Journal of Science Teacher Education

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 79–96 | Cite as

Inquiry-Based Science: Turning Teachable Moments into Learnable Moments

  • Berit S. Haug
Elementary Science Teacher Education


This study examines how an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning creates teachable moments that can foster conceptual understanding in students, and how teachers capitalize upon these moments. Six elementary school teachers were videotaped as they implemented an integrated inquiry-based science and literacy curriculum in their classrooms. In this curriculum, science inquiry implies that students search for evidence in order to make and revise explanations based on the evidence found and through critical and logical thinking. Furthermore, the curriculum material is designed to address science key concepts multiple times through multiple modalities (do it, say it, read it, write it). Two types of teachable moments were identified: planned and spontaneous. Results suggest that the consolidation phases of inquiry, when students reinforce new knowledge and connect their empirical findings to theory, can be considered as planned teachable moments. These are phases of inquiry during which the teacher should expect, and be prepared for, student utterances that create opportunities to further student learning. Spontaneous teachable moments are instances when the teacher must choose to either follow the pace of the curriculum or adapt to the students’ need. One implication of the study is that more teacher support is required in terms of how to plan for and effectively utilize the consolidation phases of inquiry.


Inquiry Conceptual learning Teachable moments Video-based classroom study 


  1. Abd-El-Khalick, F., BouJaoude, S., Duschl, R., Lederman, N. G., Mamlok-Naaman, R., Hofstein, A., et al. (2004). Inquiry in science education: International perspectives. Science Education, 88, 397–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson, R. D. (2002). Reforming Science Teaching: What research says about inquiry. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 13(1), 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, R. (2007). Inquiry as an organizing theme for science curricula. In S. Abell & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  4. Appleton, K. (2008). Developing science pedagogical content knowledge through mentoring elementary teachers. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 19(6), 523–545. doi: 10.1007/s10972-008-9109-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Asay, L., & Orgill, M. (2010). Analysis of essential features of inquiry found in articles Published in The Science Teacher, 1998–2007. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 21(1), 57–79. doi: 10.1007/s10972-009-9152-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ball, D. L., & Cohen, D. K. (1996). Reform by the Book: What is—Or might be—The role of curriculum materials in teacher learning and instructional reform? Educational Researcher, 25(9), 6–14. doi: 10.3102/0013189x025009006.Google Scholar
  7. Barber, J. (2009). The Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading Inquiry Framework. Retrieved from 29. November 2013.
  8. Bell, B. (2000). Formative assessment and science education. Modelling and theorising. In R. Millar, J. Leach, & J. Osborne (Eds.), Improving science education: The contribution of research. Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bigozzi, L., Biggeri, A., & Boschi, F. (2002). Children “scientists” know the reasons why and they are “poets” too. Non-randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness of a strategy aimed at improving the learning of scientific concepts. European Journal of Psychology of Education, XVII(4), 343–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Borko, H., & Putnam, R. (1996). Learning to teach. In D. C. Berliner & R. C. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of Educational Psychology (pp. 673–708). New York: Macmillan Library Reference USA, Simon & Schuster Macmillan.Google Scholar
  11. Bravo, M. A., Cervetti, G. N., Hiebert, E. H., & Pearson, D. P. (2008). From passive to active control of science vocabulary. In The 56th yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 122–135). Chicago: National Reading Conference.Google Scholar
  12. Capps, D., Crawford, B., & Constas, M. (2012). A review of empirical literature on inquiry professional development: Alignment with best practices and a critique of the findings. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 23(3), 291–318. doi: 10.1007/s10972-012-9275-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cervetti, G. N., Pearson, P. D., Bravo, M. A., & Barber, J. (2006). Reading and writing in the service of inquiry-based science. In R. Douglas, M. P. Klentchy, K. Worth, & W. Binder (Eds.), Linking science and literacy in the K-8 classroom (pp. 221–244). Arlington, VA: National Science Teacher Association Press.Google Scholar
  14. Chinn, C. A., & Malhotra, B. A. (2002). Epistemologically authentic inquiry in schools: A theoretical framework for evaluating inquiry tasks. Science Education, 86, 175–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Crawford, B. (2000). Embracing the essence of inquiry: New roles for science teachers. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37(9), 916–937. doi: 10.1002/1098-2736(200011)37:9<916:AID-TEA4>3.0.CO;2-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Crawford, B. (2007). Learning to teach science as inquiry in the rough and tumble of practice. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(4), 342–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Derry, S. J., Pea, R. D., Barron, B., Engle, R. A., Erickson, F., Goldman, R., et al. (2010). Conducting video research in the learning sciences: Guidance on selection, analysis, technology, and ethics. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 19, 3–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. DeWitt, J. (2012). Scaffolding students’ post-visit learning from interactive exhibits. In E. Davidsson & A. Jakobsson (Eds.), Understanding interactions at science centers and museums: Approaching sociocultural perspectives (pp. 173–192). Rotterdam: Sense Publisher.