Teacher Leadership Subscribe to RSS

The Five Features of Science Inquiry: How do you know?

| Eric Brunsell

Teaching science through science inquiry is the cornerstone of good teaching.

Teaching science through science inquiry is the cornerstone of good teaching. Unfortunately, an inquiry-approach to teaching science is not the norm in schools as "many teachers are still striving to build a shared understanding of what science as inquiry means, and at a more practical level, what it looks like in the classroom (Keeley, 2008)." A good starting point for understanding what science inquiry "means" is to focus on the definition provided by the National Research Council.

The 5 features of science inquiry (emphasis is mine)

  • Learner Engages in Scientifically Oriented Questions
  • Learner Gives Priority to Evidence in Responding to Questions
  • Learner Formulates Explanations from Evidence
  • Learner Connects Explanations to Scientific Knowledge
  • Learner Communicates and Justifies Explanations

Although each component is important, notice how many times the words "evidence" and "explanation" are used. Helping students use evidence to create explanations for natural phenomena is central to science inquiry. In their article, Argument Driven Inquiry, Sampson and Groom write (emphasis mine):

"In America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science (200) [http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11311], the National Research Council (NRC) makes several suggestions for how laboratory activities can be changed to improve students' skills and understanding of science: First, laboratory activities need to be more inquiry-based so students can develop practical skills and an understanding of the ambiguity and complexity associated with empirical work in science. Second, students need opportunities to read, write, and engage in critical discussions as they work. Finally, it is important to encourage students to construct or critique arguments (i.e., an explanation supported by one or more reasons) and to embed diagnostic, formative, or educative assessment into the instruction sequence."

There are many ways that you can reinforce the creation and critiquing of arguments in your classroom. "How do you know?" should be one of the most frequently asked questions in your classroom. You should expect that student answers (verbal or written) should include evidence. Additionally, you should look for opportunities for students to critique the use of evidence in science news, reports and other media.

Some practical classroom examples of giving priority to evidence

Mallory Fredrickson, a middle school science teacher at New Richmond middle school in Wisconsin, introduces her students to the concept of making evidence-based explanations by using a story about a mysterious death. Students find evidence in the story to create a theory about how Mr. Brown died. Mallory explains, "They realized how it's [related to] science and how I expect to see them coming up with explanations this way all year."

Chad Janowski and his colleagues at Shawano High School (WI) developed common laboratory expectations for their students that expect students to give priority to evidence by explicitly asking them to provide the evidence that supports their conclusions and to also provide a rationale that connects the evidence to the claim. Chad notes that using evidence isn't automatic, "I gave this [the new laboratory report expectations] out to my students on Friday and watched them struggle to work through it. I cannot wait to see the progress they make as they use it throughout the year."

Brian, a high school teacher working with researchers at the University of Washington, used "evidence buckets" to help students organize data from laboratory experience. Students could easily see connections between different pieces of evidence as they make meaning of class activities. Watch a video at Tools4TeachingScience.org to see evidence buckets in action.

The Evidence Bucket
The Evidence Bucket

Lisa Sullivan, a teacher at McKinley Elementary in Kenosha, Wisconsin, modified evidence buckets to use with her 2nd grade students. She focused her students on the question, "Does air take up space?" as they explored a variety of activities. She then helped them organize their observations using evidence buckets. Lisa commented, "I realized that we couldn't make an evidence bucket until they understood what evidence was. One child said that he knew that they used evidence in court. This was a good example and I told them that evidence was what people observed. It could be used as proof of something or used to help explain an idea." She continued, "After we filled in our evidence bucket I called on a few students to raise their hands and tell me what they would say to someone who asked them: Does air take up space? I told them that the more evidence they used in their answer the more likely it was that the person would believe them. They did a great job of connecting their arguments to the evidence bucket."

--- Don't forget ---

Invite a scientist, engineer or other STEM professional into your classroom and enter the #scichat challenge!

see more see less

Comments (17)

Comment RSS

"I end up doing all the hands

Was this helpful?
0

"I end up doing all the hands on activities because they don't understand that if we are making a tornado....they can't put all of the soap in the bottle! They actually love watching me do the little experiments."

They would understand (and learn a lot more) if you let them do it! They would "love" that even more!

Educational Consultant

Was this helpful?
0

"... understanding what science inquiry “means”" ... this has been going on for years. Why is it so difficult to understand? If you can't understand it, it is probably because teacher training is still in the '50s, and your teachers didn't know what it was either.
It is simply investigating something that has been observed and looking for possible explanations for it's existence.
The "5 features" start off on the wrong track to lead to what I call true inquiry ... where someone doesn't give you questions to answer ... you have to come up with those as well (maybe a little critical thinking?). Make the inquiry student centered all the way. Start with observing REAL, RELEVANT phenomenon and let that generate questions from the students. Then do as Shannon suggests,"deconstructing some preconceptions and constructing more accurate ideas about the world." Henry has it backwards (takes all the fun of discovery out of it)... the inquiry's purpose should be to find out HOW the observation fits into existing knowledge ... so, some existing knowledge is needed. But the students usually have much of that ... they just don't realise it. That's the teacher's job ... to help them realise how much they already know!

