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Latest revision as of 15:19, 26 January 2010

This page last changed on Jan 23, 2008 by wikiadm1.

Science Inquiry

Unit 1 Introduction

Unit 2 How to Implement Inquiry in Science Teaching

Unit 3 Curriculum Design Principles for Science Inquiry

Unit 4 Inquiry in Project-based Science classrooms

Unit 5 Wrap up and Evaluation


Learning Objectives of this unit

By the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  • Understand the importance of Inquiry in teaching and learning science;
  • Get to know the method and procedure of carry inquiry out in science teaching;
  • Learn to analysis the given lesson plan that exemplifies improvements of using inquiry method.
  • Choose to discuss the inquiry-based teaching method with peers.

Why is inquiry important for teaching and learning science?

Inquiry-based programs at the middle-school grades have also been found to generally enhance student performance, particularly as it relates to laboratory skills and skills of graphing and interpreting data (Mattheis & Nakayama, 1988).

  • Evidence has also been reported that shows inquiry-related teaching effective in fostering scientific literacy and understanding of science processes (Lindberg, 1990), vocabulary knowledge and conceptual understanding (Lloyd & Contreras, 1985, 1987), critical thinking (Narode et al., 1987), positive attitudes toward science (Kyle et al., 1985; Rakow, 1986), higher achievement on tests of procedural knowledge (Glasson, 1989), and construction of logico-mathematical knowledge (Staver, 1986).
  • It seems particularly important that inquiry-oriented teaching may be especially valuable for many underserved and underrepresented populations. In one study, language-minority students were found to acquire scientific ways of thinking, talking, and writing through inquiry-oriented teaching (Rosebery et al., 1990). Inquiry-oriented science teaching was shown to promote development of classification skills and oral communication skills among bilingual third graders (Rodriguez & Bethel, 1983). Active explorations in science have been advocated for teaching deaf students (Chira, 1990).
  • Finally, experiential instructional approaches using ordinary life experiences are considered to be more compatible with native American viewpoints than are text-based approaches (Taylor, 1988).

How to carry out Inquiry-based instruction in your teaching?

  • How does inquiry process compare with the scientific method?
    • Composed of the same basic components, both the scientific method and the inquiry process require students to conduct research investigations by formulating a question, developing a hypothesis, conducting an experiment, recording data, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions (see Table 1 below).

Table 1 Scientific Method and Inquiry Process

Scientific Method Inquiry Process
Question or problem Inquiry phase (inquiry or problem)
Data gathering phase I (hypothesis)
Data analysis
Data gathering phase II (data collection & analysis)
Implementation phase (conclusion & explanations)

    • The major difference between the scientific method and the inquiry process is that the inquiry process provides more opportunities to move within and among the phases of the inquiry (problem-solving process). Students can enter the inquiry process at any of the four phases.
    • The inquiry process has multiple points of entry (as shown in Figure 1). Eventually, however, students will go through each phase in order to conduct a thorough investigation. At that point, the inquiry process and scientific method converge.

Figure 1. Phases of Inquiry

Inquiry Phases.gif

  • Three types of Inquiry

Teachers serve as "facilitators of learning" in inquiry-based classrooms, guiding students through the inquiry process. To foster this type of learning environment, teachers use three types of inquiry in science: structured, guided, and open (see Table 3).

Table 2 Types of Inquiry Used in Science Classrooms

Type of Inquiry Description Example
Structured Teacher gives students problems to investigate during hands-on activities, as well as procedures and materials. Students must determine the outcome. Laboratory activities with procedures, materials, and questions specified.
Guided Teacher gives students the problem or question and materials. Students have to determine the process and outcome. Students are given a hard-boiled egg and paper supplies. Students are asked to create a device using the supplies that will protect the egg when it is dropped from a five story building.
Open Students determine the problem, investigation, procedure, and outcome. Students take a field trip to a vegetable garden. Students are given several minutes to explore the garden. Working with a partner, students must identify a researchable problem and conduct an investigation based on their observations. For example, which vegetables grow best in shade?

Teachers and classrooms new to inquiry often begin with structured inquiry activities and transition to more open inquiry activities. Moving gradually from structured classrooms to open-inquiry classroom environments is often less overwhelming. Radical changes can be frustrating and upsetting to some students, particularly because inquiry-based classrooms are typically more student centered.

  • Apporaches to Inquiry-based Instruction

Alan Coburn from the Department of Science Education at California State University in Long Beach, California sites research that identifies the following teacher behaviors that promote inquiry-based learning:

    • asking open-ended or divergent questions
    • using wait-time when asking questions
    • responding to students by repeating and paraphrasing what they have said without criticism
    • avoiding telling students what to do, praising, evaluating, rejecting, or discouraging student ideas or behaviors
    • maintaining a disciplined classroom
  • How to alleviate students' fears about doing inquiry?

Whether the inquiry activity is structured, guided, or open, these suggestions can help alleviate students' fears about doing inquiry and build their science process skills, as well as help them learn science concepts.

When implementing inquiry in science, keep the following in mind:

    • Ask open-ended questions
    • Allow wait time after asking questions
    • Avoid telling students what to do
    • Avoid rejecting and/or discouraging student ideas or behaviors
    • Encourage students to find solutions on their own
    • Encourage collaboration among students
    • Maintain high standards and order
    • Develop and use inquiry-based assessments to monitor students' progress
    • Know that inquiry can be challenging for some students and be prepared to provide more guidance to those students when signs of frustration appear (Institute for Inquiry, 1995; Washington Virtual Classroom, 2005)
  • Caution and Emphasis on Inquiry-oriented Teaching
    • Caution must be used, however, in interpreting reported findings. There is evidence of interactions among investigative approaches to science teaching and teaching styles (Lock, 1990), and the effects of directed inquiry on student performance may vary by level of cognitive development (Germann, 1989). There seems also a possible conflict of goals when attempting to balance the needs of underachieving gifted students to develop more positive self-concepts with the desire to develop skills of inquiry and problem solving (Wolfe, 1990).
    • It must also be emphasized that an emphasis on inquiry-oriented teaching does not necessarily preclude the use of textbooks or other instructional materials. The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study materials are examples of those that include an inquiry orientation (Hall & McCurdy, 1990; Sarther, 1991). Other materials accommodating an inquiry approach to teaching have been identified by Haury (1992). Several elementary school textbooks have been compared (Staver & Bay, 1987) and a content analysis scheme for identifying inquiry-friendly textbooks has been described (Tamir, 1985).


Watch the video below and discuss with your collegues on these questions:


(This video needs you to sign up before your watching. After you sign up, please click on "Workshop 4. Focus the Inquiry: Designing the Exploration ")

  • What types of Inquiry does this teacher use in the teaching?
  • Can you distingunish the process of the Inquiry teaching in this class? What does the teacher do in each process?
  • What approaches in this video could be useful in your teaching?

Write down the results of your discussion in the "comment" part of this page.


1. What is inquiry important in teaching and learning science?

2. How to carry Inquriy instruction out?

Preparation for next unit

Before moving onto Unit Three, please think about what techniques can be used on enhancing Inquiry-based Teaching. Write down your thoughts - you'll use these later.

Click here to go to Unit 3 Curriculum Design Principles for Science Inquiry.