Inquiry Teaching: A Hallmark of Teaching in a Democratic Society

Teachers who instill as sense of inquiry in their classrooms are the educators who lead the rest of us out of the conservative and neoliberal paradigms that dominate education today.  These teachers know that teaching is not about skills, economic growth, job training and transmission of information.  To these teachers, classroom teaching is about equity, helping students learn to collaborate to learn, progressivism, and risk-taking.

Teachers who embody inquiry as a cornerstone in their philosophy of teaching are willing to cross into the unknown, and bring students along with them.  The teachers I have known who embrace this philosophy are courageous, imaginative, and creative.  Their method or pedagogy is influenced and based on a philosophy of inquiry in which they see their role as helping their students learn how to learn, as well as develop a love affair with learning.

Last month I published a little book entitled The Artistry of Teaching, that challenges the assumptions of present day reformers by showing that schooling is much more than teaching to the test, and that student learning should be encourage in a humanistic and experiential environment.  It’s about how teachers mingle art and science, as well theory and practice. It is about the artistry of teaching.

The fabric of teaching that emerges from teachers who practice inquiry is a mingling of art and science, theory and practice.

I put together a slide show that explores inquiry teaching based in part on The Artistry of Teaching.

There are many stories about inquiry teaching.  What are some of your ideas and beliefs about inquiry?

Inquiry: The Cornerstone of Teaching–Part I

Fifth Article in the series on The Artistry of Teaching

Conservative and neoliberal paradigms dominate education, which have reduced teaching to skills, economic growth, job training, and transmission of information.

In spite of these authoritarian policies,  many K-12 teachers practice a different form of instruction based on principles of equity, social constructivism, progressivism, and informal learning.  The cornerstone of this approach is inquiry, and in this article, I’ll explore the nature of inquiry, and why it is the magnum principium of teaching.

Inquiry teaching requires that teachers take risks because the very nature of inquiry brings us into the unknown.  It is like crossing into a new environment.  Some researchers think of this as “crossing cultures,” and for a teacher embracing inquiry as the cornerstone of their approach to teaching, it means crossing into a classroom culture that is very different from the traditional classroom, that we are too familiar with.  For a teacher who is experimenting with their own willingness and courage to accommodate inquiry teaching, it is much like thinking about Lev Vygotsky’s (public library) theory of zones of proximal learning.  Embracing inquiry teaching requires courage and the close collaboration with trusted colleagues who are supportive and believe that in a social constructivist environment, teachers can push themselves into new zones of learning.

Normally, Vygotsky’s theories are applied in the context of K-12 student learning.  But in this article, I want to show that Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism (which researchers suggest is similar to inquiry) can be applied to the artistry of teaching.

The Age of Inquiry

My story of inquiry teaching began in 1960s as a science teacher in a small community near Boston.  The 1960s was the “Golden Age” in science education in the sense that the National Science Foundation invested tens of millions of dollars in curriculum development and teacher education.  The school’s science program was an “Alphabet Soup Science” curriculum made up of BSCS Biology, CHEM Study Chemistry, CBA Chemistry, PSSC Physics, and HPP (Project Physics).  These courses were four of the nearly fifty curriculum projects that were developed between 1957 – 1977.  I was personally involved in four of them, ESCP Earth Science, ISCS (Intermediate Science Curriculum Study), PSSC Physics, ISIS (Individualized Science Instruction System) as a writer, field test coordinator, student, and researcher.

One of the characteristics of these programs was an approach to teaching unified by the word “inquiry.”  Inquiry teaching, with an emphasis on hands-on and minds on learning was integral to NSF programs developed in the 1960s, and has continued to the present day.

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 5.44.03 PMHowever, in 1960s, they concept of equity, multiculturalism, and urban education was not part of the research and development scene. Beginning in the 1970s, especially with educators such as Dr. Melvin Webb at Clark Atlanta University, research and development on issues of equity and multiculturalism in science education began to emerge in new programs, especially in the 1980s and 1990s.

