students clear. I am well acquainted with this terrain, because I have traversed it on more than one occasion myself, and have conversed with others who have, perhaps, taken a different path to the same destination. It is in this way that I can offer guidance to my students, so that they may not wander too far from a fruitful path. I want them to encounter some difficulties and to resolve conflicts and inconsistencies, and to grow intellectually from these experiences. But I do not want them to wander aimlessly or to plunge headlong over a cliff. I want them to arrive at the destination relatively unscathed. For this reason it is crucial, that like a vigilant parent, I continue to offer support in their intellectual insecurity. I question and listen carefully. I scan the territory to find where the explanations and responses to my questions place them, and then plan my next strategy to keep them moving ahead. I recall from my own experience as a learner that sometimes this next strategy is a question such as, “What would you need to do to find out?” Sometimes it is a suggestion of some experiment to try. And sometimes it is a comment such as, “Why don’t you think about that for a bit.” It has only been through many years of trying these strategies out that I have learned to gauge which tactic is appropriate at what time and with which student.
There are, of course, other considerations in the teaching of inquiry-based science to elementary students. Engagement has never been a problem for the students with whom I have worked. Science is naturally engaging. Developmental appropriateness is another matter. I have come to a much clearer recognition of what will “fly” and what will not as a result of the research-based curriculum I worked through in the summer institutes. These materials were carefully designed to build conceptual understanding in logical, sequential steps. You do not, for instance, begin to think about why things sink or float without first developing an understanding of what we mean by mass, and what we mean by volume, in terms of concrete operational definitions. Only then can one begin to think about how these two variables may influence sinking and floating.
In summary, the most important step for me in becoming a more effective teacher of science was gaining a sound understanding of the subject matter content. It was equally important that this content was learned in an environment of inquiry-based instruction. It was then necessary to reflect on my experience as a learner so that I could put into practice what had been modeled for me. Finally, I must add that it is essential to take a critical look at what we are doing and to evaluate what is working and what is not. If what we are doing does not result in a better understanding of the content by our students, it could be that the problem lies with us and not with them.