Switching from cookbook labs to full inquiry

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When I was in my undergrad science methods class, we learned about the value of inquiry in science. That was many years ago, and yet we’re still talking about the value of inquiry in science. I wonder if it’s because we still think of an “analog” situation: we do either cookbook labs (in which all students have to do is follow the directions) or we do full inquiry investigations (in which many students struggle). But rather than an either/or situation, this articles in this year’s Science & Children are showing how inquiry can be considered a continuum— confirmation inquiry (i.e., the cookbook), structured inquiry, guided inquiry, open inquiry. What differentiates these is the role of the students and teacher in asking questions, designing procedures, collecting and organizing data, and generating explanations and conclusions. The more input the students have, the “higher” the level of inquiry. The graphic in Inquiry Is Essential shows the relationship between levels of learner self-direction and directions provided by the teacher.
NSTA publications have many examples of how teachers can scaffold activities to guide students through the continuum, so that even a traditional activity can take on the characteristics of inquiry. (See The Many Levels of Inquiry in the October 2008 issue of Science & Children.) For this issue, I’ve noted the SciLinks topics that would support the content or include additional activities.

If you teach middle or high school and your students need some assistance in transitioning through the levels of inquiry, the strategies described in this issue could be helpful. The authors of Fire Up the Inquiry, Lose the Recipe, and Got Inquiry? describe how to adapt lessons to each of these levels–the same basic investigation, but with different levels of student input. The Mitten Problem discusses what to do when students have misconceptions that interfere with inquiry learning.  Overcoming Difficulties has ideas for working with bilingual students during inquiry lessons.  [SciLinks: Heat and Temperature, Insulation, Seed Germination, What Are the Parts of a Plant]
Water Pressure in Depth makes the point that although students may follow the directions and enjoy an activity, they may not really understand the science involved. By giving students more of a role in the activity, they may take on more ownership of their learning.  [SciLinks: Fluids and Pressure, Magnetism, Recycling]
One rationale that some teachers may have about inquiry is that there is too much content to cover. In 5 Strategies to Support All Teachers, one of the strategies is to connect the students’ ideas to the standards or curriculum goals. [SciLinks: Lakes and Ponds, Composting] From Adding Inquiry to Doing Science is a very honest discussion of a teacher’s efforts to transition from activities with predetermined outcomes to less predictable inquiry investigations. As she shows, younger students are indeed capable of higher-level thinking. [SciLinks: Autumn Leaves, Identifying Trees] Inquiry Follow-Up capitalizes on the curiosity and enthusiasm of pre-schoolers to investigate patterns of bird behavior at feeders. [SciLinks: Birds]
Two articles embed inquiry into the 5E model. Which Paper Towel Is Best? and Let’s Try It Out in the Air show how even a common investigation question can be kicked up a notch to incorporate more input from the students.[SciLinks: Wind Currents. See also The KidWind Project]
And check out more Connections for this issue (March 2011). Even if the article does not quite fit with your lesson agenda, there are ideas for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, and other resources.

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1 Response to Switching from cookbook labs to full inquiry

  1. walterjbrown says:

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