Chicago. My introduction to inquiry teaching and learning was enhanced by participating in an NSF eight-week summer institute at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago on the PSSC Physics course.  For eight hours a day, five days a week, and for eight weeks, 35 teachers participated in laboratory sessions, lectures, and films on the PSSC physics program, the first of the NSF courses for American schools.  A team of teachers, including a professor of physics, a graduate student in physics, and a high school physics teacher taught the course. The PSSC course emphasized science laboratory work and hands-on investigations.  We did every laboratory activity in the PSSC text that summer, but more importantly we discussed how to integrate the idea of inquiry learning into our own teaching.  The three faculty in our program encouraged us to be activists, to ask questions about the science curriculum and the instructional approaches being used in high school science, and to encourage new approaches and ideas.

Nearly all the teachers, who were from 30 different states, were there because they were going to teach PSSC Physics in their school in the fall.  Not me.  I had taken a new job in a different town in Massachusetts (Lexington) and would be teaching earth science (I earned a B.S. in earth science in undergraduate school and really wanted to teach E.S.).  Later in the year I realized how important this intense study of physics would affect the way I taught earth science.  I adopted many of the labs in physics for the earth science course I was teaching, and began to adapt the activities in the text we used so that students were engaged in inquiry and problem solving.

Lexington. All the ninth grade teachers moved to a brand new high school science building the next year, and two of my colleagues in earth science  “piloted” a new NSF funded earth science project, ESCP (Earth Science Curriculum Project).  ESCP was a hands-on inquiry oriented program, different from the earth science program that was part of the high school curriculum.  I teamed up with one of the pilot teachers (Dr. Bob Champlain–Emeritus professor, Fitchberg State University) and planned a research study comparing the ESCP approach to the traditional earth science approach.  As it happened, Bob and I were working on our Masters degrees in science education at Boston University, and thus the study became our thesis study.  We didn’t find any significant differences (on a content test we administered), but qualitatively we saw many differences in terms of how students felt about learning science in the two contexts.  Students were naturally attracted to working with teammates in group activities, and enjoyed trying to solve problems that involved messing about, and trying different methods and techniques.

Columbus. I left Lexington in 1966, and moved to Columbus, Ohio to attend the National Science Foundation Academic Year Institute at The Ohio State University.  I joined with 40 other teachers of science and mathematics to take part in a one-year program of study in science and science education.  Several science courses designed for Institute participants integrated some aspects of inquiry, and were different from many of the other science courses we took.  There were nearly 20 full-time doctoral students in science education, and over the next three years we explored and studied the pedagogy and philosophy of science teaching  After three years of study, I finished my work on the Ph.D., and headed to Atlanta, Georgia, to take a job as an Assistant Professor of Science Education at Georgia State University.

College Park, MD. Before going to Atlanta, I made a three-week stop in College Park.  My induction into what inquiry was all about, however, took place three weeks before arriving in Atlanta to begin my new job.  At the University of Maryland, Professor Marjorie Gardner, one of the leaders in science education in the U.S. then, invited me to a member of a team of three science educators from Atlanta, even though I hadn’t arrived in Georgia.  Each team that the attended the Leadership Institute at UMD was composed of a science teacher, a science supervisor, and a university professor.  Twelve teams from around the country participated in the first Earth Science Leadership Institute directed by Dr. Gardner.  The institute was designed as a total immersion in the ESCP Curriculum with special emphasis on inquiry teaching and learning.  Each day we did two to three hands-on activities from the ESCP program, participated in lecture/discussions with scientists who were brought in to focus on specialty topics in the ESCP, e.g., astronomy, paleontology, mineralogy, physical geology, meteorology, geology, oceanography, space science).  We also were involved in micro-teaching.  Each of us had to teach several “inquiry” lessons to groups of middle school students.  Lessons were video taped, and then in collaboration with other participants, each lesson was discussed from the point of view of our goal to carry out an inquiry activity.  Suggestions were made to change the lesson, which we then re-taught to a different group of students.  The important aspect here is that collaboration with colleagues was essential in moving each us into new conceptions and zones of activity.