Was this helpful?
+1

I teach science in grades K-6 and do find it challenging to tailor the experiments to the various grade levels. For the younger grades, I have some of the older kids come in during recess or after school to help me prepare for the lab/activities. Since I do feel that the younger students like to create their own experiments, I have everything already weighed and measured for them. Doing this will allow the students the opportunity to explore and not get carried away with the materials.

I agree that it is hard to

Was this helpful?
0

I agree that it is hard to teach inquiry based lessons at the lower level. I teach PreK(3 & 4 years old). They don't have the prior knowledge to participate either. I end up doing all the hands on activities because they don't understand that if we are making a tornado....they can't put all of the soap in the bottle! They actually love watching me do the little experiments.

Was this helpful?
0

Our curriculum is laid out for us, so we don't have a lot of wiggle room for creativity... but, I have really enjoyed our most recent lessons. Students run a series of tests on an ionic compound (salt). Using their results, they come up with the physical properties of ionic compounds. Then we repeated the same tests with a covalent compound and a metal. They can then compare the properties of the substances and compare the 3 different bond types. Next, they will get an unknown substance and will have to figure out what type of bonds it contains based on its properties.
They will then write a lab report where they must explain their results and explain why they came up with their conclusion.
In the end, they have learned a lot about the properties of different bond types (and we never had to open the textbook).

Quote: It's hard to teach

Was this helpful?
0
Quote:

It's hard to teach inquiry based lessons at the lower level. (I teach 1st/2nd grade.) A lot of times they do not have the background knowledge to fully participate. I have to implant that background knowledge before we can do a science lab. The key for good quality instruction is the type of questoions a teacher can ask. My students are always excited to carry out a lab, but I also try to let them form their own opinions and test their ideas. I do like the evidence bucket idea!

That's my whole point ... the inquiry is not about testing knowledge. It is about discovering ... then you look for the knowledge that explains what was discovered. That knowledge could be imparted by the teacher asking good questions ... and, more importantly ... the kids asking good questions (a skill most kids don't have because they are seldom given the chance to develop it). By letting them form their own opinions and test ideas, you are on the right track. The danger lies in making sure the ideas they end up with are correct ... they will carry it with them for many years. Misconceptions need to be clarified and corrected before new learning can take place.

I'd be asking them something like:
What do you think happened?
Have you ever seen anything like this before?
I wonder what would happen if ...

I totally agree how hands on

Was this helpful?
0

I totally agree how hands on investigative science work helps students to see the "ambiguity and complexity associated with empirical work". Many times when I am doing a lab my advanced students will ask me "what was supposed to happen?" Many advanced students have a hard time with the idea that right and wrong may change or may even open to interpritation. I think investigative science really helps push those advanced students just as much as it helps the rest.

Was this helpful?
0

It's hard to teach inquiry based lessons at the lower level. (I teach 1st/2nd grade.) A lot of times they do not have the background knowledge to fully participate. I have to implant that background knowledge before we can do a science lab. The key for good quality instruction is the type of questoions a teacher can ask. My students are always excited to carry out a lab, but I also try to let them form their own opinions and test their ideas. I do like the evidence bucket idea!

John, you've hit the nail on

Was this helpful?
0

John, you've hit the nail on the head.
The questioning process is what is so often missing.
Engage in something relevant in the student's world, question, investigate, discover, explain, reflect ... from a student's perspective.
Now that's an inquiry!

Quote: What's missing from

Was this helpful?
0
Quote:

What's missing from this picture is scholarship, the habit of finding out what is known about a phenomenon and how what is known became known. Before a scientist begins an inquiry, she knows how that inquiry fits with existing scientific knowledge and she has mastered the methods needed to investigate the phenomenon of interest. How many inquiry-based programs send students to the textbook before they are sent to the lab?

How about the purpose of the inquiry being to gain scholarship or to figure out HOW what is discovered fits in with existing knowledge? Doesn't the "scientific method" begin with observations? Don't observations lead to questions? And investigations lead to answers? If this process is student centered, then you have inquiry. IMO

The most exciting part of investigating IS discovering. To just verify what your teacher/textbook tells you is going to happen is what has been the biggest let down in science education in America for years. That is not real inquiry ... that is just following a recipe.

I hope students don't visit textbooks before they do an investigation ... but go there after to search for explanations of what they discovered.

see more see less

Eric Brunsell Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh

follow this blogger
Twitter