state’s science content standards, which had been developed to be consistent with the National Science Education Standards. Furthermore, the assessments I gave students at the end of the unit demonstrated to me that they had learned more about energy than when I had taught it in earlier classes.
One of my previous ideas about inquiry was that it consisted mainly of doing laboratory activities. I discovered that, although labs can aid in the process of sense-making, they often don’t because they are either “cookbook” (they don’t allow the students to make choices or judgments) or “confirmatory” (they follow lectures or students’ reading). What I have realized is that the essence of inquiry does not lie in any elaborate, equipment-intensive laboratory exercise. It lies, rather, in the interactions between the student and the materials, as well as in the teacher-student and student-student interactions that occur dozens of times each and every class period.
One way that we learned about student-teacher interactions in my program was through a series of videotapes of teachers. We also were encouraged to try our hand at such behaviors as listening, clarifying statements, and open-ended questioning. I found myself responding to students with statements like, “Tell me more about Y,” “What is the evidence for that conclusion?” and “How did you decide on that explanation over the one you were convinced of yesterday?”
I tried more small-group activities that were structured to encourage the team members to talk, debate, and come up with predictions based on initial observations and with explanations based on evidence. I informally assessed my students’ knowledge almost daily. Frequently, I began lessons with activities to set the context for helping students discuss conceptual ideas and make my presentations more meaningful.
Another major step I took in my growth as a teacher was to begin allowing student questions to influence the curriculum. Instead of always framing the questions myself, I encouraged the students to pose questions that arose in their minds. This idea was a revelation! Listening to the students’ questions has uncovered countless points of confusion that otherwise would have gone completely unrecognized.
As part of my masters program, I decided to monitor how much I was listening. I recorded the amount of time I was talking and the amount of time my students were talking. At first, the proportion of teacher/student talk time was approximately 80/20. By midway through the first semester, this proportion had been exactly reversed. This small piece of research was a turning point in my appreciating the value of teaching through inquiry.
Our professional development program allowed ample time during each of our classes for us to talk with each other about our recent “experiments” in our classrooms. Although the group was quite diverse in backgrounds and grades taught, those conversations were important to my growth and encouraged me to keep trying inquiry approaches. As I reflect on the three years I spent in the program, I know I gained immensely from the other teachers and from the education faculty and scientists with whom we worked closely.