A Cornerstone

Atlanta. Inquiry teaching became the cornerstone of my teaching at Georgia State University for the next thirty-two years.  Through collaboration with colleagues in science education, the sciences, educational psychology and philosophy, inquiry and experiential learning became fundamental characteristics of courses and programs we designed.

When I began teaching at GSU, half of my assignment was to teach courses in the geology department, but specifically to teach geology courses for teachers.  My first course, which was taught off campus at a professional development center in Griffin, GA, was an introductory geology course for middle school teachers.  Using only laboratory and experiential activities, teachers learned geology by inquiry and problem solving.  For the next two years, I taught courses in geology in Griffin, and an opportunity to explore the nature of inquiry teaching with professional educators.

One of the most important learnings that I took away from these early experiences teaching geology was
the joy that I saw in the eyes and minds of these teachers.  A few years later, I began to study the work of Rollo May, an American humanistic psychologist.  In his book The Courage to Create (public library), he speaks to us about what the artist or creative scientist feels.  It is not anxiety or fear; it is joy.  He explains that the artist (or scientist or teacher) at the moment of creating does not experience gratification or satisfaction.  Although he didn’t talk specifically here about teaching, later he does, and it is important to make a connection and bring teachers into the conversation.  This is how I see it.  The teacher, like the artist or scientist, uses creativity to create an environment of learning, much like an artist creates a painting, or a scientist advances a theory.  All are personal.  But May adds another dimension that I think is powerful.  He says this about the moment of creating for artist, scientist or teacher.

Rather, it is joy, joy defined as the emotion that goes with heightened consciousness, the mood that accompanies the experience of actualizing one’s own potentialities (May, R., The Courage to Create, 1975, p.45).

Over the course of my career, I worked with hundreds of teachers, professors, scientists, and researchers with whom we constructed our knowledge of inquiry in particular, and teaching in general.  We teamed to create projects that brought together not only for adults, but students and their families.

The GTP Telecommunications Network linking schools in the USA and the Soviet Union, c. 1991
The GTP Telecommunications Network linking schools in the USA and the Soviet Union, c. 1991

Moscow & Leningrad. The activity that epitomized the essence of inquiry while I was at GSU was the design and implementation of The Global Thinking Project (GTP), a hands-across-the-globe inquiry-based environmental science project. Utilizing very primitive Internet technologies and face-to-face meetings, teachers from Atlanta and other areas of Georgia forged cross-cultural partnerships with colleagues in the Soviet Union (1983 – 2002).   In 1991 the GTP was implemented in 10 schools in the U.S. & the Soviet Union, after we transported 6 MacIntosh SE 20 computers, printers and modems, and installed them in six schools in the Soviet Union.

In the Global Thinking Project teachers from different cultures came together to develop a curriculum was inquiry-based and involved students in solving local problems, as well thinking globally about these problems by participating in a global community of practice.  Inquiry was at the heart of the project.  By working with a range of teachers and students, the project developed an inquiry-based philosophy that emerged from years of collaboration among American and Russian teachers that was rooted in humanistic psychology.

Inquiry teaching was envisioned as a humanistic endeavor by American and Russian participants.  They believed that students should work collaboratively & cooperatively, not only in their own classrooms, but they should use the Internet  to develop interpersonal relationships, share local findings, and try to interpret each others ideas.

For more than ten years, collaboration took place among hundreds of teachers and students, not only in the United States (led by Dr. Julie Weisberg) and Russia (led by Dr. Galena Manke), but including significant work with colleagues in Spain (in the Barcelona Region under the directorship of Mr. Narcis Vives), Australia (under the leadership of Roger Cross), and further collaboration with the Czech Republic, Botswana, New Zealand, Scotland, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Singapore, and Canada.  With their work in the GTP, the following principles of inquiry emerged:

