Andrea Eriksen Mini-Course: Designing Inquiry Based Science Lab Activities


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Designing Inquiry Based Science Lab Activities

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Purpose and Overview


The purpose of this course is to give science teachers some very practical ways in which they can begin to transform their typical "cookbook styles" labs into lab activities which are more open-ended and inquiry-based.

Questions to be answered are:

-Why is inquiry important?

-How do I scaffold my lab activities?

-How do I fit inquiry-labs into my already packed schedule?

By the end of this course, teachers should be able to apply the tips and techniques given in the course in order to modify their own instruction.


This course is divided into four different units, that while accessed asynchronously, allows science teachers to work together to re-design labs to make them more open-ended.

Needs Assessment

1. Instructional Problem

Inquiry in a term used often in education today, especially in science education. New York’s Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) follow the guidelines set by A Science Framework for K-12 Science Education (2012) which states that “students cannot fully understand scientific and engineering ideas without engaging in the practices of inquiry and the discourses by which such ideas are developed” (p. 218). Many new teachers, however, are not sufficiently practiced implementing scientific inquiry in the classroom (Ozel & Luft, 2013). Many teachers are not adequately prepared in inquiry methods because they are not typically taught that way themselves. Additionally, as Hunter (2014) pointed out “inquiry often becomes secondary to survival during the first arduous years of practice” (p. 380). NGSS outline eight essential practices for students that include asking questions, developing models, planning and carrying out observations, and constructing explanations—all components of inquiry (NGSS Lead States, 2013). As is often the case when new standards are implemented, teachers are left wondering how best to implement them. This seems to be the case with inquiry and problem based learning.

2. What is to be learned?

Throughout this course, participants will learn how to gradually acclimate their students to the practice of inquiry through scaffolding lab activities as the school year progresses. Participants will also explore what an inquiry lab really is and why it is important. Thirdly, participants will be given some practical tips on how to incorporate inquiry labs into their busy schedules while also brainstorming their own new ideas.

Performance Objectives

After completion of this course, participants should be able to:

1. Reflect on why inquiry is important

2. Demonstrate a positive attitude and increased comfort levels of implementing inquiry-based activities through self-assessments

3. Share idea & resources on how to incorporate inquiry-based lab activities after individually brainstorming/researching ideas

4. Develop their own inquiry lab activity based on an existing step-by-step lab

Course Units

This mini-course includes the following units. Click the title of a unit to go to its page.

Unit 1: Why is Inquiry Important?

Brief overview

Unit 2: What Makes Inquiry So Difficult to Implement Well?

Brief Overview

Unit 3: Brainstorming

Brief Overview ...

Unit 4: Design

Extended Resources