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Making The Case for Inquiry

I began my teaching career shortly after the release of Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 2000). It was an exciting time for a scientist to enter the teaching profession. My own secondary school experiences included many observation activities and a few cookbook labs, but absolutely zero opportunities to conduct actual inquiry. During my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to implement the science practices and suddenly abstract concepts became much more concrete. When I chose to take my experience as a scientist into the classroom to help mold a new generation of scientists I was motivated by the excitement surrounding inquiry at my first National Science Teacher Association Conference! I will never forget how I went home with a project my students started the next week exploring climate change, skin cells, and the effectiveness of sunscreen.

Over the last two decades, the word inquiry has been morphed to mean any number of things from one of those dreaded cookbook labs to an open-ended project that usually has parents scouring Google for project ideas. With the current NRC framework and NGSS, educators are called to integrate inquiry as part of their three-dimensional teaching strategy. Sadly, I’ve heard from more than one administrator the statement, “We aren’t teaching inquiry anymore, we are only focusing on engineering”. This is not at all what the NRC or the NGSS intended. If we look at the Science Practices it is abundantly clear that the NRC framework and NGSS call on educators to incorporate inquiry into science education rather than leaving it siloed on its own. It is imperative that our students become proficient in the Science Practices in order to master new science content and enable critical thinking, which is necessary to have an informed electorate.

At its core, inquiry requires students to ‘Ask Questions’ or create hypotheses. Scientific Inquiry may not be a step-by-step prescribed process, but if students are unable to identify an independent variable, dependent variable, or explain the relationship between the two, then there is work to be done in order to assist the student in becoming proficient in the science practices. Understanding how to write a hypothesis is much more than being able to answer a multiple-choice question as to which word in a sentence is the independent variable. Students must be given multiple opportunities to experiment with various hypotheses and learn from their mistakes. With time and funding constraints facing classrooms around the globe, Inq-ITS makes it possible for students to repeatedly practice and hone these competencies.

Inq-ITS allows students opportunity after opportunity to engage in authentic inquiry. With countless labs and multiple investigations focusing on common student misconceptions, students have the opportunity to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from them with the help of Rex and our Teacher Alerts.


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