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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 INSTRUCTION

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 (Taylor, 1988).

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).

REFERENCES

Anderson, R. D., et al. (1982, December). Science meta-analysis project: Volume I (Final report). Boulder, CO: Colorado University. ED 223 475

Chira , S. (1990, March-April). Wherein balloons teach the learning process. Perspectives in Education and Deafness, 8(4), 5-7.

Collins, A. (1986, January). A sample dialogue based on a theory of inquiry teaching (Tech. Rep. No. 367). Cambridge, MA: Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, Inc. ED 266 423

Dawson, G. (1991, February 20). Science vision: An inquiry-based videodisc science curriculum. Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University. ED 336 257

DeBoer, G. E. (1991). A history of ideas in science education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Driver, R. (1989). The construction of scientific knowledge in school classrooms. In R. Miller (Ed.). Doing science: Images of science in science education. New York: Falmer Press.

Duschl, R. A. (1986, January). Textbooks and the teaching of fluid inquiry. School Science and Mathematics, 86(1), 27-32.

Germann, P. J. (1989, March). Directed-inquiry approach to learning science process skills: Treatment effects and aptitude-treatment interactions. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 26(3), 237-50.

Germann, P. J. (1991, April). Developing science process skills through directed inquiry. American Biology Teacher, 53(4), 243-47.

Glasson, G. E. (1989, February). The effects of hands-on and teacher demonstration laboratory methods on science achievement in relation to reasoning ability and prior knowledge. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 26(2), 121-31.

Hall, D. A., & McCurdy, D. W. (1990, October). Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 27(7), 625-36.

Haury, D. L. (1992). Recommended curriculum guides. In Science curriculum resource handbook. Millwood, NY: Kraus International Publications.

Hodson, D. (1990, March). A critical look at practical work in school science. School Science Review, 71(256), 33-40.

Hooker, W. (1879). Natural history. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Igelsrud, D., & Leonard, W. H. (Eds.). (1988, May). Labs: What research says about biology laboratory instruction. American Biology Teacher, 50(5), 303-06.

Kyle, W. C., Jr., et al. (1985, October). What research says: Science through discovery: students love it. Science and Children, 23(2), 39-41.

Lindberg, D. H. (1990, Winter). What goes 'round comes 'round doing science. Childhood Education, 67(2), 79-81.

Litchfield, B. C., & Mattson, S. A. (1989, Fall). The interactive media science project: An inquiry-based multimedia science curriculum. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 9(1), 37-43.

Lloyd, C. V., & Contreras, N. J. (1985, December). The role of experiences in learning science vocabulary. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Reading Conference, San Diego, CA. ED 281 189

Lloyd, C. V., & Contreras, N. J. (1987, October). What research says: Science inside-out. Science and Children, 25(2), 30-31.

Lock, R. (1990, March). Open-ended, problem-solving investigations: What do we mean and how can we use them? School Science Review, 71(256), 63-72.

Maor, D. (1991, April). Development of student inquiry skills: A constructivist approach in a computerized classroom environment. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Lake Geneva, WI. ED 336 261

Mattheis, F. E., & Nakayama, G. (1988, September). Effects of a laboratory-centered inquiry program on laboratory skills, science process skills, and understanding of science knowledge in middle grades students. ED 307 148

Mechling, K. R., & Oliver, D. L. (1983, March). Activities, not textbooks: What research says about science programs. Principal, 62(4), 41-43.

Narode, R., et al. (1987). Teaching thinking skills: Science. Washington, DC: National Education Association. ED 320 755

National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment. (1992). National science education standards: A sampler. Washington, DC: National Research Council.

National Science Board. (1991). Science & engineering indicators-1991. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. (NSB 91-1)

Novak, A. (1964). Scientific inquiry. Bioscience, 14, 25-28.

Osborne, M., & Freyberg, P. (1985). Learning in science: Implications of children's knowledge. Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann.

Rakow, S. J. (1986). Teaching science as inquiry. Fastback 246. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation. ED 275 506

Rodriguez, I., & Bethel, L. J. (1983, April). An inquiry approach to science and language teaching. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 20(4), 291-96.

Rosebery, A. S., et al. (1990, February). Making sense of science in language minority classrooms. Cambridge, MA: Bolt, Baranek, and Newman, Inc. ED 326 059

Rutherford, F. J., & Ahlgren, A. (1990). Science for all Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sarther, C. M. (1991, Winter-Spring). Science curriculum and the BSCS Revisited. Teaching Education, 3(2), 101-08.

Shymansky, J. A., et al. (1990, February). A reassessment of the effects of inquiry-based science curricula of the 60's. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 27(2), 127-44.

Staver, J. R., & Bay, M. (1987, October). Analysis of the project synthesis goal cluster orientation and inquiry emphasis of elementary science textbooks. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 24(7), 629-43.

Staver, J. R. (1986, September). The constructivist epistemology of Jean Piaget: Its philosophical roots and relevance to science teaching and learning. Paper presented at the United States-Japan Seminar on Science Education, Honolulu, HI. ED 278 563

Tamir, P. (1985, January-March). Content analysis focusing on inquiry. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 17(1), 87-94.

Taylor, G. (1988, April 1). Hands on science. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Council for Exceptional Children, Washington, DC. ED 297 917

Tinnesand, M., & Chan, A. (1987, September). Step 1: Throw out the instructions. Science Teacher, 54(6), 43-45.

U.S. Department of Education, & National Science Foundation. (1992). Statement of Principles (Brochure). Washington, DC: Author.

Wolfe, L. F. (1990). Teaching science to gifted underachievers: A conflict of goals. Canadian Journal of Special Education, 6(1), 88-97.

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