Urie Bronfenbrenner and Inquiry-Based Education

As fascinating and relevant to education as Urie Bronfenbrenner ecological systems theory is, it is difficult to truly put it into practice in the classroom.  Bronfenbrenner was more of theorist of child development than a theorist of teaching styles.

Bronfenbrenner’s goal was to minimize inequality in the classroom. We must remember that Bronfenbrenner’s belief is that a variety of interconnected factors (the ecosystems) influence a child’s success or failure. The primary way in which one can put it into practice is through creating a supportive environment in which students can feel at ease to try new things and succeed.

To connect Bronfenbrenner to inquiry-based learning requires a bit of a stretch.

As we recall with Bronfenbrenner, he mentions a belief that students have a bit of control over their circumstances of learning within the microsystem of the classroom. Admittedly, there are other various other factors that affect learning, as Bronfenbrenner illustrates, but Bronfenbrenner’s definition of development says all.  Bronfenbrenner (1979) defines development as “the person’s evolving conception of the ecological environment, and his relation to it, as well as the person’s growing capacity to discover, sustain, or alter its properties.” (p. 9) This covers all levels of the ecological systems as Bronfenbrenner asserts that with development over time, a child becomes more aware of each layer and influences. The experiences, knowledge, and influences of each microsystem play off each other contribute to the development of the child. The child seems to play both an active (what he can change) and passive role (as what he cannot change such as in the exosystem and macrosystem) in this development.

Bronfenbrenner’s theory fits in with inquiry-based education as the core of inquiry is for the child to learn to think and develop as an individual. Bronfenbrenner’s theory supports the idea of using past and current knowledge and experiences to create new knowledge.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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