Unit 2: Scientific Inquiry Skills for Elementary Students

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Prerequisite for Unit #2

Before beginning this unit of the mini-course, the learner should be able to identify basic scientific inquiry skills in elementary-level lessons.

Introduction to Scientific Inquiry Skills for Elementary Students

It is extremely important that teachers in all grade levels design lessons and activities that promote life-long learning skills. I was surprised and saddened to read that, "the United States ranked 19th out of 40 countries in science among 15-year olds (in 2003)..." and even more concerned to read that this ranking dropped to 21st in 2006. (Darling-Hammond, Pg. 153 - 154. 2008). This proves that the traditional ways of teaching to the test by having students memorize, identify, and recite information is not an effective way to develop student understanding. Instead, teachers need to design activities that allow students to make connections to past experiences, and develop scientific inquiry skills. The six abilities/scientific inquiry skills students in grades K-4 should acquire are as follows:

  • They should be able to ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment.
  • They should be able to devise a simple investigation to answers a questions.
  • They should be able to use tools such as magnifying glasses, rulers, and balances to gather data and make observations.
  • They should be able to use the gathered data and observations to provide an explanation.
  • They should be able to talk about, draw pictures, or use another method to communicate the results of an investigation and what they learned.
  • With respect to the nature of scientific inquiry and scientists, students should understand that investigations involve formulating questions and answers, using different methods of discovering and disclosing answers, using basic tools, observing, sharing answers, and looking at and understanding others' works.

When watching the following experiments, consider how the educators promote these skills/abilities throughout their lessons.

Experiment #1: How do Some Animals Survive in the Wild? (1st Grade)

The following example focuses on the NGSS standard 1-LS1-1

In this lesson, first grade students are using problem-based learning to determine how animals survive in the wild. The problems used in problem-based learning activities are realistic and ill-structured, meaning that they are not perfectly formulated textbook problems, but rather are like those in the real world with multiple solutions and methods for reaching them. Research that has sought to establish the characteristics of "good" problems suggests that they should resonate with students' experiences, promote augmentation, foster opportunities for feedback, and allow repeated exposure to concepts (Darling-Hammond, Pg. 43, 2008). Carrying this idea forward, in Experiment #1 you will observe that the class collectively comes to the conclusion that some animals use camouflage to survive in the wild. This is one of many solutions that the students could have come to in this experiment, and they used previous knowledge and experiences to answer the essential question. When watching the first experiment in this unit, it would be to your benefit to consider the following questions and take notes:

  1. What are the five E's of the 5E Model that the teacher focuses on when conducting this experiment?
  2. How does the teacher maintain the attention of her students throughout the lesson?
  3. What is the Essential Question for this experiment? Why is it important for students to know the essential question for the lesson before beginning scientific inquiry?
  4. What observations are the students making throughout this experiment?
  5. What strategies does the teacher use to guide her young students through the lesson?
  6. What strategies does the teacher use to promote student engagement?
  7. How does the teacher make sure that her students stay focused?
  8. How did the students use their collected data/evidence to provide an explanation for answering the essential question?
  9. Since this is a group activity, how will the teacher be able to assess student knowledge for students individually?
  10. How did the students communicate the results of the experiment?



To finish the first section of Unit #2, please click on the following link to review your answers to the questions listed above:

Experiment #1 - How do Some Animals Survive in the Wild? (Answers)

Experiment #2 - What is Force, Motion, and Position? (2nd Grade)

The following example focuses on the NGSS standards K-PS2-1 and K-PS2-2

According to Christi Alper, "Inquiry-based instruction is a student-centered approach where the instructor guides the students through questions posed, methods designed, and data interpreted by the students. Through inquiry, students actively discover information to support their investigations." (Alper, Christi. Embracing Inquiry-Based Instruction. 2018.) We can observe this definition being highlighted in the following lesson, in which 2nd graders are learning about force, motion, and position. K-4 students should be able to talk about and draw pictures to communicate what they've learned throughout their science activities, and they are encouraged to do this throughout the following experiment. One of the most important scientific inquiry skills that K-4 students should acquire is learning how to use tools when making measurements and recording observations. In this example, students used science tools and instruments to measure and describe how objects have motion and change position when a force acts upon them. They also developed their vocabulary skills by learning new words to describe the position of an object and different types of forces. When watching the video, please answer the following questions in your notes:

  1. How does the teacher explain what the students will be doing during lesson?
  2. What questions will students be able to answer at the conclusion of the lesson?
  3. What observations are the students making throughout this activity?
  4. What tools did the students learn how to use during this lesson?
  5. What strategies does the teacher use to guide his young students through the lesson?
  6. What strategies does the teacher use to promote student engagement?
  7. How does the teacher make sure that his students stay focused? Was this something he struggled with throughout the lesson?
  8. Since this was an activity that the whole class completed together, how will the teacher be able to assess student knowledge for students individually?
  9. How did the students communicate their observations?
  10. How could the instructor improve this lesson in the future?

