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Implementing inquiry does not have to be intimidating or inconvenient. It should be a natural process of teaching that supports the nature of science and employs the natural curiosity of students. The examples provided above demonstrate how teachers use inquiry as a continuum beginning with structured inquiry and progressing through guided inquiry to finally encouraging open inquiry.

Phases of Inquiry

According to Nancy T. Davis, Associate Professor of Science Education at Florida State University (personal interview, 2002), there are four phases within each of the inquiry approaches. Each phase is characterized by questions that guide students to make their own discoveries. Each phase is briefly discussed below. Possible starter questions and video demonstrations are included for support.

View the "Take A Meal Worm To Lunch" lesson
plan used in the following examples.
  1. Initiation Phase

    The Initiation Phase is the first phase in all levels of inquiry. It is primarily designed to stimulate and motivate students' curiosity through questioning. This phase provides students with an opportunity to experience a phenomenon or something new that challenges a previous belief or assumption.

    • Have you ever seen…?
    • Did you notice…?
    • What did you observe…?

  2. Exploration Phase

    The Exploration Phase is the second phase of inquiry. In this phase, questions are eliminated or narrowed down to those types of questions students can actually physically answer through experimentation or research.

    • What happened when…?
    • What did you…?
    • What could we do to find out…?
    • What questions do you have…?

  3. Experimentation Phase

    The third phase of inquiry is the Experimentation Phase. This is where students form into groups to conduct an experiment. Students collect data and information, and then formulate a method of presentation.

    • What did you find out about…?
    • How is it the same as or different from…?
    • What do you know about the characteristics of…?

  4. Presentation Phase

    The last phase of inquiry is the Presentation Phase. Groups or individuals take the information gathered in the experiment and put it into some form of presentation. PowerPoint presentations or project display boards are types of presentations that may be used. The group or individual will share the data with an audience and allow time for questions concerning procedures, data, information, etc.

    • Can you explain why…?
    • Why do you think…?
    • What other factors may be included in…?
    • Can you find a way to…?
    • How did you arrive at a solution to…?

Avoiding Problems

The secret to successful teaching utilizing inquiry is to anticipate possible problems and to execute strategies that support the inquiry process. Included in this section are some situations that have been encountered while using the inquiry process and some strategies that have proven successful in supporting inquiry learning.

  • Provide students enough time to complete an investigation. It is important to schedule enough time for any activity in the classroom. Generally this is not a very serious problem with structured inquiry since the procedures are already prescribed and the time to complete the investigation is predetermined by the procedures. However, guided and open inquiry, by their very nature, requires a more flexible schedule.

    1. Design a schedule of days and exactly what should be completed within that time period. Set a realistic time frame.
    2. Allow students time out side of class to complete procedures.
    3. Stagger presentations as students complete investigations.
    4. Manipulate various types of equipment prior to designing investigations.

  • Be aware that often students have difficulty identifying a problem to investigate.

    1. Expose students to multiple environments or events to stimulate curiosity.
    2. Ask seed questions to stimulate student observations. For example, "Did you see that?" "Why do you suppose this happened?" "What do you notice?"

  • Students may be disinterested, apathetic, or will not engage in the inquiry.

    1. Design structured, and guided investigations with interesting and pertinent questions.
    2. Allow students to be grouped in open inquiry by the questions they wish to pursue.
    3. Design peer evaluation as a part of the grading system for the final presentation or for participation.
    4. Value the project. Indicate to students the investigation will represent a substantial grade for the grading period.
    5. Involve parents. Notify through a direct phone call from the classroom or email. This usually has a positive effect for all students including those who are reluctant.

  • Be aware that students may have difficulty mastering or designing procedures.

    1. Use simple structured inquiry as a first step towards building skills and confidence in designing guided and open inquiry.
    2. Ask students questions that will lead them to proper or efficient designs. For example, "What do you think if….?" "How could you do this?"
    3. Allow students to practice accepted scientific procedures or propose questions they choose to investigate.

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