Unit 1: Why is Inquiry Important?


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What is inquiry.jpeg

Driving Question:

1. What is inquiry and what are its benefits?


1. Reflect on why inquiry is important

1.1 Explain the properties of inquiry

1.2 List some benefits of inquiry-based learning

Before We Begin

Take a moment to reflect on how you view inquiry learning in your own classroom by taking this survey. Then, you are ready to begin this course.

Link to Google Survey: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/12sooZJc2vTtvpgiQA98saMKX7ZBHAo2NJyLPb72BKKY/viewform?usp=send_form

1.1 What is inquiry, exactly?

Defining the problem. Let's first make sure we all understand the why the mini-course is important. Watch this video, and see if this scenario is familiar to you:

[| Defining the Problem]

INTRODUCTION: Before we can begin to understand how to implement inquiry-based labs, we must first understand what inquiry is. Most of us probably understand that inquiry involves some type of open-ended problem, collaboration to find a solution, and some component of real-world authenticity. I want you to stop and take a minute to jot down all of the words or phrases that come to mind when you try to define inquiry learning.

Inquiry learning does not have one, simple definition. It is defined and explained a little differently by experts in the field. There are a few properties, however, that many would agree are an integral part of inquiry learning. The whole key behind inquiry is that it requires active participation on the part of the student. While we all want our students to develop the necessary (and often lacking) skill of following directions, students can learn to follow directions while also being active participants. A typical "cookbook" style lab give students every step they need to complete the lab. The result is that often students do not know why they are performing these steps. Inquiry learning seeks to engage students by asking them to take a more active role in the learning process by asking deep questions and developing their own ideas.

Another key part of engagement is to make sure the learning is relevant and in-context. This does not mean a complete re-making of your entire lab activities. But context and relevance should be provided at the beginning of the lab. This will help to gain student interest.

Another key concept of inquiry learning is the idea of exploration. A typical science lab does not really allow students to come up with questions, plan and carry out investigations, and search for information. These are all important parts of any science discipline, and we want our students to develop these skills.

ACTIVITY: We know that our end goal is to transform a traditional style lab into an inquiry lab. In order to begin that process, I would like you to develop a list of 4-6 components of inquiry instruction that you will incorporate into your final project. I will provide you with some resources that I think are helpful. You may also find your own. Our goal is to answer the broad question "What is inquiry?" by coming up with 4-6 specific components of inquiry that you would like to incorporate into your final lab project. Below you will find resources as well as an example of a completed assignment. You may choose to use my resources or find your own. How you present your ideas is up to you. You may type them in a document, put them in a presentation, record your ideas, etc. I would like you also to include a short explanation with each component that you choose. Please submit your ideas about inquiry to me for feedback at aeriksen@albany.edu


1. [| Reflecting on Lab Practices]

2. [| Structuring the Level of Inquiry in Your Classroom]

3. [| Lessons Learned About Implementing Inquiry]

Sample Assignment:

File:5 Components of Inquiry.pdf

1.2 What are the benefits of using inquiry-based labs?

INTRODUCTION: Now that that we understand a little more of what inquiry is, it is essential that we understand the benefits of inquiry. This section of Unit 1 will help you to understand the following questions:

  • Why should I be using inquiry in my classroom?
  • Is inquiry learning any more effective that what I'm already doing?
  • What are the benefits of using inquiry?

I certainly think inquiry is important (or else I wouldn't have designed this class), but what does the research say? Of course, there are too many studies to sort through for the purposes of this class, but I do think it's important for us to understand the expected outcomes of changing our labs to inquiry activities. The first thing that is important to understand is that test scores and/or factual knowledge is at the very least equivalent between inquiry learning and traditional methods. One study (Thomas, 2000) found that students who engage in inquiry learning activities "benefit from gain in factual learning that are equivalent or superior to gain for those who engage in traditional forms of instruction" (as qtd in Darling-Hammond et al. pg 38). Additionally, Boaler (1997, 1998) found that students using both traditional and inquiry-based curriculum had comparable gains in mathematical procedures. The interesting part, however, is that students taught using the inquiry curriculum performed better on the conceptual math problems (as qtd in Darling-Hammond et al, pg. 39). This begins to illustrate some of what I call the "hidden" benefits of inquiry learning. Students taught using inquiry methods not only perform comparably, but they also gain essential skills such as "positive changes in motivation, attitude toward learning, and skills . . . including work habits, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving abilities" (Darling-Hammond et al., pg. 42). These outcomes are the motivation behind why we want to learn how to effectively use inquiry in our classroom.

ACTIVITY: Read the following two studies aim at inquiry learning. When you are finished, you need to go to the document linked below and add your summary of one benefit of inquiry learning that was found through the study. Please include a textual reference (using proper APA citations) for what you have found.

Example: Students taught using an inquiry-based curriculum performed better on conceptual questions (Darling-Hammond et al., pg 39).

[Activity 1.2: Benefits of Inquiry]


1. [| Enriching students' intellectual diet through inquiry based learning]

2. [| Inquiry learning of high school students through a problem-based environmental health science curriculum]


Fay, M. E., & Bretz, S. L. (2008). Structuring the level of inquiry in your classroom. Science Teacher, 75(5), 38-42.

Gormally, C., Brickman, P., Hallar, B., & Armstrong, N. (2011). Lessons learned about implementing an inquiry-based curriculum in a college biology laboratory classroom. Journal Of College Science Teaching, 40(3), 45-51.

Hunter, J. C. (2014). Reflecting on lab practices. Education, 134(3), 380-383.

Kang, N., DeChenne, S. E., & Smith, G. (2012). Inquiry learning of high school students through a problem-based environmental health science curriculum. School Science & Mathematics, 112(3), 147-158. doi:10.1111/j.1949-8594.2011.00128.x

Power, B. (2012). Enriching students' intellectual diet through inquiry based learning. Libri: International Journal Of Libraries & Information Services, 62(4), 305-325. doi:10.1515/libri-2012-0024

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