Inquiry as a Teaching Strategy
Content, Context, and Practices
Developing and using models
Planning and carrying out investigations
Analyzing and interpreting data
Using mathematics and computational thinking
Engaging in argument from evidence
Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
Engagement with the practices of science, it was argued, should be built around an increasing student sophistication in developing scientific questions: the gathering of evidence, the manipulation and analysis of that evidence, and the proposal and communication of scientifically justifiable explanations. Major impediments to the broad adoption of Schwab’s ideas have been the resilience of an abstract curriculum that privileges concepts over context and the associated issue of teachers’ cultural reproduction of a traditional view of science education.
Arising from these impediments is a preconception that equates the teaching of inquiry with a single teaching strategy: open-ended activities that are “hands-on” for students and “hands-off” for teachers. This preconception, in turn, justifies many teachers not teaching inquiry. The reasons that are given to support this decision (which is often made subconsciously) include the perceived difficulty of teaching from a constructivist perspective, the added time and energy required, and teachers’ perceived need to meet the expectations of the curriculum. Other concerns include the physical limitations of the classroom, a belief that safety will be compromised, and the capacity of students to engage with the levels of analysis, argumentation, and evaluation described in documents such as the National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996). Support from colleagues, the costs of apparatus and consumables, placing material in the proper sequence, and the demand of preparing students for further study are also cited as concerns.
Teachers of science plan an inquiry-based science program for their students.
Teachers of science guide and facilitate learning.
Teachers of science engage in an ongoing assessment of their teaching and of student learning.
Teachers of science design and manage learning environments that provide students with the time, space, and resources needed for learning science.
Teachers of science develop communities of science learners that reflect the intellectual rigor of scientific inquiry and the attitudes and social values conducive to science learning.
Teachers of science actively participate in the ongoing planning and development of the school science program.
Know, use, and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world
Generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations
Understand the nature and development of scientific knowledge
Participate productively in scientific practices and discourse
Learner engages in scientifically oriented questions.
Learner gives priority to evidence in responding to questions.
Learner formulates explanations from evidence.
Learner connects explanations to scientific knowledge.
Learner communicates and justifies explanations.
With the publication in the United States of A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC 2012), the emphasis was been broadened and deepened to incorporate the practices of science. If students are to develop proficiency in science, such a progression through investigations must link and reiterate the practices of science to both the appropriate core disciplinary concepts and the concepts that transcend the disciplinary boundaries. Investigations are a foundation on which students can “learn about experiments, data and evidence, social discourse, models and tools, and mathematics and for developing the ability to evaluate knowledge claims, conduct empirical investigations, and develop explanations” (Bybee 2011, p. 38). This emphasis recognizes that the abilities and understandings that students develop, and display, will demonstrate a progression over time. Students require substantial scaffolding in the practices of science if they are to become proficient, and a well-designed progression will guide students through a number of graduated steps. Important aspects of this guiding include giving meaning to the investigation in terms of other student learning and allocating adequate time for the investigation.
Within the literature, the graduated steps of inquiry are generally viewed as a continuum, with the level of complexity being influenced by factors such as the amount of information given to the student, the level of teacher guidance that is offered, and the sophistication of the students’ abilities. The least complex level of inquiry is generally known as a confirmation (or verification) inquiry. Students are generally provided with the question and procedure, and the results are generally expected. This level has value in verifying concepts and training in the safe and correct use of apparatus. The next level of complexity, the structured inquiry, investigates a research question using a prescribed procedure. Confirmation and structured inquiries make up the majority of textbook investigations, but for students to become proficient in science, they must have opportunities to carry out investigations of greater complexity. Moving further along the inquiry continuum, the guided inquiry gives students the opportunity to develop their own investigation in response to a question. The most complex investigation, or open inquiry, requires students to develop their own topic-related research question and strategies for gathering, analyzing, and reporting their data. It is unreasonable and counterproductive to expect students to conduct complex investigations without having experienced some success in less complex investigations. Similarly, to limit students to less complex investigations is to stifle student interest and success. A well-designed progression to increasingly complex investigations is crucial for student learning and success.
- Bybee RW (2011) Scientific and engineering practices in K-12 classrooms: understanding a framework for K-12 science education. Sci Teach 78(9):34–40Google Scholar
- Duschl RA, Schweingruber H, Shouse A (eds) (2007) Taking science to school: learning and teaching science in grades K-8. National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
- National Research Council (1996) National science education standards. National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
- National Research Council (2000) Inquiry and the national science education standards: a guide for teaching and learning. National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
- National Research Council (2012) A framework for K-12 science education: practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. The National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar