ERIC Identifier: ED359048
Publication Date: 1993-03-00
Author: Haury, David L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Teaching Science through Inquiry. ERIC/CSMEE Digest.
"If a single word had to be chosen to describe the goals of science educators
during the 30-year period that began in the late 1950s, it would have to be
INQUIRY." (DeBoer, 1991, p. 206).
In a statement of shared principles, the U.S. Department of Education and the
National Science Foundation (1992) together endorsed mathematics and science
curricula that "promote active learning, inquiry, problem solving, cooperative
learning, and other instructional methods that motivate students." Likewise, the
National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment (1992) has said
that "school science education must reflect science as it is practiced," and
that one goal of science education is "to prepare students who understand the
modes of reasoning of scientific inquiry and can use them." More specifically,
"students need to have many and varied opportunities for collecting, sorting and
cataloging; observing, note taking and sketching; interviewing, polling, and
surveying" (Rutherford & Algren, 1990).
DISTINGUISHING FEATURES OF INQUIRY-ORIENTED SCIENCE
Inquiry-oriented science instruction has been characterized in a
variety of ways over the years (Collins, 1986; DeBoer, 1991; Rakow, 1986) and
promoted from a variety of perspectives. Some have emphasized the active nature
of student involvement, associating inquiry with "hands-on" learning and
experiential or activity-based instruction. Others have linked inquiry with a
discovery approach or with development of process skills associated with "the
scientific method." Though these various concepts are interrelated,
inquiry-oriented instruction is not synonymous with any of them.
From a science perspective, inquiry-oriented instruction engages students in
the investigative nature of science. As Novak suggested some time ago (1964),
"Inquiry is the [set] of behaviors involved in the struggle of human beings for
reasonable explanations of phenomena about which they are curious." So, inquiry
involves activity and skills, but the focus is on the active search for
knowledge or understanding to satisfy a curiosity.
Teachers vary considerably in how they attempt to engage students in the
active search for knowledge; some advocate structured methods of guided inquiry
(Igelsrud & Leonard, 1988) while others advocate providing students with few
instructions (Tinnesand & Chan, 1987). Others promote the use of heuristic
devices to aid skill development (Germann, 1991). A focus on inquiry always
involves, though, collection and interpretation of information in response to
wondering and exploring.
From a pedagogical perspective, inquiry-oriented teaching is often contrasted
with more traditional expository methods and reflects the constructivist model
of learning, often referred to as active learning, so strongly held among
science educators today. According to constructivist models, learning is the
result of ongoing changes in our mental frameworks as we attempt to make meaning
out of our experiences (Osborne & Freyberg, 1985). In classrooms where
students are encouraged to make meaning, they are generally involved in
"developing and restructuring [their] knowledge schemes through experiences with
phenomena, through exploratory talk and teacher intervention" (Driver, 1989).
Indeed, research findings indicate that, "students are likely to begin to
understand the natural world if they work directly with natural phenomena, using
their senses to observe and using instruments to extend the power of their
senses" (National Science Board, 1991, p. 27).
In its essence, then, inquiry-oriented teaching engages students in
investigations to satisfy curiosities, with curiosities being satisfied when
individuals have constructed mental frameworks that adequately explain their
experiences. One implication is that inquiry-oriented teaching begins or at
least involves stimulating curiosity or provoking wonder. There is no authentic
investigation or meaningful learning if there is no inquiring mind seeking an
answer, solution, explanation, or decision.
THE BENEFITS OF TEACHING THROUGH INQUIRY
Though some have
raised concerns about extravagant claims made for science instruction based on
activities and laboratory work (Hodson, 1990), studies of inquiry-oriented
teaching (Anderson et al., 1982) and inquiry-based programs of the 1960s
(Mechling & Oliver, 1983; Shymansky et al., 1990) have been generally
supportive of inquiry approaches. Inquiry-based programs at the middle-school
grades have been found to generally enhance student performance, particularly as
it relates to laboratory skills and skills of graphing and interpreting data
(Mattheis & Nakayama, 1988). Evidence has also been reported that shows
inquiry-related teaching effective in fostering scientific literacy and
understanding of science processes (Lindberg, 1990), vocabulary knowledge and
conceptual understanding (Lloyd & Contreras, 1985, 1987), critical thinking
(Narode et al., 1987), positive attitudes toward science (Kyle et al., 1985;
Rakow, 1986), higher achievement on tests of procedural knowledge (Glasson,
1989), and construction of logico-mathematical knowledge (Staver, 1986).
It seems particularly important that inquiry-oriented teaching may be
especially valuable for many underserved and underrepresented populations. In
one study, language-minority students were found to acquire scientific ways of
thinking, talking, and writing through inquiry-oriented teaching (Rosebery et
al., 1990). Inquiry-oriented science teaching was shown to promote development
of classification skills and oral communication skills among bilingual third
graders (Rodriguez & Bethel, 1983). Active explorations in science have been
advocated for teaching deaf students (Chira, 1990). Finally, experiential
instructional approaches using ordinary life experiences are considered to be
more compatible with native American viewpoints than are text-based approaches
Caution must be used, however, in interpreting reported findings. There is
evidence of interactions among investigative approaches to science teaching and
teaching styles (Lock, 1990), and the effects of directed inquiry on student
performance may vary by level of cognitive development (Germann, 1989). There
seems also a possible conflict of goals when attempting to balance the needs of
underachieving gifted students to develop more positive self-concepts with the
desire to develop skills of inquiry and problem solving (Wolfe, 1990).
It must also be emphasized that an emphasis on inquiry-oriented teaching does
not necessarily preclude the use of textbooks or other instructional materials.
The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study materials are examples of those that
include an inquiry orientation (Hall & McCurdy, 1990; Sarther, 1991). Other
materials accommodating an inquiry approach to teaching have been identified by
Haury (1992). Several elementary school textbooks have been compared (Staver
& Bay, 1987) and a content analysis scheme for identifying inquiry-friendly
textbooks has been described (Tamir, 1985). Duschl (1986) has described how
textbooks can be used to support inquiry-oriented science teaching. As mentioned
by Hooker (1879, p. ii) many years ago, "No text-book is rightly constructed
that does not excite [the] spirit of inquiry."
As instructional technology advances, there will become more options for
using a variety of materials to enrich inquiry-oriented teaching. Use of
interactive media in inquiry-based learning is being examined (Litchfield &
Mattson, 1989), and new materials are being produced and tested (Dawson, 1991).
Use of computerized data-bases to facilitate development of inquiry skills has
also been studied (Maor, 1991).
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