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Erickson, F. (2006). Definition and analysis of data from videotape: Some research procedures and their rationales. In J. Green, G. Camili, & P. B. Elmore (Eds.), Complementary methods for research in education (pp. 177–192). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  20. Fogleman, J., McNeill, K. L., & Krajcik, J. (2011). Examining the effect of teachers’ adaptions of a middle school science inquiry-oriented curriculum unit on student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48(2), 149–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Glaswell, K., & Parr, J. M. (2009). Teachable moments: Linking assessment and teaching in talk around writing. Language Arts, 86(5), 352–361.Google Scholar
  22. Hapgood, S., Magnusson, S. J., & Palincsar, A. S. (2004). Teacher, text, and experience: A case of young children’s scientific inquiry. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(4), 455–505. doi: 10.1207/s15327809jls1304_1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Harlen, W., & Holroyd, C. (1997). Primary teachers’ understanding of concepts of science: Impact on confidence and teaching. International Jornal of Science Education, 19(1), 93–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Duncan, R. G., & Chinn, C. A. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in problem-based and inquiry learning: A response to Kirchner, Sweller, and Clark (2006). Educational Psychologist, 42(2), 99–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hyun, E., & Marshall, J. D. (2003). Teachable-moment-oriented curriculum practice in early childhood education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35(1), 111–127. doi: 10.1080/00220270210125583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ireland, J., Watters, J., Brownlee, J., & Lupton, M. (2012). Elementary teacher’s conceptions of inquiry teaching: Messages for teacher development. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 23(2), 159–175. doi: 10.1007/s10972-011-9251-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kang, N.-H., Orgill, M., & Crippen, K. (2008). Understanding teachers’ conceptions of classroom inquiry with a teaching scenario survey instrument. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 19(4), 337–354. doi: 10.1007/s10972-008-9097-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lotter, C., Harwood, W. S., & Bonner, J. (2007). The influence of core teaching conceptions on teachers’ use of inquiry teaching practices. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(9), 1318–1347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Magnusson, S., Krajcik, J., & Borko, H. (1999). Nature, sources, and development of pedagogical content knowledge for science teaching. In J. Gess-Newsome & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Examining pedagogical content knowledge: The construct and its implications for science education (pp. 95–132). Dordrecth: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  30. McNeill, K. L., & Krajcik, J. (2008). Scientific explanations: Characterizing and evaluating the effects of teachers’ instructional practices on student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(1), 53–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Minner, D. D., Levy, A. J., & Century, J. (2010). Inquiry-based science instruction—What is it and does it matter? Results from a research synthesis year 1984–2002. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(4), 474–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Myhill, D., & Warren, P. (2005). Scaffolds or straitjackets? Critical moments in classroom discourse. Educational Review, 57(1), 55–69. doi: 10.1080/0013191042000274187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ødegaard, M., Mork, S. M., Haug, B., Sørvik, G. O. (2012). Categories for video analysis of science lessons. Oslo: Norwegian Centre for Science Education.Google Scholar
  34. Ødegaard, M., Haug, B., Mork, S. M., Sørvik, G. O. (under review). Challenges and support when teaching science through an integrated inquiry and literacy approach.Google Scholar
  35. Palincsar, A. S., & Magnusson, S. (2001). The interplay of first-hand and text-based investigations to model and support the development of scientific knowledge and reasoning. In S. Carver & D. Klahr (Eds.), Cognition and instruction: Twenty-five years of progress (pp. 151–193). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  36. Ruiz-Primo, M. A., & Furtak, E. M. (2007). Exploring teachers’ informal formative assessment practices and students’ understanding in the context of scientific inquiry. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(1), 57–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Schneider, R., & Krajcik, J. (2002). Supporting science teacher learning: The role of educative curriculum materials. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 13(3), 221–245. doi: 10.1023/A:1016569117024.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Scott, P., Mortimer, E., & Ametller, J. (2011). Pedagogical link-making: A fundamental aspect of teaching and learning scientific conceptual knowledge. Studies in Science Education, 47(1), 3–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). Thinking and speech (N. Minich Trans). In R. W. Rieber & A. S. Carton (Eds.), The collected work of L. S. Vygotsky (pp. 39–285). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  40. Windschitl, M. (2003). Inquiry projects in science teacher education: What can investigative experiences reveal about teacher thinking and eventual classroom practice? Science Education, 87(1), 112–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Association for Science Teacher Education, USA 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Norwegian Centre for Science EducationUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

Personalised recommendations