  • Innovative, flexible thinking
  • Cooperative–students work collaboratively in small teams to think and act together
  • Interdependence–a synergic system is established in groups within a classroom, and within global communities of practice.
  • Right-to-choose–students are involved in choice-making including problem and topic choice, as well as solutions; reflects the action processes of grassroots organizations
  • A new literacy insofar as “knowledge” relates to human needs, the needs of the environment and the social needs of the earth’s population and other living species
  • Emphasis on anticipation and participation; learning how to learn, and how to ask questions
  • Learning encourages creative thinking, and is holistic and intuitive

Inquiry as Magnum Principium

Inquiry is the sin qua non of experiential teaching and learning.  A method?  No.  It’s a foundational principle that is integral to democratic and humane environments that was espoused more than a hundred years ago by John Dewey.  In Dewey’s mind, this question must be asked when considering the way learning should occur in schools:

Can we find any reason that does not ultimately come down to the belief that democratic social arrangements promote a better quality of human experience, on which is more widely accessible and enjoyed, than do non-democratic and anti-democratic forms of social life? In Dewey, J., 1938. Experience & Education, p. 34. (public library)

At a deeper level, classrooms organized as democratic spaces encourage imagination, and it with free inquiry that teachers show themselves as Freiean “cultural workers.”  Freire says:

Teachers must give creative wings to their imaginations, obviously in disciplined fashion.  From the very first day of class, they must demonstrate to students the importance of imagination for life.  Imagination helps curiosity and inventiveness, just as it enhances adventure, with which we cannot create.  I speak here of imagination that is naturally free, flying, walking, or running freely.  Such imagination should be present in every movement of our bodies, in dance, in rhythm, in drawing, and in writing, even in the early stages when writing is in fact prewriting–scribbling.  It should be part of speech, present in the telling and retelling of stories produced within the learners’ culture. In Freire, P.,Teachers as Cultural Workers,  p. 51. (public library)

Becoming an inquiry teacher is a life-long phenomenon that emerges from the craft of teaching in the context of classrooms and schools that advocate professional collaboration and a pursuit of wisdom in teaching.  This is not ivory tower thinking purported by an emeritus professor of education.  It’s going on now in schools across the country.  Working together from the ground up, rather the top down, Chris Thinnes says on his blog how he and his colleagues work together to “formulate, analyze, prioritize, and activate driving questions that democratically identify the intersections of individual interest and shared priorities.”  You can go to Chris Thinnes blog, and read the kinds of questions he and his colleagues asked at their first meeting which focused on how a teacher creates an environment and climate conducive to learning.  It is this kind of democratically organized work that leads to teachers growing into cultural workers, inquiry teachers, and artists in their own right.

As way of introduction, here is what Chris said about the in-school meeting among all the staff to explore ways to improve teaching:

For a variety of reasons, I have been inspired for a number of years by the idea that our teachers’ professional learning and collaboration should be governed by the same principles and objectives as our students‘ learning and collaboration. To that end, each of six domains from the framework of our Goals for Learning (Create – Understand – Reflect – Transmit – Include – Strive) will be invoked as we establish language to articulate our core commitments to effective teaching practice; design driving questions that will facilitate further inquiry among our teams; identify teaching practices that should be visible to teachers, learners, and observers; explore resources drawing on a wide range of expertise outside our community; and create our own rubrics for self-assessment, reflection, goal-setting, peer observation, instructional coaching, and administrative evaluation.

Is inquiry the cornerstone of teaching?  What do you think?  What would you add to this conversation?


Why Do We Promote Consumption And Not Inquiry

Why in a democracy do we promote consumption and not inquiry in science teaching?  Why are we so possessed to have teachers cover the ground and not helping students uncover their connection to the world around them?

The second public draft of The Next Generation Science Standards will be released this December by Achieve, the organization that wrote the Common Core State Standards.  I wish I could link you to the first draft of the science standards, but Achieve pulled them off their website on June 1, 2012 after posting them for about three weeks.

The NGSS were based on the National Research Council’s project, A Framework for Science Education, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.  The document was written by nearly 20 experts, not one of whom is a K-12 teacher.  The only professional educator was Stephen Pruitt, who while on the committee was chief of staff for the Office of the State Superintendent of Schools in the Georgia Department of Education.  He did teach science for 12 years in Georgia.  However, now he is Vice President, Content, Research and Development for Achieve, the company writing the science standards.

