Inquiry means that students are handling science; they are manipulating it, working it into new shapes and formats, integrating it into every corner of their world, and playing with it in unknown ways. Inquiry implies that students are in control of an important part of their own learning where they can manipulate ideas to increase understanding. As students learn to think through the designs and developments of their own inquiry, they also develop a sense of self-responsibility that transcends all subject areas.
Many science textbooks portray science as a collection of facts or a body of knowledge for students to learn. Unfortunately, the impression this may leave with students is that studying science is nothing more than memorizing facts and mastering theories. On the contrary, there is much room in science for intuitive, hypothetical, playful, and imaginative forms of learning. In other words, there is room for inquiry.
"Scientific inquiry refers to the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work. Inquiry also refers to the activities of students in which they develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world."
The National Science Education Standards state that "inquiry is central to science learning."
These standards point out that students engaging in science inquiry will demonstrate the following behaviors:
Approaches to Inquiry
Alan Colburn, in "An Inquiry Primer," defines inquiry as "the creation of a classroom where student are engaged in essentially open-ended, student-centered, hands-on activities."
Colburn supports that the inquiry-based classroom encompasses several approaches to inquiry-based instruction. These approaches include Structured Inquiry, Guided Inquiry, Open Inquiry, and Learning Cycle.
The figure below provides a comparison of Colburn's four approaches to inquiry-based instruction as applied to one of Florida's Sunshine State Standards that addresses motion (SS.C.1.2.1 The student understands that the motion of an object can be described and measured).
Adapted from an example provided by Alan Colburn, An Inquiry Primer, March 2000.
Bransford and Stein (1984) suggest using the IDEAL model for solving problems in science. This approach to inquiry-based learning employs logical sequencing of procedures that begin with problem identification and concluding with a reflection of an attempted plan of action.
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