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Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning
included starting with students’ interest in the natural world and in interactions with others. The teacher crafted learning experiences that expanded concepts students already knew and explained others they could not be expected to discover. Students then applied the concepts to new situations. Later, Dewey (1910) built upon the idea of reflective experience in which students began with a perplexing situation, formulated a tentative interpretation or hypothesis, tested the hypothesis to arrive at a solution, and acted upon the solution. Dewey’s prior experience as a science teacher explains the obvious connection between reflective thinking and scientific inquiry (Bybee, 1997).
Piaget’s theory of development contributed much to the elaboration of instructional models (Piaget, 1975; Piaget and Inhelder, 1969). In his view, learning begins when individuals experience disequilibrium: a discrepancy between their ideas and ideas they encounter in their environments (that is, what they think they know and what they observe or experience). To bring their understanding back into equilibrium, they must adapt or change their cognitive structure through interaction with the environment.
Piaget’s work was the basis for the learning cycle, an instructional model, proposed by Atkin and Karplus (1962) and used in the SCIS elementary science curriculum. Although the learning cycle has undergone elaboration and modification over time, its phases and normal sequence are typically represented as exploration, invention, and discovery. Exploration refers to relatively unstructured experiences when students gather new information. Invention refers to the formal statement of a new concept — often a definition — in which students interpret newly acquired information by restructuring their prior concepts. Discovery involves applying the new concept to a novel situation.
Research on how people learn (discussed in detail in Chapter 6) suggests a dynamic and interactive view of human learning. Students bring to a learning experience their current explanations, attitudes, and abilities. Through meaningful interactions with their environment, with their teachers, and among themselves, they reorganize, redefine, and replace their initial explanations, attitudes, and abilities. An instructional model incorporates the features of inquiry into a sequence of experiences designed to challenge students’ current conceptions and provide time and opportunities for reconstruction, or learning, to occur (Bybee, 1997).
A number of different instructional models have been developed that can help teachers organize and sequence inquiry-oriented learning experiences for their students. All can incorporate the essential features of inquiry. They