over days and weeks; tried out their ideas; proposed explanations; and shared what they were learning with others. Ms. Flores called them together on a regular basis to help them synthesize what they were learning and create explanations. She supplemented their explanations with scientific information in library books.

Towards the end of the unit, Ms. Flores gave her students opportunities to elaborate on what they were learning. The visit from the scientists deepened their understanding of how their investigations resembled those of scientists. Finally, Ms. Flores’s continual questioning and coaching gave both Ms. Flores and the students opportunities to evaluate their progress in an ongoing way. The assignment to speculate on what they would do differently were they to repeat their investigation, with some reasons why, allowed them to reflect back and assess the process and value of their work.

An instructional model must not be used as a “lockstep” device that limits the flexibility of a teacher to facilitate an inquiry that is sensitive to students’ needs and interests. This is illustrated by the impossibility of saying where one stage of the instructional model stopped in Ms. Flores’s unit and the other began: students were engaging, exploring, explaining, elaborating, and evaluating throughout the several weeks they spent studying worms. However, her instructional model helped Ms. Flores lay out the unit initially and monitor and assess her students’ learning and development as it proceeded.


Each year Mr. Gilbert looks forward to teaching the solar system unit, especially when they get to the moon (see Table 3-3). From past experience, Mr. Gilbert knew that most middle school students have difficulty finding an explanation for the moon’s phases consistent with their direct observations, which always made the unit challenging as well as exciting. Further, learning about the moon’s phases also provided many opportunities for his students to develop critical inquiry abilities: to use scientific instrumentation to increase and

Table 3-3. Excerpts from Earth and Space Science Standard, 5-8

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of

Earth in the solar system

  • Most objects in the solar system are in regular and predictable motion. Those motions explain such phenomena as the day, the year, phases of the moon, and eclipses (p. 160).

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