Inquiry in Action

Students Do Science By Exploring Variables and Testing Predictions

Recently I visited two terrific teachers at Durkin Park Elementary School in Chicago to observe inquiry in action. Inquiry in Action is what ISI is calling teacher partnering so that one teacher can learn inquiry skills and activities from another. All it requires is being willing to open your classroom door to another teacher while you teach or for you to be open to learning a new teaching strategy by observing a colleague. And the learning goes both ways as the observing teacher can often provide some new ideas and feedback as well.

So let me set the stage:  Mary Clare Lynch was unable to participate in the Intro to Inquiry workshop this past summer because she was doing other professional development during that week.  Her colleague Cara Maloney attended and came away with an understanding of how to use an inquiry approach in her classroom practice, a set of powerful planning and instructional strategies and some great activities and resources.  How can Cara help Mary Clare learn the same things?  Inquiry in Action!

Cara invited Mary Clare to bring her 6th grade students into Cara’s 4th grade class.  The two classes would work together in small groups on a rocket propulsion activity involving film canisters, Alka Seltzer tablets, water and meter sticks.  The challenge to the students was to make the film canister shoot up higher than a meter and to figure out the variables that would make that happen.

Cara presented the activity to the combined classes and reminded her fourth graders how to document their findings in their science notebooks, using different colored headings for the various parts of the activity:  Activity Name, Question, Predictions, Materials, etc.  Then various students were assigned to pick up the materials for their group, and both classes went outside to spend time exploring the materials, trying different proportions of Alka Seltzer and water, more or less shaking of the film canister, and orientation of the film canister top up or down.  They worked with these variables in a process of play and discovery for ten minutes and then were called together by their teachers.  Ms. Maloney used a Wheel of Inquiry to gather the variables from the children and asked them to consider what they might change to make their canister go higher . . . in other words to predict and design an experiment based on their hypothesis and after listening to the strategies of other groups.

Of course, all groups succeeded, the children had fun learning, and when they returned to their classrooms to record their observations, “I wonders” and reflections in their science journals, they knew a little more about the scientific method and the process of doing science.  They wondered about using carbonated liquid with the Alka Seltzer.  They wondered what would happen if they used a larger canister.  And I suspect some of them may have even wondered what it would be like to be a scientist . . . someone who gets to play with stuff and solve problems all day long.  For certain, most of these children will tell their parents about the cool thing they did today in school.  And for certain, they will want more activities like this in Ms. Maloney’s class.

But there are two other things very worthy of note:

  • Older kids love working with younger kids and vice versa.  Both groups benefit.
  • Teachers like Mary Clare Lynch who are open to learning from colleagues can learn a great deal doing Inquiry in Action.  Ms. Lynch had  pages of notes from her observation of Ms. Maloney’s inquiry activity.  She noted how student centered the experiment was, with ample time given on the front end for exploration of the materials and opportunity for students to identify and ponder the variables and to construct their own hypotheses and experiments to prove them.  She liked the use of different colored titles in the science journals, allowing for easier and more efficient review of student thought processes and learning.  She said she had learned things to do in her own class, and she was eager to try them out.

Thankfully, gone are the days when teaching meant closing your classroom door and just doing your own thing.  Inquiry in Action is about opening those doors and opening to new approaches from colleagues in our own schools.  Kudos to Cara Maloney and Mary Clare Lynch for exemplifying today’s teacher professionalism by demonstrating one way teaching colleagues can work together for the benefit of their students.

Here’s more of what that looks like:

Students Try to Figure Out How to Make Their “Rocket” Blast Off

Teacher Cara Maloney Uses the Wheel of Inquiry with 4th and 6th Grade Students

Students Provide the Variables They Will Test For Optimal Rocket Lift-Off

That’s all for now.  Please share your own experiences of Inquiry in Action in Comments.

New Year’s Resolution . . . let’s see more Inquiry in Action!

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple’s Inquiry Science Institute here:



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3 responses to “Inquiry in Action

  1. What a wonderful way to communicate a clear understanding of inquiry science in action! Continue to share what the iTeam is doing and to encourage teachers to develop activities using inquiry science.


  2. i was there i was in fourth grade and currently in fifth grade i very much enjoyed the project ms.Maloney and Mrs.lynch did!Ps. look 3rd picture you will see a girl with a blue shirt on sitting up that just so happens to be me!lol;D


    • acaciamerlin

      How exciting, Nia!. And I know that Ms. Maloney and Ms. Wirtz did some great projects this year too. I was there for the H2O Olympics. Maybe you were part of that as well. Thank you for your response.


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