Unit 4: Scientific Inquiry Skills for Older Students

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Prerequisite for Unit #4

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

Introduction to Scientific Inquiry Skills for High School Students

At the high school level especially, holding conversations about scientific problems can be extremely beneficial. Asking students questions throughout these conversations encourages higher-order thinking, allows students to develop their understanding, and encourages them to practice presenting their ideas verbally. Furthermore, I have found that these conversations with the class can also be beneficial for me as the teacher, because it encourages me to develop my own questioning skills. At the high school level, students should be able to not only use data to explain their conclusions (in both written and verbal forms), but they should also be able to determine alternative explanations for their results. The six abilities/scientific inquiry skills that students in grades 9-12 should acquire are as follows:

  • They should be able to identify questions and concepts that guide scientific investigation. In other words, they should be able to create a hypothesis and an appropriate experiment to test that hypothesis.
  • They should be able to design and conduct a scientific investigation from start to finish. This includes being able to guide the inquiry by choosing the proper technologies and methods, determining variables, selecting an appropriate method for presenting data, and conducting peer review.
  • They should be able to use technologies and mathematics in investigations.
  • They should be able to formulate and revise scientific explanations and models.
  • They should be able to recognize and analyze alternative explanations. In other words, they should be able to devise other possibilities based on the current body of knowledge.
  • They should be able to communicate and defend a scientific argument in both written an oral form.

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

Experiment #1 - Physical Science Investigation

The following experiment focuses on the NGSS standard HS-PS1-3

This experiment is one of many that this teacher has uploaded in a series called The Interactions Project: Classroom Lessons. I specifically chose this example because she describes in depth how this lesson aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards. The theme of this video is observing evidence based on collected data, and the teacher leads students in a lesson focused on collecting evidence that can be used to evaluate competing models of the nature of matter. In this experiment, students are making observations of what happens to the volume when they mix water and ethanol. During the discussion, students identify patterns by comparing class data and begin to speculate about what may have caused their observations. This example is also shorter than most of the others I have provided throughout the course because it provides a summary of the science experiment that the students conducted. Even though this example covers less of the actual experiment that the students worked on, the teacher describes the lesson in full detail and explains her reasoning for displaying errors in the data. Please consider the following questions when watching Experiment #1:

  1. What three mixtures did the students make?
  2. What observations were students making in this lab?
  3. How did the students use technology and mathematics when organizing their data?
  4. Why is it important to discuss the group data as a class when you are asking students to make claims based on the evidence they gathered?
  5. What mistakes did students make when conducting the lab? Why is it important that they are aware of these errors in their data?
  6. In this lesson, the teacher purposely leaves an error in her calculation on the board. Why does she do this?
  7. Based on your own classroom experience (either from a student or a teacher perspective), why do you think it is important that students are comfortable enough to correct their teacher’s mistakes if they notice an error?
  8. What were some explanations that students made as to why Mixture #1 had less volume?

To finish the first section of Unit #4, please click on the following link to review your answers to the questions listed above:

Experiment #1 - Physical Science Investigation (Answers)

Experiment #2 - The Circulatory and Respiratory Systems

The following experiment focuses on the NGSS standard HS-LS1-3

This example experiment includes both direct instruction and a scientific inquiry based activity. The teacher was effectively able to promote student engagement and collaboration throughout the entire lesson. Encouraging students to collaborate is a crucial part of scientific inquiry, because it promotes life-long learning skills. According to Darling-Hammond, "The collaborative nature of scientific and technological work should be strongly reinforced by frequent group activity in the classroom. Scientists and engineers work mostly in groups and less often as isolated investigators." (Darling-Hammond, Pgs. 19-21, 2008). Darling-Hammond goes on to say that "...students should gain experiences sharing responsibility for learning with each other. In the process of coming to understandings, students in a group must frequently inform each other about procedures and meanings, argue over findings, and assess how the task is progressing." (Darling-Hammond, Pg. 20. 2008). Carrying this idea forward, when students are working together in the following experiment, each student in the group is assigned a role. This ensures that all students are taking part in the activity and sharing their collected data with the group members. When watching the following experiment, it would be to your benefit to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the learning goals for the day’s lesson? What does the teacher do to make students aware of these learning goals?
  2. What strategies does the teacher use to promote student engagement?
  3. What strategies does the teacher use to guide her students through the lesson?
  4. What does the teacher ask her students to do before she begins introducing the experiment? (Time 17:35 in the video). Why is this action so important?
  5. What is the focus question/problem they are trying to solve in this experiment?
  6. What variables are being tested in this experiment?
  7. If you have completed Units 2 and 3 of this mini-course, how does this teacher's amount of involvement compare to the amount of involvement that elementary and middle grade teachers partake in throughout the experiment?
  8. How does the teacher make sure that her students are understanding the steps for the activity?
  9. How did the students use their collected data/evidence to explain their results?
  10. Since this is a small group activity, how will the teacher be able to assess student knowledge for students individually?