To finish the second section of Unit #2, please click on the following link to review your answers to the questions listed above:

Experiment #2 - What is Force, Motion, and Position? (Answers)

Experiment #3 - Make a Vehicle Move by Using Gravity (4th Grade)

The following example focuses on the NGSS standard 3-PS2-1

In this scientific inquiry activity, students are learning about how increasing the weight on a vehicle can change the distance that the vehicle travels due to the force of gravity. I purposely chose this example because it is not perfect, and all educators have experienced lessons that did not go as planned or could have been executed in a better way. We are human, and we are constantly working on improving our teaching strategies. This is part of our role as educators - to try to perfect our lessons, and reflect on what we can do to give our students the best education based on their specific learning needs. This educator does a great job of making sure that all students have a role in the group inquiry. When using scientific inquiry lessons, Darling-Hammond says, "tasks requiring interdependence of team members, accountability structures at the group and individual level, and opportunities to reflect on group progress and interaction are key elements." (Darling-Hammond, Pg. 23. 2008). The teacher in this video also makes sure that she is present if students need assistance, but otherwise allows them to complete the activity and come to solutions on their own and with the help of their peers. When watching the video below, please answer the following questions:

  1. How does the teacher explain what the students will be doing during lesson?
  2. Does the teacher make the focus for the lesson clear to her students? Explain your reasoning.
  3. What predictions/hypotheses are the students making before beginning the activity?
  4. What tools did the students use during this lesson?
  5. What strategies does the teacher use to guide her young students through the lesson?
  6. How does the teacher make sure that her students stay focused? Was this something she struggled with throughout the lesson?
  7. Since this was small group activity, how will the teacher be able to assess student knowledge for students individually?
  8. How did the students communicate their observations?
  9. How could the instructor improve this lesson in the future?
  10. In this video, we did not get to see how the teacher wrapped up the lesson. How would you conclude the lesson if you were implementing this scientific inquiry activity with your students?

To finish the last section of Unit #2, please click on the following link to review your answers to the questions listed above:

Experiment #3 - Make a Vehicle Move by Using Gravity (Answers)

Self-Assessment for Unit #2

After completing Unit #2, please answer the following questions:

  • What are the scientific inquiry skills (six abilities) that students in grades K-4 should acquire?
  • Why do elementary school teachers need to develop scientific inquiry skills in their classroom?
  • How did the teachers in each example experiment promote the use of scientific inquiry skills with their students?
  • How did the teachers in each example experiment promote a deeper level of understanding of science with their students?
  • How would you incorporate these scientific inquiry skills into your elementary-level classroom?
  • What new strategies would you use to promote scientific inquiry skills in your curriculum?

Click on the following link to continue on to the next unit of this mini-course: Unit 3: Scientific Inquiry Skills for Middle Grade Students

References

Alper, C. (2018, August 17). Embracing Inquiry-Based Instruction. Retrieved December 02, 2020, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/embracing-inquiry-based-instruction

Darling-Hammond, L., Barron, B., Pearson, P., Schoenfeld, A., Stage, E., Zimmerman, T., . . . Chen, M. (2008, July 08). Textbook. Powerful Learning: What We Know About Teaching for Understanding.

Next Generation Science Standards. (2020, September 03). Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://www.nextgenscience.org/ All standards were taken from this website.

Scientific Inquiry Skills for Elementary Students (2020). In NYSTCE Earth Science (008) Test Secrets Study Guide: NYSTCE Exam Review for the New York State Teacher Certification Examinations (pp. 38). Place of publication not identified: Mometrix Media Llc.

YouTube Links (listed in order of appearance):

       Angkasuwan, Christina. 1st Grade NGSS Lesson: 5E/Sci 4 Model. Jan. 25th, 2017
       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUwSSM5rc0o
       Crosslin, Rick. "Rick Crosslin Grade 2 Science - What is Force, Motion, and Position?" 
       March 8th, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pD1T27chY4o&feature=youtu.be
       Massachusetts DESE. "4th Grade Motion Science". October 27th, 2015.
       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8zHoYW2b34&feature=emb_logo