3 Fabulous Ways to Use Your Smartphone in Inquiry-based Learning

3 Fabulous Ways to Use Your Smartphone in Inquiry-based Learning from An Everyday Story

3 Fabulous Ways to Use Your Smartphone in Inquiry-based Learning from An Everyday Story

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“[T]he teacher’s role must be imagined in terms that are holistic and circular, not segmented and linear, Such a circularity – or better, spiraling – is seen in the revisiting that is a frequent component of the learning process.” ~ Carlina Rinaldi – Director, Reggio Emilia

Inquiry-based learning is emergent learning; lessons aren’t planned in great detail, weeks or months in advance. The path we follow emerges with every new question and every new experience.

So, if you have decided not to use a curriculum to guide part or all of your child’s learning, how then do you know what to do each day? Curriculum and workbooks do offer a level of security; you can see where you are headed, what’s coming up tomorrow – next week, next month – and make plans. With emergent learning, the direction your child’s learning will take isn’t mapped out for you.

Emergent learning though isn’t, I don’t think, harder to plan for and carry out than curriculum-based learning. It’s just different. When you decide to follow an inquiry-based approach to learning, you really need to throw out a lot of the ideas you have in your mind about children and how knowledge is constructed.

Like Rinaldi said, emergent learning spirals around. We listen to questions, document, offer provocations to explore more deeply, revisit ideas and retest theories. Instead of planning lessons from a curriculum, our planning centres more around co-constructing knowledge with children, rather than for them.

So, how do you support this idea of circular knowledge in your homeschool?  How do you support your child as a competent learner, capable of constructing their own knowledge in partnership with you? How do you keep track of their thoughts, plans and ideas so they can revisit them later? …. you use your smartphone. 

Here’s 3 practical ways to use your smartphone to help guide your inquiry-based homeschool

1: Camera 

The camera is a great tool for capturing evidence for documentation (for homeschool registration and annual reports) but it is also incredibly useful for inquiry-based learning. Any time your child sees something interesting, and isn’t able to take it home with them, hand them your phone and encourage them to take a picture.

Bones - An Everyday Story Bones - An Everyday StoryWhile on nature walks, we’ll take photos of flowers, moss, animal carcasses, interesting holes in trees, cloud formations; anything at all that catches their attention.

And not just out in nature, anywhere; we’ve taken photos at the supermarket of interesting products, taken pictures of street signs, interesting sculptures at the museum… anywhere and anything at all.

The camera let’s you preserve that moment of wonder and take it home with you. Once at home, you can use those photos to spark further inquiry:

Showing them the picture, “Remember this interesting skeleton we saw this morning? I wonder what it is… would you like to look it up with me?”

“Here’s the picture you took of that sculpture you liked this morning, would you like to try and make your own using clay?”

Burrow - An Everyday Story2: The Video Camera

Just like the camera, the video camera is a great tool for inquiry-based learning. It takes those captured moments and allows the child to experience them all over again. Next time your child sees something interesting happening, ask them if they would like to make a short video.

We’ve observed ant nests, taken videos of birds flying in formation, filmed the patterns rain makes in puddles, filmed construction workers, taken video of cranes lifting slabs of concrete to build a bridge, even the garbage truck as it empties our bin.

And just like the photos, you can use these small snippets of footage to inspire more inquiry. When you come back home again, make time to go through your videos together and talk with your child; not giving answers or definitions, but discussing their thoughts and giving them a jumping off point for further learning.

“Look at these busy ants we saw this morning. They’re moving quite quickly, aren’t they? I wonder what they are doing…”

“Here’s the video of the birds we saw this morning. They are flying in an interesting pattern, aren’t they? I wonder why they do that…”


Rocks - An Everyday Story

3: The Voice Recorder

The voice recorder app is possibly my favourite way to use a smartphone for inquiry-based learning. Homeschooling generally means there are less children to take part in a conversation. In a classroom setting, it is easier for a teacher to stand quietly to the side and document children’s discussions. But at home, I find it a little more difficult.

The voice recorder allows you to easily document a discussion. Simply start the voice recording and leave your phone next to your children as you explore something together. The app will quietly record all your child’s thoughts, questions and discoveries without interrupting them; it just works away in the background.

Then later that afternoon or evening, grab your planning book and a set of headphones and listen to the recording, taking notes as you go:

What questions did they ask?

What misconceptions do they have?

Did they make any suggestions for areas to explore more deeply?

Are there any resources/books you could gather to offer your child tomorrow?

You can use all this information to guide your planning. Start with your child’s questions; these are the things they want to know.

The video recording app is also really useful for allowing you to reflect on your own questioning techniques;

How were you contributing to the conversation?

Were you dominating with a lot of explanation?

Were you asking a lot of yes/no questions? (here’s a post I wrote on effective questioning techniques)

Did your questions encourage more thought and discussion or did they probe your child for factual answers?


The camera, video camera and voice recording app are three really simple but highly effective tools to support emergent learning. Photos, short video footage and recorded conversations give you valuable insights into the direction your child wants to go with their learning.

These tools also help to guide your planning process and reflect on your role, allowing you to improve your questioning techniques and effectiveness at providing engaging learning experiences….all in one handy little phone that fits right in your pocket.

4 Replies to “3 Fabulous Ways to Use Your Smartphone in Inquiry-based Learning”

  1. Kate, I have been following your blog for quite some time, along with some others on natural learning, but I have to say I think yours is becoming my favorite. You offer such simple, practical advice that make this whole homeschooling adventure seem not only possible, but incredibly exciting. Thank you!

  2. love these ideas! so practical for all parents too 🙂

  3. Can’t thank you enough Kate for the ideas and thoughts that you share – always pure inspiration for me that make me look forward to homeschooling my daughter. Resonate so much with how you live your life with your kids!

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