Guest Blog by Teacher Ann Johnson Part 2: Inquiring Minds Want to Know-- What is Inquiry Based Science?
Dragonfly being held during a hands-on science inquiry class (Photo: Karen McDonald)
An Exploration of the Characteristics of Inquiry Based Science
If you didn't read Part 1 of Ann's series you may want to start by reading her first article about Inquiry Based learning, otherwise, read on!
Picture the following scenarios.....
In a classroom discussion about magnets, one student wonders, “Will magnets work under water?” Over the next few days, the class debates the question and designs and executes an experiment to get some answers. Okay, yes, they will work underwater. But then they continue, “What about this statement in our text that says some materials WILL block magnets?” If water won’t do it, what about plastic, or glass, or wood, or rubber, or cloth, or another magnet? And they are back to the drawing board, designing more experiments to test these materials, wondering if magnets work through gases and liquids, but not solids, trying ice in place of water and on, and on, and on. Finally, as a class we cry uncle – we can’t find anything that will block our magnets, and a very eager class is finally given permission to do a little research on the topic.
Another class is looking at a chart in our science text which illustrates the classification of animals by using the example of a wolf. It starts at the kingdom level and works its way down, gradually dropping all the organisms that don’t cut it as a wolf. After a few levels, we’re left with the cats and the wolf, the dog, and the fox. The cats get dumped in the next round. Makes sense. But in the next level, the fox is dropped with the explanation that this level contains only “dog like” animals. Now we’ve used this chart for years and years, and most of the time, the students smile and nod, and we move on. But this class is different – they’ve been “inquiring” all year long, and are used to questioning their text, their teacher, and themselves! When it seems like the fox has just been ousted from the club randomly, they start to wonder. “What is it about the fox that makes it less doggy than the wolf?” “If it’s not a cat, and not a dog, what is it? Where does the fox fit in?” For the next several days the class passionately debates the issue and delves deeply into the process of scientific classification. What specific traits make a dog a dog, and a cat a cat? Where does the fox fit in with these other animals? What traits make the cut into “dogginess” or “catness” and who decided all these rules? It is a fascinating journey