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7 Frequently Asked Questions About Inquiry Science teachers, administrators, Decisions about how to respond to and teacher educators (both students’ questions depend on the preservice and inservice) often face teacher’s goals and the context of the difficult questions about inquiry-based discussion. For example, a student teaching and learning. Many of these may pose the question “What is the questions they raise themselves. boiling point of water at sea level?” Others come from teachers, adminis- One way to respond to that question trators, preservice teachers, students, would be to set up a simple investiga- and parents who are unfamiliar with tion to find out. The investigation this perspective on learning and could set the stage for more complex teaching science. This chapter inquiries. If learning to use reference presents answers to some of the most material is important, a teacher might commonly asked questions. Other have the student look up the informa- chapters respond to additional ques- tion. Or, if there is a higher priority tions that may be asked. for how the student spends his or her time, the teacher could simply provide the answer. Q In inquiry-based teaching, is it The important point is that investiga- ever okay to tell students the tions lead to deeper understanding and answers to their questions? greater transfer of knowledge. Deci- sions about responding to students’ A Yes. Understanding requires knowl- questions should reflect that fact. edge, and not all the knowledge that is needed can be acquired by inquiry. 131 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT INQUIRY

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Q Should a teacher ever say “no” to But not all investigations that students an investigation that students propose will be worth pursuing. propose themselves? Q Is it more important for students A Yes. As noted in the previous answer, to learn the abilities of scientific a teacher’s response should depend on inquiry or scientific concepts his or her goals for the students. and principles? What might they learn if they con- ducted the inquiry? Are there cost or A They need to learn both. Further- safety concerns that might weigh more, as the National Science Educa- against doing a particular investiga- tion Standards make clear, these are tion? What topics and approaches are equally important learning outcomes most feasible in light of the school that support each other. science curriculum and guiding In many teaching and learning standards? Would it be best for sequences, students employ inquiry students to design their own investiga- abilities to develop understanding of tions or conduct investigations pro- scientific concepts. Sometimes posed either by the teacher or pro- teachers assume that students develop vided by the instructional materials? inquiry abilities just because they use A large number of learning out- them. However, there is no guarantee comes, particularly inquiry abilities, of this. Instead, teachers have to work are best learned through investiga- to ensure a proper balance between tions, and those motivated by stu- learning scientific concepts and dents’ own questions can be invaluable inquiry abilities. learning opportunities. Students also The development of inquiry abilities learn the characteristics of questions should be an explicit student learning that can be properly investigated if outcome. Teachers can select specific they have opportunities to pose and abilities on which to focus and develop investigate questions. One approach strategies to achieve those outcomes. might be for teachers to ask students The vignettes in Chapter 3 demon- (or help them determine) what strate how the learning of science learning goals they will achieve by content and improving inquiry abili- pursuing their questions and which ties can be symbiotic. Scientific goals they will not achieve. concepts and inquiry abilities switch The fact that students are motivated from primary to secondary focus and to ask questions and inquire into them back again as needed to promote the is an indication that the teacher is effective integration of both. Also, as making science relevant and exciting. pointed out in Chapter 6, research 132 I N Q U I R Y A N D T H E N AT I O N A L S C I E N C E E D U C AT I O N S TA N D A R D S

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describes expertise as knowing both students begin to build and under- the subject matter content (the “big stand explanations for their observa- ideas” of the disciplines) and the ways tions, the proper names and defini- of inquiring into new questions — and tions associated with those events it makes the case for teaching both. become useful and meaningful. In essence, words become symbols for their understanding of the phenom- Q How can students do a science ena. As a result, definitions based on investigation before they have direct experience more often result in learned the vocabulary words understanding than just memorizing with which to describe the words. results? The issue of vocabulary develop- ment is particularly relevant to work- A Scientific investigations, whether ing with students who are English- conducted by students or scientists, language learners. As noted in begin with observations of something interesting or perplexing, which lead to scientific questions, and then to reflections on what the person already knows about the question. It may seem that students need some con- cepts and vocabulary to begin, but investigations can be designed and carried out without knowing all the specific terms and definitions in- volved. In fact, the observations, data collection, and analysis involved in an investigation generally provide the context for developing operational Chapters 4 and 6, teachers of these definitions, science concepts, inquiry students need to pay special attention abilities, and an understanding of to whether assessment of students’ scientific inquiry, which can later be science knowledge is confounded by associated with names or “vocabu- their use of the language, and to how lary.” This is well illustrated in the student learning is supported when vignettes in earlier chapters, and is their language skills are just develop- advocated in the Foreword. ing. As noted in research synthesized Knowing vocabulary does not by Fradd and Lee (1999), when necessarily help students develop or formulating their teaching strategies, understand explanations. Rather, once teachers need to consider how stu- 133 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT INQUIRY

