Providing an Inquiry-Based Science Environment

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  • 0:04 Inquiry-Based Science
  • 0:55 An Inquiry-Based Environment
  • 2:49 ELLs & Exceptionalities
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

What is an inquiry-based science environment? Learn why it is valuable, how such an environment can be provided, and some of the challenges, especially for English language learners and students with exceptionalities, in this lesson.

Inquiry-Based Science

Science is about investigating and understanding the world, so inquiry (or experiment) is at the heart of science. We would know literally nothing about the world with any surety if we hadn't collected data and analyzed it to make conclusions. So, why do we often teach science in a way that has little or no connection to this process?

An inquiry-based science environment is a classroom where students learn science through completing their own experiments, collecting data, making conclusions, and being guided through the same basic process that scientists follow.

What are the benefits? Well, by following this process students not only learn factual information about the world, but they also discover through example what science is all about.

So, how do you create an inquiry-based learning environment in your classroom?

An Inquiry-Based Environment

There are many challenges to creating an inquiry-based environment in a classroom, but here are some tangible steps, strategies, and techniques that you can implement to achieve this.

At the most basic level, resources can be provided to guide students through the entire process. For example, you could have worksheets that ask unit questions and walk your students all the way from making a hypothesis to analyzing results. You also could do this with teacher-led instruction, with parts of the experiment completed by students in between explanations.

However, a more complete inquiry-based environment is one where students learn to explore questions themselves. Rather than being told what and how to investigate, they are given the freedom to ask their own questions and design their own experiments. They are guided rather than forced in a particular direction. This is harder to implement, and can be far more time-consuming, but it does a better job of teaching the principles of science.

The first step might be to have a class discussion about a particular phenomenon that is puzzling. Students could talk about something you show them, discuss possible explanations, and pose questions. You could then guide the discussion toward turning those questions into actual, testable questions. Then, individual groups can answer their own questions by designing experiments. The main resources involved in this process are practice and patience. However, you can also provide worksheets that guide the students through modes of thinking, showing them what they should consider while designing an experiment. The worksheet could ask questions like: What variable will you be changing? What result will you be measuring? How will you keep all the other factors the same? Is the equipment you need available in the classroom?

The idea of keeping almost all the variables the same is something that has to be learned over time, and can be difficult for students to come to grips with. If students have the opportunity to practice, however, you can show by example the issues with an experiment. This way they'll learn to improve the next experiment.

ELLs and Exceptionalities

English language learners and students with exceptionalities can pose unique challenges in an inquiry-based environment.

English language learners are students who are new to the English language. They can be anywhere on a spectrum from unable to understand more than a few words, to approaching fluency. Exceptionalities are where students have features that are different than the majority of students in the world. For example, a student might have learning disabilities, or might be exceptionally gifted.

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