The “Framework” document was used by Achieve’s science writing teams who developed the first draft of the new standards.  The rationale for the development of the science standards is achievement-based.  One way to look at the standards is that they use backwards engineering to define the field of science that teachers should cover in their science courses.  A teacher writing on Anthony Cody’s blog explained the notion of backward engineered standards.  Backward engineering means starting with an assessment, and then working backwards from it to write standards.  She explains that “the goal of the Next Generation Science Standards is create a document that can market both teaching and assessment products to a captive education system, not offer a framework for good teaching of science.”

A good standard is one that can be easily accessed using multiple choice questions, or short answers that require consumption of science goals.  When you check the new standards they are aligned vertically by content area creating endless lists of stuff to be taught and learned.  I spent several days reading the new science standards, participated in Achieve’s public review process, and wrote several posts on the process.  The science standards are organized around core ideas in each science discipline, which meant, unfortunately, that there was almost no attempt to create relationships among the content areas.  We still have the same content areas that the Committee of Ten created in the 1890s!

There are more than 400 standards in the science document.  Although they are divided into grade level bands, which does reduce  the number of standards per grade level.  When you look at a specific content area, as I did (earth science), there is still a long list of content to be taught.  And remember, the standards will be measured using high stakes tests, which will soon be totally computerized by 2014.

We have reported on this blog that the very nature of standards-based education sets up an authoritarian framework that values the consumption, recall, and repetition of information.  Using the backward engineering model, teaching will be based on the content lists because each one of them will be assessed using a multiple choice format.  Teaching to the standards is no different than teaching to the test.

Yet, science educators, especially if you attend major conferences on science teaching and research, have had a love affair with engaging students in inquiry.  Asking students to formulate investigations, ask questions, searching for answers, and  uncovering content that excites them are some of the kinds of thinking that science teachers advocate.  When we put the teaching of science into the hands of experts as we did with the National Research Council, we end up with an outline of the content that they know and think kids should know, even without real experience with teachers or with students.

Inquiry, independent thinking, and creative thought are buried in standards-based documents. Henry Giroux in an article about democracy and education,  raises the concern that public education is under assault by conservative forces that cut schooling to a process of producing students who can perform on tests, not think differently or question  things as they are.  He puts it this way:

In this conservative right-wing reform culture, the role of public education, if we are to believe the Heritage Foundation and the likes of Bill Gates-type billionaires, is to produce students who laud conformity, believe job training is more important than education, and view public values as irrelevant. Students in this view are no longer educated for democratic citizenship. On the contrary, they are now being trained to fulfill the need for human capital [1]. What is lost in this approach to schooling is what Noam Chomsky calls “creating creative and independent thought and inquiry, challenging perceived beliefs, exploring new horizons and forgetting external constraints.”[2]

 One of the major goals of science teachers is to help students wonder, explore, and be actively involved in inquiry—which is the cornerstone of science. The science standards, when published, will have the appearance of a digest of science factoids that teachers must face, and teach. This tends to sideline inquiry, and problem solving because teachers will be required to cover the ground. Furthermore, “common” assessments will be based on the digest of factoids, to further discourage teaching science as inquiry.

[1] David Glenn, “Public Higher Education Is ‘Eroding From All Sides,’ Warns Political Scientists,”  The Chronicle of Higher Education, (Sept. 2, 2010).

[2] Noam Chomsky, “Public Education Under Massive Corporate Assault—What’s Next?AlterNet(August 5, 2011).


We Teach Science Not Because It Nurtures the Child’s Imagination, but Because It Might Help Get a Job

Reform in science education for the past two decades is based on the ideas that American students receive an inferior education in mathematics and science, and as a result will not be able to compete for jobs in the global marketplace.  In this scenario, the purpose for teaching math and science is to get a job.  Standards-based reform coupled with high-stakes testing has created a model of education in which science achievement is the only worthy goal.  According to these reformers if American students don’t do well in science (and math) they won’t be able to compete in the global economy.  They won’t be able to get a job.

