience: rather than engage in a project just for its hypothetical learning value, students can think about a real audience that has an investment in the issue. They can consider who will care about this topic, who should care more than they currently do, and why it will matter to them. When students ground their project in real-life importance, it helps them stay interested, motivated, and curious.
Students may be intimidated by the prospect of making a formal presentation, but much of that anxiety can be minimized when students feel like they have expertise in their subject: in other words, when they feel like scholars. They can share not only the final outcome of their hard work, but the journey they took to get there: a presentation about the process of learning can be just as valuable as one in which students draw authoritative conclusions about a subject. Sometimes, that wonderful "A-ha!" moment arrives when students have the opportunity to be teachers, presenting their new knowledge to others. Along the way, they may even reexamine their own sources and ideas, and question their own claims, all of which are an important part of critical thinking.
When students are given the opportunity to share what they've learned by synthesizing ideas, framing for an authentic audience, and making a presentation, the benefits extend far beyond the grade they earn. The skills they gain can help inspire their sense of curiosity, as well as strengthen their critical thinking.