Designing an Inquiry Based Lab with varying levels of inquiry


Target Objective

Learners will be able to integrate different levels of inquiry activities into their current lesson plans and also future lesson plans

Unit 3 Introduction

Participants will be looking back and labs already done in class or commonly done in class to evaluate the level of inquiry, if any, present in the labs. Through this evaluation, participants will be able to re-evaluate and determine how these lessons might be different if done at a level 0,1,2, or 3 inquiry. Finally, participants will create an inquiry based lab activity with correlating inquiry intensity. Reviewing and creating will allow participants to look back and ahead to how varying levels of inquiry can change their lab activity outcomes.

Prior knowledge at this point..

  • In your notes, jot down the rubric that was used in the article and also how they broke apart a lab? What were the main components?
Think about the first step in inquiry based labs...the driving problem or question. Here is a video of how even a simple excursion to the playground in the winter can spark inquiry and investigation in a science classroom [1]

Reworking Activity

  1. Think back to 3 labs that you've done so far this year or 3 labs you commonly do in class and either describe them or gather the lesson
  2. Using the rubric Fay and Bretz designed, evaluate your labs using the rubric...focus on the question, procedure, and solution. After evaluating your labs based on the rubric, assign them a 'level of inquiry' of 0-3. Do you see a trend with the 3 labs you picked? If so please explain.
  3. Pick one of these lessons and identify how you can bring it to a higher level of inquiry than where it started. Does this change the objectives or structure? How so?

Quick reflection

  • Compare and contrast your lesson from #3 above. How might the original lab compare with the reworked one? Predict how you think students' performance and learning will be on the new lab.

Design Activity

  1. In the reworking activity, you took a previous lab and reworked it to include a higher level of inquiry than where it started out. In the following activity, you will be designing a series of labs with varying levels of inquiry.
  2. Pick a unit that you feel confident in including at least 2 labs as part of the unit. These labs should be included in the same unit and new and old concepts/skills. In order to facilitate inquiry, these labs should start with a question...decide in which lab, if either the question will be given and when students will decide on their own. For example in chemistry a unit that could be used in acids/bases or types of reactions/limiting reagents. There are multiple labs that are done in an acid base unit. The important thing to note is that not all labs are enormous and take tons of time. These may include small and/or extensive labs. It is up to your discretion.
    1. If you would like more assistance in looking into how various of levels of inquiry work please check this article File:Simplifying inquiry instruction.pdf This article also draws upon a classification rubric when it comes to identifying the level of inquiry students will be partaking in.
  3. Using what you've read so far and knowledge of your student population, design 2 labs with different levels of inquiry in each one. You may use any format and focus on the objectives for you and your students, procedure and how students learning and performance will be judged. If you have the opportunity, implement these labs into your classroom and pay attention to how students perform this time around vs previous times when inquiry levels may have been low. Talk: Troubleshooting
  4. How could you vary the level in these labs? What would they look like at a 0,1,2, or 3? By breaking them down into question, procedure and solution, what would one of them look like at each of these levels of inquiry?
(1) Here is a personal example of an inquiry based lab activity. Students are studying acids and bases and initially are testing acids/bases to understand characteristics of each. After utilizing protocols they are already familiar with, they carry out their own experiment followed by a formal lab report and presentation. File:Acid base unit plan.doc
(2) "The 'What's up in the Environment' web site engages classes in long-term projects that use the scientific method. A crucial part of this method is designing an effective experiment that really tests the hypothesis. In this lesson [2], students learn concepts that enable them to design and conduct sound scientific experiments. First, students critique a faulty experiment, and in doing so, become familiar with some of the criteria of a good experiment. Then, students use what they've learned to conduct experiments of their own. Finally, students communicate what they’ve learned with another class by creating a Web page with information and activities or creating a presentation for another class." taken from
(3) Here is a low level inquiry lab from a chemistry site. [3]

Final Reflection

  • In the design activity, what struggles, if any, did you encounter when designing a lab with a specific level of inquiry? What successes did you have when designing the lab? What differences, if any, did you feel when trying to incorporate inquiry as opposed to before?
  • Do you feel as though the rubric helps clarify how to vary the levels of inquiry? Why?
  • Take a poll of students thoughts and opinions on the effectiveness of the 2 new labs you incorporated. Questions may include, but are not limited to: how well do you think you met the learning outcome? Was there a difference between these labs and other labs previously done? What parts did you like and what might you change next time around?
  • Finally, how do you as the teacher feel about incorporating various levels of inquiry into your labs?


Bell, R., Smetan L., & Binns, I. Simplifying inquiry instruction. Science Teacher, Oct 2005, pg. 30-33.
Designing Experiments. Thirteen EdOnline
Science Inquiry.
Wilson, L. 3P Unit: Cabbage Chemistry

Varying the Level of Inquiry in Science Lab Activities
Unit 1: Understanding what Inquiry Based Learning Is
Unit 2: Identifying the Components of Inquiry in laboratory activities
Unit 4 Reflection and Evaluation