Why set learning in the context of inquiry?

Through the Inquiry Project investigations students develop ideas about matter through science inquiry.

“From the earliest grades, students should experience science in a form that engages them in the active construction of ideas and explanations, and enhances their opportunities to develop the abilities to do science. Teaching science as inquiry provides teachers with the opportunity to develop student abilities and to enrich student understanding of science.” (National Science Education Standards, p. 121)

Inquiry is the central strategy scientists use in their learning. As they carry out their own inquiries, young learners develop a scientific perspective, scientific habits of mind, and scientific ways of acting and thinking. They can continue to use science to address questions about the world that they will encounter throughout their lifetime. To support the development of these skills and perspectives, learning is set in the context of investigations. Through first-hand investigations, children develop ownership of their science learning as they gather their own ideas and experiences to predict, develop their own procedures, collect their own data and decide how to represent it, and develop their own ideas. Through discussion with peers, they learn to value other perspectives and to defend and debate their ideas.

What does this mean? You’ll notice that each learning experience is organized around an investigation question. As children pursue answers to these questions, they become familiar with their existing ideas and make predictions, observations and measurements, represent and pay attention to evidence, make claims using their evidence, suggest possible explanations, and communicate with each other. There is no explicit order in which these elements of inquiry occur in their learning, but as they engage in these scientific ways of acting and thinking, answers and understandings emerge.

While inquiry is associated with disciplines other than science, science places significant emphasis on evidence. Here are some ways you can support children in their development of these skills:
  • Begin the learning experience by calling attention to the organizing question
  • Ask students for their existing ideas
  • When appropriate, provide time for children to make predictions
  • Encourage students to make careful observations and measurements and to record these in organized ways
  • Always ask for evidence in support of explanations
  • Encourage students to say more about their ideas
  • Encourage students to consider alternative ideas
  • Encourage student to listen to each other and to build on each other’s ideas
  • Encourage students to explain how their ideas have changed