To finish the second section of Unit #4, please click on the following link to review your answers to the questions listed above:

Experiment #2 - Circulatory and Respiratory Systems (Answers)

Experiment #3 - Chemical Reactions

The following experiment focuses on the NGSS standard HS-PS1-2 and can also be used for HS-PS3-4

This example experiment uses a very similar format to the first example provided in this unit. The teacher is presenting his teaching strategy to the listener, and he explains the 5E model (which was also visited in the first experiment of Unit 2 in this mini-course). This is an example that is perfect for older students who have developed the scientific inquiry skills needed to conduct an experiment on their own. According to Darling-Hammond, "...students must be given opportunities to develop skills in the context of complex, meaningful projects that require sustained engagement, collaboration, research, management of resources, and development of an ambitious performance or product." (Darling-Hammond, Pg 12. 2008). This is a wonderful example of the type of opportunity that Darling-Hammond describes. For your own practice, when watching this experiment it would be to your benefit to refer back to the six abilities/scientific inquiry skills that students in grades 9-12 should acquire, and see if you can identify these six abilities being practiced in this lesson. Also, you should be able to answer the following questions while watching the video:

  1. Which NGSS standard does the teacher say he is implementing in this lesson?
  2. What was the performance expectation for this lesson, and what did the students need to understand in order to conduct the experiment?
  3. Why is it important that students (especially older students) are active participants in the learning process?
  4. What does the teacher say is his role in the learning process?
  5. According to this teacher, why are scientific inquiry lessons important?
  6. Instead of solving problems for his students, how did the teacher encourage students to help each other when they came across an issue in their design?
  7. According to Mr. Pham, why is scientific inquiry sometimes difficult for the teacher? If you have used a scientific inquiry lesson before, have you found this to be difficult as well?
  8. What advice does Mr. Pham offer to other science teachers?
  9. Why is it important that you allow your students to fail rather than immediately give them the correct answer?
  10. Why are some teachers afraid to use scientific inquiry experiments in the classroom, and how can this be remedied?

To finish the last section of Unit #4, please click on the following link to review your answers to the questions listed above:

Experiment #3 - Chemical Reactions (Answers)

Self-Assessment for Unit #4

After completing Unit #4, please answer the following questions:

  • What are the scientific inquiry skills (six abilities) that students in grades 9-12 should acquire?
  • Why do high school science 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 high school level classroom?
  • What new strategies would you use to promote scientific inquiry skills in your curriculum?

Click on the following link to return to the homepage: Danielle Greene's Mini-Course


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 Older Students. (2020). In NYSTCE Earth Science (008) Test Secrets Study Guide: NYSTCE Exam Review for the New York State Teacher Certification Examinations (pp. 39). Place of publication not identified: Mometrix Media Llc.

YouTube Links (listed in order of appearance):

       National Science Teaching Association. Planning and Carrying out Investigations: What NGSS Looks Like        
       in the Classroom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6jDBqgQnK8&feature=emb_logo
       WCSD 21st Century Learning. Collaboration: Grade High School: Science-Biology. Accessed 11/22/20
       SanBdoCitySchools. The 5E Model: A Strategy for the High School Chemistry Classroom
       June 16th, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BL1eXzKFDo&feature=emb_logo