Science As Inquiry Website

This week, the 2nd Edition of Science As Inquiry will be published by Good Year Books.

Science as Inquiry is based on the idea that learning is deepened if viewed as a communal experience, and that students are involved in making decisions about not only how they learn, but what they learn. Center stage in Science As Inquiry is cooperative (collaborative) learning, and how cooperative learning can be used to heighten and motivate students in learning science. Whether we are engaging students in hands-on activities, designing and carrying out projects, investigating and debating important science-related social issues, or participating in Internet-based learning experiences, cooperative learning is a crucial cognitive tool to improve our student’s learning.

To integrate the ideas and activities in the book, Science as Inquiry, I have developed an interactive website on the following areas of investigation:

You can link to this new website here.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll discuss aspects of the book and website, and how you might get involved in using the book and the activities—especially the online science research investigations—with your students, courses and programs.

If you are interested in getting involved this summer, let us know.


Science as Inquiry

For the past two months I have been involved in a revision of Science As Inquiry, a book I published with Goodyear Publishing in 2000. The book revision will be finished at the end of April, and the new edition will be published in the Fall of 2011.

I’ve developed a website for the 2nd edition, and you can find it at  The website is under development, but you can visit it to get a feel for the nature of science as inquiry, a book that integrates active learning, project-based science, and Internet-focused science to enhance student learning.

The philosophy of science teaching that has been developed at this weblog is the underpinning of science-as-inquiry.  Inquiry by its nature is a humanistic pursuit of our understanding of the universe, and should guide science teaching and learning.  Inquiry puts the student at the center of learning, and as teachers our role becomes one of helping students develop the abilities to do inquiry, and to enable our students to be able pursue avenues of science that relate to and appeal to them.  Unfortunately, in the testing and standards-driven culture that dominates education today, science teachers who embrace inquiry as the mainstay of their approach to teaching need support and understanding from policy makers, scientists and parents.

Inquiry is one of the most researched concepts by science education researchers.  If you do a search of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST) or the journal, Science Education, you will find thousands of hits for inquiry.   In fact, the first “virtual” issue of the JRST was focused on scientific inquiry.  Below are the titles for this interesting issue on inquiry in science teaching.

I’ll be writing more about inquiry and science teaching on this weblog. In the meantime, I invite you to visit the science-as-inquiry website.

Why Do We Teach Science? The Skills Argument

In the last two posts, the economic and democratic arguments have been discussed, respectively.  We now turn to a third argument, the “skills argument.” According to R. Stephen Turner, the “skills argument” is second to the economic argument as the reason we teach science.

According to Turner, the skills argument provides the rationale that the study of science results in the development of certain “transferable skills” that are important to an informed citizenry.  For science teachers the skills argument is associated with pedagogies that include hands-on activities, involve students in analyzing and interpreting data, and also in designing and conducting open-ended investigations.  If you were interview science teacher educators at university levels, you would find not only agreement on these pedagogies, but that their science teacher education programs include these approaches.

Many science educators would argue that the term “skills” as used here ought be called  “inquiry-based learning.”  Both “skills” and “inquiry” will generate thousands of hits if you search the two main journals in science education, the journal Science Education, and The Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST).  For instance searching the term “inquiry” generated 1709 hits in Science Education, and 1422 hits in JRST; the term “skills” generated 2723 hits in Science Education, and 1780 hits in JRST.  Furthermore, you will find the term “inquiry” used in many textbooks in science written for teachers and teacher educators.

Inquiry was also an important concept in the National Science Education Standards (1996).  In 2000, the NRC published Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards, a 200 page document that defines inquiry teaching, and provides evidence that inquiry is a viable teaching strategy.

Many science teachers would claim that we teach science to help students develop the skills associated with scientific inquiry (observation, measurement, analyzing data, predicting, making hypotheses, testing theories, designing investigations).  Even textbooks have integrated some aspects of inquiry by including “laboratory” and hands-on activities within the texts that students should perform.

The skills or inquiry-based argument for teaching science is also connected with learning theories that have been an integral part of the science education community.  Science education has been influenced by the learning theories of John Dewey, Jerome Bruner, Jean Piaget, Ernst Glasersfeld, and Lev Vygotsky.  In all of these theorists works, inquiry takes a prominent role in attempting to explain human learning.  For example, social constructivism, which has emerged from the works of Bruner, Piaget, Glasersfeld and Vygotsky, has many of the elements of inquiry-based learning.  For many science teachers, the theory of social constructivism paints a picture in which students make meaning of the world—in short, students construct meaning.  Inquiry learning fosters such a notion because it draws on the theory of constructivism.  In this view, knowledge is not like a brick—it can’t be passed on directly to a student—but it is more like a building, which is built up indirectly, through experience and interaction.

The skills argument is more than simply teaching transferable skills, but goes to the heart of science, and that is the notion of inquiry-based learning.  For many science teachers, science is synonymous with inquiry, and it ought to be a focal point of the science curriculum.  It ought to be the reason we teach science.