These same reformers use the international test results from TIMSS and PISA, but conveniently ignore the most reliable data, which is collected by the NAEP.  As for the TIMSS and NAEP data, comparing one country to another is questionable, but if you want to compare students with similar academic backgrounds, then U.S. students score right near the top.  As for whether American students are doing poorly in science, the data from NAEP shows that science (and math) scores have NOT been falling in U.S. schools. And the data shows that the achievement gap between white and black students is narrowing, but at the level that is not acceptable to many.

Figure 1. NAEP Science achievement scores, 1969 – 1999.

It is very convenient for some groups to make the claim that the U.S. is falling behind in math and science. But the evidence is that student learning in science, mathematics and reading has either improved or remained stable over the past thirty years, and during that time the achievements in science and technology have been breathtaking.

Even using faulty and questionable data, reformers, such as those at Achieve, continue to say over and over again that America does not have a first class education system, and in order to have one, then all students should be held accountable to same set of goals (standards) in science, math and reading/language arts.  Hog wash.

Here’s the Thing

The child’s sense of wonder is stymied by a curriculum designed to test the science skills (read Standards) that experts think will lead to a competitive science-related job.  The curriculum, based on authoritarian and arbitrary standards, actually becomes an obstruction to the child’s inquisitiveness and the teacher’s best pedagogical abilities and know-how.  Rachel Carson, who most know because of her book Silent Spring, wrote other books, including A Sense of Wonder.  Her remarks on a child’s sense of wonder is apropos today, as seen in this quote from her book:

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.

For example, in the field of science teacher education, most of my colleagues have developed inquiry and constructivist teacher preparation programs over the past two decades.  The graduates of these science education programs not only understand the content of science, but also understand the nature of science teaching from the framework of leaning theory steeped in inquiry and constructivist learning.  The child’s sense of wonder is at the forefront in these programs.

However, even with teacher education programs that are field- and inquiry-based, as most are, graduates face a wall of resistance when they begin their career.  Wonder and inquiry are left in the stock room, and replaced with a compendium of standards to be transferred to students in preparation for high-stakes tests.  If it’s on the test, then it fits the curriculum.

You already know that the Next Generation Science Standards‘ revised draft edition will be released this fall by Achieve.  We concede that Achieve is the voice of authority for the math, reading/language arts and science standards in American education.  Commissioned years ago by the National Governors Association to write standards in math and reading, Achieve has spread its standards over K-12 education landscape, with kudzu strength.  It has virtually no accountability, yet this organization sets the goals for K-12 schools, and by 2014 most of the states will adopt computerized assessments to measure the standards.  Schools are held accountable but not the policy makers lurking behind organizations that are pushing this top down take over of schooling.

There will be almost no room for teaching students how use their imaginations and sense of wonder in any of their science courses, K-12.  Although it is difficult to snuff the imagination and  curiosity of early elementary students, it seems as if we’re heading on a path that will be successful in this attempt.   The fact is, the more science courses that students take, the less they like science.  How will it be possible to turn around a trend like this when American science education is based on an arbitrary list of standards that are being developed without any context for student learning?

American mathematics and teachers are by nature inventive, and readily solve problems in their classrooms every day. If anything is in teachers’ ways of continuing creative and innovative teaching, it is rules imposed by NCLB on our schools. The requirements lessen the opportunity for learning. On this blog, we have cited peer-reviewed research that indicates that the high-stakes testing, and authoritarian standards impedes learning, and prevents teachers from doing what they are prepared to do, and that is help students uncover their love of mathematics and science.

Major organizations, including the Carnegie Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education, have provided resources (financial and intellectual) to support the work of Achieve.  Using assessments completed by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative tank of bureaucrats, Achieve boasts of its research-based work.  Truth be told:  none of the published research, which you can find on Fordham’s website, is not the result of the peer-review process, the accepted standard in the  research community.  All the research reported on the Fordham Institute site is in-house work, lacking the scrutiny that research work should be held to.

