For years science textbooks listed the definition of a Hypothesis as an ‘educated guess’. We know that while an ‘educated guess’ is not wholly a false definition, it is certainly insufficient. In describing to students what we expect in regards to a hypothesis we must be clear as to our expectations. Are we providing students with a goal that directs their hypothesis or question formation? If we are not providing them with a goal, have we provided students with sufficient experience constructing hypotheses to be able to identify appropriate variables without our scaffolds? This goes back to those parents' crowdsourcing for science fair ideas. How then do we prepare our students to both perform independent inquiry, as well as think critically beyond the science classroom?
Forming a testable question or hypothesis is at the heart of conducting quality scientific investigations and ultimately helping to shape a student’s critical thinking skills. When students develop the practices needed to construct a question or hypothesis they are also paving the way for the collecting of structured data which in turn allows for analysis. We want our students to be able to conduct independent inquiry and we want them to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to an informed electorate, and it all starts with the ability to formulate a testable question/hypothesis including the necessary structure to guide their investigation.
Independent inquiry starts with the ability to form a question/hypothesis. Students need to be able to identify an independent variable, dependent variable, as well as how they plan to change the independent variable, and how they believe the dependent variable will change as a result of the changes to the independent variable. Are we providing our students with sufficient scaffolding, examples, and opportunities to practice constructing hypotheses?
Example: If I change the amount of liquid so that it increases, the density of the liquid will stays the same.
With Inq-ITS Virtual Labs, students have the opportunity to conduct 3-4 individual investigations in one class period. By starting with a base-line inquiry lab such as Flower or Ramp, teachers can get assessment scores on their individual students and students can become familiar with the Inq-ITS Student Portal. Once teachers have base-line scores students are ready to move on to virtual labs in conjunction with content they are studying. Our labs can be completed individually and are not subject to issues like space, lack of equipment, and safety. Furthermore, many Inq-ITS virtual labs allow students to conduct inquiry in ways that are simply not possible outside of a virtual environment. After many years of teaching Seasons, I can testify to the fact that some students will not fully understand the causes of Earth’s seasons until they can experiment with the concept of moving the Earth closer to the sun and eliminating Earth’s tilt.
The improvement in students’ science practices and ability to conduct independent inquiry after using Inq-ITS can be attributed to three main factors:
Students get Practice! This cannot be overstated, our students need practice, practice, and more practice to improve their skills.
Inq-ITS has a real-time virtual tutor named Rex, a dinosaur scientist, who can pop-up and help students exactly when they need it.
The real-time alert system that lets teachers know when and how students are struggling. Imagine getting an alert similar to a text message letting you know that Bobby is struggling to understand what an independent variable is. If Bobby is the sort of kid that never raises his hand or if Bobby isn’t even in your physical classroom, this information is more valuable than gold. Even the gold you can weigh on different planetary bodies in Gravity & Mass.