What is Scientific Inquiry?

Scientific inquiry requires students to use higher order thinking skills as they learn science using a hands-on minds-on approach. Inquiry’s foundation has its roots in John Dewey’s book Democracy in Education (1916). In this book he describes how true learning begins with the curiosity of learners.

Defining Scientific Inquiry

His research found that student curiosity and involvement real science investigations moves students from passive learners to active learners. This is evidenced when students:

  • ask questions during an investigation
  • design their own investigations
  • conduct investigations using their design
  • formulate explanations of findings
  • present their findings
  • reflect upon their findings

Scientific inquiry causes a fundamental change in science education, moving it away from traditional teaching practices of lecture and demonstration to a collaborative relationship between teacher and student. In these collaborative environments, students take risks without fear of ridicule and begin to think about science. Teachers become facilitators of their student’s inquiry by:

  • modeling and immersing their students in scientific inquiry
  • ask guiding questions which provoke thought and reflection
  • allow student creativity in experimental design
  • allow students to discover experiments can be successful, yet fail to answer the original question being investigated

Initial confusion by students analyzing experimental findings is not necessary bad, because they are using critical thinking processes. Confusion is good in this setting, because it demonstrates students are trying to determine why they did not find the typical canned answer. Also, a hypothesis can actually result in a non-support statement as a result of the experiment.

Too often students investigate canned labs which result in a guided hypothesis which can only result in supported finding. This leads them to feel when their experiment does not support their hypothesis they failed. They have not failed, however they do not know this in traditional science teaching.

Scientific Inquiry Involves Asking Questions

Student success designing experiments is based on asking the right questions. They need to develop questions which do not lead to yes/no or true/false answers, because the best questions are open-ended and inquiry-based. As students analyze evidence to explain findings, open-ended questions provide the answers they need to formulate meaningful explanations.

Answering questions in a student’s own words is important for higher level of thinking and knowledge. A student’s own words disclose level of understanding and reveal misconceptions based on prior knowledge and experiences.

Impact of Using Scientific Inquiry

When students make personal connections when using scientific inquiry, internalization of the new knowledge takes place. The key attributes of scientific inquiry-based teaching and learning result in students:

  • learning how to design research
  • learning how to ask questions
  • internalizing new knowledge
  • realizing findings depend on experimental design
  • increasing their level of understanding of science
  • learning to investigate like scientists

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