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A The “process skills” emphasized in earlier science education reforms may appear to be missing from the Stan- dards, but they are not. Rather, they are integrated into the broader abili- ties of scientific inquiry. As the Standards point out, “The standards on inquiry highlight the abilities of inquiry and the development of an understanding about scientific inquiry. Students at all grade levels and in every domain of science should have the opportunity to use scientific inquiry and develop the ability to think and act in ways associated with inquiry, including asking questions, planning and conducting investiga- tions, using appropriate tools and dents of diverse cultures and lan- techniques to gather data, thinking guages think about science, the critically and logically about relation- experiences they have had in learning ships between evidence and explana- science, and, ultimately, how to tions, constructing and analyzing structure new science learning alternative explanations, and commu- experiences to optimize students’ nicating scientific arguments” (Na- opportunities to learn important tional Research Council, 1996, p. 105). science concepts and inquiry abilities. The Standards thus include the The degree of structure given to “processes of science” and require lessons and the amount of direct that students combine those processes “teaching” of inquiry skills need to and scientific knowledge to develop depend on teachers’ keen assessment their understanding of science. of students’ language development, current science knowledge, skills, and Q Do the Standards imply that beliefs, and cultural orientations teachers should use inquiry in (Fradd and Lee, 1999). every lesson? Q Why did the Standards choose to A No. In fact, the Standards emphasize leave out the science process skills that many teaching approaches can such as observing, classifying, serve the goal of learning science: predicting, and hypothesizing? 134 I N Q U I R Y A N D T H E N AT I O N A L S C I E N C E E D U C AT I O N S TA N D A R D S

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“Although the Standards emphasize promote deep understanding of inquiry, this should not be interpreted science content and the only way to as recommending a single approach to help students practice inquiry abili- science teaching. Teachers should ties. So there is still the issue of use different strategies to develop the coverage vs. learning strategy to knowledge, understandings, and address. abilities described in the content Analysis of data collected in the standards. Conducting hands-on Third International Mathematics and science activities does not guarantee Science Study (TIMSS) reveals that inquiry, nor is reading about science the typical U.S. eighth-grade science incompatible with inquiry” (National textbook includes about 65 topics. A Research Council, 1996, p. 23). similarly large number of science Everyone knows that investigations topics appears yearly in state and local often take longer than other ways of science standards and curriculum learning, and there are simply not guides. Teachers, understandably, enough hours or days in the school feel obligated to teach all of the topics year to learn everything through called for in their local science cur- inquiry. The challenge to the teacher riculum. The result can be the “mile is to make the most judicious choices wide and an inch deep” curriculum about which learning goals can be often decried in U.S. education. best reached through inquiry (remem- Furthermore, research shows that bering that deep understanding is this “cover everything” approach most likely to result from inquiry), provides few opportunities for stu- and what the nature of that inquiry dents to acquire anything but surface should be (see Chapter 2 for some knowledge on any topic (Schmidt et variations). Other teaching strategies al., 1997). can come into play for other learning There are several steps that teach- goals. ers and administrators can take to deal with this problem. They can renegoti- ate the expectations embodied in the Q How can teachers cover every- curriculum. They can carefully select thing in the curriculum if they a few areas to emphasize, spending use inquiry-oriented materials more time teaching those areas and teaching methods? though inquiry. They can carefully analyze the curriculum expectations A As noted above, the Standards do not and combine several learning out- suggest that all science should be comes in lessons and units. They can learned through inquiry. However, work with other grade-level teachers investigations are important ways to to eliminate the redundancies that 135 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT INQUIRY

