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Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning
Promoting inquiry and problemsolving in other subject areas. Inquiry is not exclusive to science or science teaching. Teachers in other departments at the secondary level and teachers teaching other subject areas at the elementary level can and often do use inquiry-like strategies. Teachers want and need the moral and collegial support of working with other teachers on innovative and, what they consider, risky projects. They also need the sense that they are not out on an “intellectual limb”; that inquiry has its counterparts in other disciplines in addition to science.
Mathematics educators have long advocated problem solving as an overarching process for teaching mathematics. The TIMSS eighth grade video study of mathematics instruction (Stigler et al., 1999) highlighted the value of individuals or small groups of students working through a complex problem independent of the teacher before the teacher, with the help of several students, displays one or more acceptable solution strategies. Innovative social studies instructional materials have incorporated inquiry strategies by providing original source materials for students to use in their investigations and an inductive approach to reaching the big ideas and principles. When the majority of teachers in a school are working on a common goal, the level and amount of professional talk in the building goes up (Little, 1993) and teachers begin to
support each other in a common effort to change the way they teach and their students learn.
Appropriate teacher evaluationprocedures. Problems are sure to arise if the formal and informal evaluation of teachers is inconsistent with the essential elements of inquiry. Teachers need to be assured that the innovative strategies they are using are understood, objectively evaluated, and rewarded when executed well. The evaluator must understand inquiry to know what to observe in the classroom. For example, evaluation of inquiry-based teaching requires more than one class period visit. What one day looks like confusion, and maybe even chaos, might be the exploration phase of instruction that will be followed the next day when experiments and ideas come together for most of the students.