On the Practice of Science Inquiry

Science As Inquiry, a construct developed in a recent publication, weaves together ideas about science teaching and inquiry that were developed over many years of work with practicing science teachers in the context of seminars conducted around the U.S.A, in school district staff development seminars, and courses that I taught at Georgia State University.

A Webly Map of Science as Inquiry

Science As Inquiry provides the practical tools, based on theory and research, that science teachers use in their classrooms to involve their students in inquiry learning, including hands-on investigations, project-based activities, Internet- based learning experiences, and science activities in which students are guided to construct meaning and develop ideas about science and how it relates to them and their community.

Humanistic Quest

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 to 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.

Disconnect with Standards & High-Stakes Testing

Although the organizations that have developed the science standards (National Research Council) advocate science teaching as an active process, and suggest that students should be involved in scientific inquiry, 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, driven by professional teachers who view learning as more personalized, and conducted in accord with democratic principles, constructivist and inquiry learning, and cultural principles that relate the curriculum to the nature and needs of the students.

Effects of Inquiry

Science education researchers have reported that inquiry-based instructional practices are more likely to increase conceptual understanding than are strategies that rely on more passive techniques, and in the current environment emphasizing a standardized-assessment approach, teachers will tend to rely on more traditional and passive teaching techniques.

Inquiry-based teaching is often characterized as actively engaging students in hands-on and minds-on learning experiences.

Inquiry-based teaching also is seen as giving students more responsibility for learning. Given that the evidence is somewhat supportive of inquiry-based science, our current scheme of national science standards emphasizing a broad array of concepts to be tested would tend to undermine an inquiry approach.

Teachers who advocate and implement an inquiry philosophy of learning do so because they want to inspire and encourage a love of learning among their students. They see the purpose of schooling as inspiring students, by engaging them in creative and innovative activities and projects.

Science As Inquiry embraces 21st century teaching in which inquiry becomes the center and heart of learning. Science As Inquiry provides a pathway to make your current approach to teaching more inquiry-oriented, and to embrace the digital world that is ubiquitous to our students.


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.


Adventures in Geology: Darwin & Fossils

Last year was the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book On the Origin of Species.  One of the activities I was involved in was work with a group of middle school students to explore some of the ideas shown in the Wordle that I designed used the nifty program at wordle.com.
Wordle: Darwin and Wallace

We had planned three activities to help the students see how fossils were important to Darwin, and to also show that Darwin used geology as as an important aspect in the future development of his theory to explain how species changed over time. Here are the activities we did.  Following the description of the activities is the slide show in YouTube form I used to help the students explore these ideas

Mystery at the Ringgold Road Cut. In this activity, the students were given a bag of crinoid stems that I had collected from lower Paleozoic rocks in Northwest Georgia (as shown in the photo here), a hand lens, and a metric rule.

Crinoid stems used in an activity with student in which they make observations and inferences about these "mystery" objects.
Sedimentary bed containing crinoid fossils in NW Georgia

They were asked to investigate the objects, and use observations of the fossils to pose questions, and make conclusions about what they thought the objects might be.

Being a Palentologist. Into brown paper bags, we put a fossil and a geological time scale that included drawings of organisms associated with the three geological eras. Students picked up a bag, and then proceeded to use their powers of observation to try and interpret when the fossil might have lived and in what kind of environment. When they had an idea, they could pick up a sheet of paper with further information about their fossil. Fossils included: brachiopod, oyster, petrified wood, shark tooth, amber, coprolite, fern, fossil fish, trilobite, sea urchin, dinosaur bone.

The Footprint Puzzle. We provided the students with a footprint showing two sets of fossil tracks (of dinosaurs). The students used the tracks to discuss what they thought might be going on. In the map of the tracks, the tracks converge and at the point of convergence, there tracks overlap each other. After some discussion, students make the inference that there were two dinosaurs, and they met up, and either mated, or had a fight. When then provided them one additional piece of information. The additional information showed only one set of tracks exiting the area of convergence.

In the movie that follows, we used images of Darwin’s voyage around the world, images from Down House, Darwin’s family, a picture and reading of the letter he received from Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858 that shocked Darwin into making his theory of natural selection public, and indeed, his and Wallace’s papers were read at the Linnean Society in London in 1858.  Enjoy!