Coming next will a discussion of the cultural argument for teaching science.

Linking Research and Practice in Science Teaching

For many years I was fortunate to conduct seminars for the Bureau of Research in Education (BER), an organization that provides staff development and training resources for educators in North America.  One of the principles that provided the framework for the seminars that I did, and others that the BER offers is the link between research and practice.  That is to say, the seminars needed to show how current research in science education could be used to improve science teaching and student learning.  The seminars needed to be practical, but they also needed to be based on research.

I learned that science teachers were eager to not only be introduced to active learning science activities, but also were open to exploring the research forming the foundation for these activities.  The seminars were based on an adult active learning model, and an inquiry and humanistic approach to science teaching and learning.

In the most recent issue of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST), the official journal of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Dr. Julie A. Luft, of Arizona State University, Tempe, introduced the first virtual issue of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching which included nine articles focused on the thematic focus of scientific inquiry.  As Dr. Luft indicated, this an effort by two communities (science education researchers and science teachers) to bridge the research and practice gap.  The two communities she is writing about include the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST).  One important point that is made in her introductory article is that a recent research study conducted by NSTA indicated clearly that science teachers wanted to explore with their colleagues emerging issues in science education, and to participate in science education research.

That said, the issue is important, especially since we are beginning a new school year, and this is the time that courses begin, and attitudes about science learning begin to develop.  The issue explores a variety of topics related to inquiry in the science teaching.  Here is a list of the articles in the virtual journal:

  1. Embracing the essence of inquiry: New roles for science teachers Barbara A. Crawford
  2. Progressive inquiry in a computer-supported biology class Kai Hakkarainen
  3. Folk theories of inquiry: How preservice teachers reproduce the discourse and practices of an atheoretical scientific method Mark Windschitl
  4. Developing students’ ability to ask more and better questions resulting from inquiry-type chemistry laboratories Avi Hofstein, Oshrit Navon, Mira Kipnis, Rachel Mamlok-Naaman
  5. Characteristics of professional development that effect change in secondary science teachers’ classroom practices Bobby Jeanpierre, Karen Oberhauser, Carol Freeman
  6. Science inquiry and student diversity: Enhanced abilities and continuing difficulties after an instructional intervention Okhee Lee, Cory Buxton, Scott Lewis, Kathryn LeRoy
  7. Inscriptional practices in two inquiry-based classrooms: A case study of seventh graders’ use of data tables and graphs Hsin-Kai Wu, Joseph S. Krajcik
  8. Exploring teachers’ informal formative assessment practices and students’ understanding in the context of scientific inquiry Maria Araceli Ruiz-Primo, Erin Marie Furtak
  9. The development of dynamic inquiry performances within an open inquiry setting: A comparison to guided inquiry setting Irit Sadeh, Michal Zion
Luft, J. (2010). Building a bridge between research and practice Journal of Research in Science Teaching DOI: 10.1002/tea.20392

Back to Basics: A False Solution to Mathematics and Science Test Scores

There was an article today in the New York Times entitled As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics. The article is about “rethinking” the teaching of mathematics, which has been prompted by students’, lagging test scores on international tests. The blame is put squarely on the “new math” which some label as “fuzzy math.” Another words, any reform that took place in mathematics MUST HAVE BEEN implemented nation-wide, and as a result students don’t know how to do long division, and other arithmetic skills. So the remedy is throw out the reform mathematics and associated teaching, and return to the “basics.” This is what college basketball and baseball coaches advocate when their teams are not doing well—let’s focus on the basics.

Not a bad idea. On the surface, at least.

But not really. Ok, now let’s switch disciplines, and focus on science teaching. We don’t do too well on international tests in science either. I guess we could blame the “new science” or something along that line. Again, the premise is that students have been exposed to science teaching that advocates inquiry and discovery learning, and these approaches have been implemented nation-wide. And when students in nation-wide testing programs are compared with their international counterparts, they don’t appear on the top of the list of countries.

The problem with these analyses is that international (or national standardized tests) don’t really “measure” what’s going on in mathematics or science classrooms. But that’s the minor part of the argument. The major part of the argument is that the reform mathematics, or inquiry and discovery teaching are not reflected in studies done that focus on what teachers and students are doing the classroom. In American science classrooms, recitation and canned lab work is a more accurate picture of science teaching, not student inquiry and discovery. So the reforms that people claim might have “caused” the calamity of low test scores does not “measure up” because the majority of students never experienced those innovations. And this is not an new idea. Researchers have reported these kinds of findings for years—and years.

We have tended to blame innovation for a laundry list of academic problems particularly on how students do on traditional, standardized tests. I doubt that the innovation caused the problem. In studies done when researches looked at the innovation, results on achievement and attitude toward learning were favorable. The problem is that not many students experience these innovations.

What is needed now is NOT a return to the basics, but a basic plan to instill innovation in schooling, and encourage teachers and schools to look for creative ways of working with students.