Standards-based and high-stakes testing does not promote creative or imaginative learning.  What place would imaginative teaching and learning have in a system that promotes academic scores on a multiple choice examination, that soon will be totally computerized?  None.  We have put into place a system that will encourage rote learning, and traditional or conservative pedagogy.  We have entered an age of authoritarianism in which the curriculum of American schools is dictated by organizations that have little to no accountability.  Education goals have become market-driven even in an age when the research does not support any of the contentions made by the authoritarians.  Unfortunately, American political parties show no differences in their attitude toward, or program recommendations for teaching, learning, and teacher education.

Henry Giroux puts it into context and indicts both major political parties:

Both parties support educational reforms that increase conceptual illiteracy. Critical learning is now reduced to mastering test-taking, memorizing facts, and learning how not to question knowledge and authority. This type of rote pedagogy, as Zygmunt Bauman points out, is “the most effective prescription for grinding communication to a halt and for [robbing] it of the presumption and expectation of meaningfulness and sense.” (Zygmunt Bauman,”Does ‘Democracy’ Still Mean Anything? (And in Case It Does, What Is It?)” [i]Truthout [/i](January 21, 2011). Online:;view=item&id=73:does-democracy-still-mean-anything-and-in-case-it-does-what-is-it).

Encouraging a Sense of Wonder

Inquiry science teaching by its very nature is a humanistic quest.  It puts at the center of learning not only the students, but also how science relates to their lived experiences, and issues and concepts that connect to their lives.  Doing science in the classroom that is inquiry-based relies on teachers and administrators who are willing to confront the current trend that advocates a standards-based and high stakes testing paradigm.  The dominant reason for teaching science is embedded in an “economic” argument that is rooted in the nation’s perception of how it compares to other nations in science, technology, and engineering.  This led to the development of new science curricula, but it also led the wide scale use of student achievement scores in measuring learning.  Student achievement, as measured on “bubble tests,” has become the method to measure effectiveness of school systems, schools, and teachers, not to mention the students.

There is a disconnect between the standards approach, and the implementation of an inquiry-based approach to science teaching.  We need to pull back on the drive to create a single set of standards and complementary set of assessments, and move instead toward a system of education that is rooted locally, and driven by professional teachers who view learning as more personalized, and in accord with democratic principles, constructivist and inquiry learning, and cultural principles that relate the curriculum to the nature of and needs of the students.

To sum this post up, here is a quote from Kareen Borders, a high school science teacher who received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 2011:

My students are not passive learners of science, they ARE scientists. They embrace the idea that they are empowered to own their learning. In addition to creating a love of learning within my students, I am intentional about equipping students with wonder, teamwork strategies, and problem-solving skills for jobs that may not exist yet.

I think Kareen speaks for most of the science education community.

What do you think?  Are we emphasizing achievement at the expense of other and perhaps more important goals of teaching?

High Hopes for Science Inquiry: Fewer Opportunities

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The No Child Left Behind Act is linked to data that shows schools in California are teaching less science because teachers are pressured to prepare students for the required math and English high-stakes tests.

Valerie Strauss writes that Virginia is moving to require that students would only be required to take tests in math and English.  Students would not take tests in science and social studies.  On the one hand, this is a great idea because I believe high-stakes tests should be banned.  But on the other hand, there will be collateral effects on science and social studies because Virginia will put its emphasis on teaching math and English.  That is a bad idea.

Lori Welsh, a science educator in Ohio, has challenged the Dublin School District’s decision to reduce the amount of time devoted to science teaching in grades 6 and 7.  This 17-year veteran science educator has gathered data that shows how the decision reduces science and social studies time by 33%.  Science will reduce from 126 minutes of science every 2 days (63 minute daily periods now) to 86 minutes every two days (one 86 minute block every other day proposed for next year).

Science teachers would argue that reducing the time spent learning science would take it toll on the teaching of science as inquiry.  And simply adding more time to reading will not result in improvement in science inquiry.
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