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often exist in a curriculum, but rarely a teacher might want to select the deepen understanding. If they teach question driving an investigation. She subjects other than science, they can or he also might decide to provide a integrate science outcomes into other series of steps and procedures for the subject areas (for example, presenting students guided by specific questions the findings of an investigation in a and group discussion. The instruc- language arts lesson). tional materials themselves often Teachers and administrators can be provide questions, suggestions, helped by district and state decision- procedures, and data tables to guide makers who can reduce the number of student inquiry. topics that teachers are required to As students mature and gain teach. experience with inquiry, they will become adept at clarifying good Q questions, designing investigations to How much structure and how test ideas, interpreting data, and much freedom should teachers forming explanations based on data. provide in inquiry-oriented With such students, the teacher still science lessons? should monitor by observation, ask questions for clarification, and make A The type and amount of structure can suggestions when needed. Often, vary depending on what is needed to teachers begin the school year provid- keep students productively engaged in ing considerable structure and then pursuit of a learning outcome. Stu- gradually provide more opportunities dents with little experience in conduct- for student-centered investigations. ing scientific inquiries will probably Many teachers in the primary grades require more structure. For example, have considerable success with whole class projects. An example is a class experiment to answer the question: “What is the ‘black stuff’ on the bottom of the aquarium?” Guided by the teacher, the students can focus and clarify the question. They can ponder where the “black stuff” came from based on their prior knowledge of goldfish, snails, and plants. Using their prior knowledge, the students then can propose explanations and decide what they need to set up a fair test. How many aquariums will they need? What 136 I N Q U I R Y A N D T H E N AT I O N A L S C I E N C E E D U C AT I O N S TA N D A R D S

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Q How much do teachers need to will be in each aquarium? What are they know about inquiry and about looking for? How will they know when science subject matter to teach they have answered the question? After science through inquiry? a number of well-structured whole-class inquiries with ample time to discuss A procedures and process as well as The more teachers know about conclusions and explanations, students inquiry and about science subject are more prepared to design and matter, and the more they themselves conduct their own inquires such as the are effective inquirers, the better “tree problem” conducted by Mrs. equipped they are to engage their Graham’s fifth-grade class described in students in inquiries that will help Chapter 1. them understand scientific concepts and inquiry. It generally does not work for teachers to stay one step ahead of the students when using an Q How can teachers use inquiry inquiry-oriented program. and maintain control of their However, to a certain extent, students? teachers can develop their own understanding through inquiry as To have productive experiences, inquiry they investigate with their students A requires considerable planning and and participate in professional devel- organization on the part of both teach- opment programs. Teachers also can ers and students. Teachers need to consult with other teachers to learn create systems for organization and more about a topic, refer to science management of materials and guidelines background material printed in for student use of materials and conver- teachers guides, participate in profes- sation. Students need to learn how to sional development, and invite into the work with materials in an organized classroom parents, scientists, and fashion, communicate their ideas with others who have expertise to help in one another, listen to each other’s ideas learning about the topic. Like their with respect, and accept responsibility students, teachers should view them- for their own learning. In addition, it selves as learners, being eager to try always is helpful when students know new ways of teaching and extend and what is expected of them in terms of sharpen their subject matter knowl- behavior and performance. As students edge. And they should use their own become collaborators, they recognize teaching to inquire about how to the conditions for progress themselves improve it, so that their ability to teach and need less external control, as noted through inquiry increases in each in Chapter 4. successive year. 137 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT INQUIRY

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Q What can teachers do who are their students and decide which pieces provided only traditional in- of their materials they can use to help structional materials? students reach those goals. They can consider decreasing the “cookbook” A Teachers who want their students to nature of whatever “labs” or hands-on learn to inquire and to learn through activities are included with their inquiry are hampered if their materi- materials and resequencing them to als are text-based and focus students come before the readings or lectures on memorizing scientific laws and so students can explore in a concrete terminology. However, a teacher’s may before learning the concepts and curriculum is not defined by the terms. Teachers can emphasize materials alone, but more broadly by learning the major concepts and what students focus their attention on, downplay the vocabulary. They can how they learn, and how and on what reconstruct test items to assess major they are assessed. Teachers can use science concepts, inquiry abilities, and the Standards to determine goals for understandings about inquiry; they can create one full and open inquiry for students to conduct for several weeks of class. And they can supple- ment the materials they are given with other materials they receive in professional development or from colleagues, or locate on the Web. The important thing is to determine a set of learning goals for students that reflect the Standards and let those guide how and what students learn. The next question provides ideas about non-text materials. Q Where can teachers get the equipment, materials, and supplies they need to teach through inquiry? A The National Science Foundation (NSF) has supported the develop- ment and field testing of a number of 138 I N Q U I R Y A N D T H E N AT I O N A L S C I E N C E E D U C AT I O N S TA N D A R D S

