Inquiry Part 1- A Tale of Three Inquiries

As a teacher, scientist, professional development provider, K-8 science methods instructor, and learner I have encountered and engaged in many conversations about scientific inquiry. Unfortunately, most of these conversations suffered from each participant having a slightly different conception, understanding, or bias about inquiry. It is very difficult to discuss the importance of inquiry in science instruction if one person is thinking of inquiry as pedagogy (a way to teach) and the other is thinking of inquiry as stuff that kids should know and be able to do.

In today’s post (the first in a series), I hope to provide a framework to guide our thinking about inquiry. Upcoming posts will provide resources, examples, and (hopefully) conversations around the three aspects of inquiry.

The Three Inquiries

I think of inquiry as having three aspects or buckets:

1. Inquiry as skills and abilities (How to do science)- This bucket includes things such as:

  • using evidence and reasoning to support a claim
  • planning a controlled investigation
  • using senses to make scientific observations

2. Inquiry as pedagogy (How to teach science)- This bucket features some of the following:

  • The inquiry instruction continuum: confirmation, structured inquiry, guided inquiry, and open inquiry
  • facilitating “sense making” discussions with students
  • eliciting student preconceptions

3. Inquiry as the Nature of Science (knowledge about what scientists do)- You will find some of the following in this bucket:

  • scientific knowledge is subject to change
  • science is a creative process
  • science is a collaborative endeavour
  • there is no scientific method- there is NO ONE single set or sequence of steps that all scientific investigations follow

So what do you think? Do these 3 aspects of inquiry resonate with you? Is there a particular bucket that you tend to focus on when you are discussing inquiry with colleagues? Is there a missing bucket?

In the coming days I will elaborate on these three aspects and share some examples/resources that have shaped my thinking of scientific inquiry over the years.


5 responses to “Inquiry Part 1- A Tale of Three Inquiries

  1. I agree that inquiry is just thrown around as edujargon too often. I like your three aspects, but don’t see NOS *as* inquiry. Better understanding NoS can result from both doing inquiry (bucket 1) & inquiry based teaching (bucket two).

    I will be interested in how you go about describing these buckets. I think all three are so intertwined that separating them will be difficult.

    Good luck!

  2. Be interesting to find out what buckets kids would come up with in terms of what “inquiry” means to them.

    I think the biggest mistake teachers make is assuming that kids are ready to jump around on the continuum. We hand them a few canned labs (of “Science in a Box” at elementary) and then think they’re ready to go off and do a science project.

    Does inquiry have to be “hands on”—-do thought experiments have a place in K-12?

  3. I think that for too many teachers, curriculum designers, and education professors, inquiry has come to mean hands-on labs where kids are responsible for some part of the process.

    I’m sorry but having kids create their own data table in a confirmation lab is not inquiry – it’s not even guided inquiry.

    Regardless, one of my biggest goals is to help my fellow educators to understand inquiry and truly allow their students the opportunity to engage in it.

  4. Pingback: Inquiry Part 2: Inquiry as Content « Science for All

  5. Pingback: The 5 Features of Science Inquiry: How do you know? « Science for All

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