Inquiry Story - Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson Samuel Johnson, Electrical Program


IN THE PAST teaching a section of the CEC might look like this; getting everyone onto the correct page, the correct rule, reading the rule out, explaining what it means. Then give an example or two on the board, give out a worksheet for them to practice on, roaming around the room being available for student questions, and then reviewing their answers as a class. Interest in the subject was minimal, breaks where always looked forward to.

I felt I needed to find a way to make the legal text come alive for my students, some way to get students to take more responsibility for their own thinking and learning. For this reason I adopted Team-Based learning, as a way of using the social forces of the classroom in order to motivate students to do difficult things…like solving problems rather than reciting facts or repeatedly solving the same problem.

The structure for TBL is important; individual accountability needs to be worked into the program, but the biggest value is being accountable to your peers. Students might not prepare for class for themselves or the instructor, but are highly motivated to prepare for their peers.

Working with other is engaging, offering up your ideas is risky and listening to other’s ideas that conflict with yours is engaging. Learning from & with your peers can be very rewarding, as many of these students have stated.

NOW using the TBL format the students are in groups and one problem is given to them all, via a document or projected and a short time line to get to the answer. 

Using the CEC they have to find the rule using the index or table of contents or google I don’t care. They have to interpret the rule, discuss the possible implications and applications of the rule(s) and any other rules that might come into play.

Then coming to a consensus and commit that to paper or multiple choice. When 2 teams are done, the 3rd gets 30 seconds to commit.

Then every team reveals their answer and the room gets louder, “why did they pick ‘C’?”, “We got 100amps, 135 can’t be right!” with difference answers now they really want to know what I have to say. But I will pick one team, maybe right, maybe wrong to explain their rational or process for their answer, then maybe another.

Very quickly the room sees which is correct, if not, I don’t drag it out give but them the correct method or just correct one part and that lesson is done. On to the next…

One down fall of inquiry teaching is that this type of work is difficult and takes a lot of energy on the part of the students. Students who have not been trained to think for extended periods - 2 hours of this can be enough, the instructor has to watch for authentic fatigue, not boredom fatigue. I have had to close off lessons early when I see fatigue in class members and do something less strenuous.

The feedback I receive is universally “I like working in teams”, “I like learning from other students”, “the class goes by so quickly when we work in teams”.

Here students are taking more responsibility for their own thinking and learning, being problem solvers, working with others, making high level decisions about what is critical and what is superfluous.

Peer Observation

I decided to deliver an existing lesson modified for TBL for the 1st time when I had Charlene Stewart observing the classroom for approximately one hour.

The lesson was on introducing and practicing two types of electrical drawings, schematics drawings from given criteria and then a wiring diagrams from the schematics. This lesson I had done numerous times as a lecture - handout. In previous sessions, I found that most students needed individual attention each step of the way, which really slowed the class down and was very taxing on the instructor.

I was confident that the simple questions asked by students could be answered in the team environment, but needed to see how it played out. I was also looking to see if students where able to advance through the levels of difficulty at the same or better rate than in previous lessons. Also, if the team environment was an appropriate setting to do this type of work, which required each student to build each drawing, as there was no Team submission.

When we debriefed about 4 days later, Charlene was very professional in letting me direct the conversations and expose where I thought the pace and tasks went well and where they could be improved. Adding her insightful observations created meaningful and exciting advancements in the lesson and overall in my development of TBL lessons.  

I was able to clearly see where I had to expand ideas, where to slow down the pace of work, what material needed modifying, what materials and concepts needed to be presented in smaller chunks and restrict the rate of work given out, not hand out one big work package.

It will be a year before I get to deliver this lesson again, but I am confident that the lessons learnt here, with the modifications to the materials, will make for an impactful and exciting session of print drawing with the next cohort of students.


Samuel Johnson is a Red Seal Electrician and has the Provincial Instructor’s Diploma. In addition to a traditional in-class delivery of lecture-worksheets-labs, he has engaged in structured inquiry, particularly Team Based Learning (TBL) to supplement traditional instructional methods.

In spring 2015 Samuel enrolled in Team Based Learning training through VIU’s CIEL, spring 2016 he participated for one year on the Council on Learning and Teaching Excellence

Through 2016 spring and summer Samuel adapted specific learning outcomes around the Canadian Electrical Code (CEC) and others using the principals of TBL and structured inquiry for his Electrical Foundation Program. TBL is a specific methodology of structured inquiry; lesson plans can easily be modified for either or a blended modality.

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