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inquiry-oriented science curriculum ter 8 discusses strategies for support- programs (see Appendix C). These ing an inquiry-oriented program in science programs, complete with more detail. student and teacher guides and materials for student activities or Q Where can teacher educators laboratories, are now available obtain inquiry-oriented pro- through commercial publishers. [See grams to use in preparing Appendix B for guide to materials teachers? selection or Selecting Instructional Materials: A Guide for K-12 Science A Many teacher educators use curricu- (NRC, 1999b).] Many districts that lum materials developed for use in K- have adopted these programs operate 12 classrooms to help prospective a centralized district materials center students experience and learn to use and loan the materials to teachers. inquiry-based materials. In addition, Some districts supply a certain num- there are materials that can be used ber of kits per grade level that are by teacher educators, at both the housed at school sites, with consum- preservice and inservice levels, that able supplies being replenished as are designed to use for teacher needed by the district. Where dis- learning. Appendix C contains lists of tricts have not adopted such pro- inquiry-based materials for K-12 grams, individual teachers and schools students and for use with teachers, have developed a variety of mecha- both prospective and practicing. nisms to provide needed materials and supplies. Some teachers develop a list Q What barriers are encountered of common household materials and when implementing inquiry- supplies and have students collect oriented approaches? them from home and bring them to school. Often, a group of teachers at a A In addition to the external barriers school will collaborate on a project so teachers face, their beliefs and values they can share materials. about students, teaching, and the If inquiry is to be the norm rather purposes of education can impose than an exception, schools must obstacles to inquiry-oriented ap- realize that materials are an essential proaches. Research demonstrates many element of teaching and should devote of the predicaments that teachers face adequate resources and organizational when considering new approaches. In a structures to purchase and support cross-site analysis of schools that had use of appropriate materials. Teachers successfully initiated new approaches to should not be expected to supply the science and mathematics instruction, essential supplies of teaching. Chap- 139 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT INQUIRY

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A three kinds of problems were noted: Research indicates that teachers have technical, political, and cultural (Ander- a fairly pragmatic approach to teach- son, 1996). Technical problems in- ing. They tend to focus on what works cluded limited teaching abilities, prior to involve students or manage their commitments (for example, to a text- classrooms, rather than on melding book), the challenges of assessment, theory and practice (Blumenfeld, difficulties of group work, the chal- 1994). Teachers anchor their under- lenges of new teacher roles, the chal- standing in classroom events and base lenges of new student roles, and inad- their actions on stories and narratives equate in-service education. Political more than on theories and proposi- problems included limited in-service tional knowledge (Krajcik et al., 1994). education (i.e., not sustained for a Thus, theory, beliefs, values, and sufficient number of years), parental understandings are important as resistance, resistance from principals teachers acquire an inquiry approach, and superintendents, unresolved but teachers should not be expected to conflicts among teachers, lack of address such mental constructs in resources, and differing judgments isolation from their teaching context. about justice and fairness. Cultural Collaboration can be an important problems — possibly the most impor- catalyst of change. New understand- tant because beliefs and values are ings develop and new classroom central to them — included the textbook practices emerge when teachers issue, views of assessment, and the collaborate with peers and experts. “preparation ethic” (i.e., an overriding Collaboration addresses not only the commitment to “coverage” because of a technical problems of reform but perceived need to prepare students for cultural issues as well. As Anderson the next level of schooling). In addition (1996) says, “Collaborative working to this study’s findings, barriers experi- relationships among teachers pro- enced currently include the widespread vide a ver y important context for the attitude that science is not a “basic” and re-assessment of educational values the lack of appropriate instructional and beliefs. In this context — where materials, both print and hands-on. the focus is the actual work of each teachers’ own students — one’s values and beliefs are encountered at Q How can teachers improve ever y turn. It is a powerful influ- their use of inquiry in science ence. The reforming teachers in our teaching? cases did not do their work in isola- 140 I N Q U I R Y A N D T H E N AT I O N A L S C I E N C E E D U C AT I O N S TA N D A R D S

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tion; they worked together with improve their use of inquiry, as long as fellow teachers in their team or it is viewed as support for ongoing department. Crucial reform work learning that is apt to take many years to takes place in this context.” Collabo- change teaching practice significantly. ration stimulates the reflection that Teachers can become wise consumers is fundamental to changing beliefs, of professional development as they values, and understandings. broaden their images and sources of The appropriate professional develop- learning, as well illustrated in Chapter 5. ment is a powerful way for teachers to 141 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT INQUIRY