Frequently Asked Questions About Inquiry

Science teachers, administrators, and teacher educators (both preservice and inservice) often face difficult questions about inquiry-based teaching and learning. Many of these questions they raise themselves. Others come from teachers, administrators, preservice teachers, students, and parents who are unfamiliar with this perspective on learning and teaching science. This chapter presents answers to some of the most commonly asked questions. Other chapters respond to additional questions that may be asked.

In inquiry-based teaching, is it ever okay to tell students the answers to their questions?

Yes. Understanding requires knowledge, and not all the knowledge that is needed can be acquired by inquiry. Decisions about how to respond to students’ questions depend on the teacher’s goals and the context of the discussion. For example, a student may pose the question “What is the boiling point of water at sea level?” One way to respond to that question would be to set up a simple investigation to find out. The investigation could set the stage for more complex inquiries. If learning to use reference material is important, a teacher might have the student look up the information. Or, if there is a higher priority for how the student spends his or her time, the teacher could simply provide the answer.

The important point is that investigations lead to deeper understanding and greater transfer of knowledge. Decisions about responding to students’ questions should reflect that fact.

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