Inquiry Matters

As we prepare to welcome teachers from 19 Chicago elementary schools to this summer’s Golden Apple Introduction to Inquiry Science Institute at the Museum of Science and Industry, its seems like a good time to reflect on the past two years of work with our first 17 partner schools, work that began in the spring of 2010.

But before we fondly revisit  highlights from the past two years and offer a peek into some of the classrooms of the teachers who were the focus of this program, I want to address why it matters that we do this work — and why it matters that our teachers adopt a hands-on, inquiry-based approach to teaching science.

The recently published 2011 National Assessment of Education Progress at Grade 8 Science reported the following:

  • Students doing hands-on projects in class more frequently score higher that students whose teachers reported students did hands-on projects less frequently.
  • Students who work together on science projects weekly or daily score higher on average than students whose teachers reported that students did so monthly or never.
  • Students who report doing science-related activities that are not related to schoolwork score higher.

It’s worth noting here that the NAEP science test identifies and measures four practices in addition to science content.  “These four practices – identifying science principles, using science principles, using scientific inquiry and using technological design – describe how students use their science knowledge by measuring what they are able to do with the science content.”  Respectively, the time spent on these four areas in the 2011 Assessment was 25%, 35%, 30% and 10%.

So hands-on makes a difference; inquiry makes a difference; students working together doing science makes a difference; and students who get excited enough about science to want to do science for fun outside of their school day . . . that makes a difference too!

And that’s why we do science the way we do.  So, now, how do we do science?

Vignette 1:  Byrne Elementary, Mrs. Lidia Arriaga’s Third Grade Class

Mrs. Arriaga is an experienced Nationally Board Certified teacher who, prior to ISI, hadn’t felt as strong teaching science as she did other subjects.  On one of our visits to her classroom, she shared that science had now become her students’ favorite subject and a terrific inducement for all of them to turn in their homework each day.  After all, as she told them, “Scientists are responsible people.  Responsible people turn in their homework.” She proudly reported that she was achieving 100% homework completion from her “responsible scientists.” And she happily added that she was enjoying teaching science, something she hadn’t felt as confident doing ever before.

On this particular day, Mrs. Arriaga’s third-graders  were studying the effect of water on M&Ms — as simple and inexpensive as that.  Meaningful science can be done in regular non-lab classrooms using inexpensive, everyday materials.  And what can children learn in an activity like this, which, by the way, absolutely delighted them?  How to observe and record their observations in science journals. How to collect and record data and identify and measure variables like time and temperature.  How to ask questions and identify and describe the properties of materials. And in a very memorable and contextualized way, they learned the meaning of concepts like dissolution and diffusion.  Reflecting on their observations and results in their journals at home, they can also design additional experiments by deciding which variables to control for.

Beyond that, and beyond the test scores, this was a classroom filled with eager, curious, excited, engaged, happy children who were taking their role as scientists very seriously indeed. Priceless!

Here’s what it looks like:

Working Together Doing Hands-On, Inquiry-Based Science Increases Student Achievement

In the coming months, we’ll publish more vignettes of special moments in our ISI classrooms. In the meantime, we want to welcome the following schools to the program: Brown, Carroll, Edwards, Fulton, Gillespie, Harte, Kohn (returning), Mayo, Mollison, Nightingale, Pershing West (returning), CICS-Prairie, Robinson, Tanner, Till, Wentworth, West Pullman, Whistler, and Woods. We look forward to working with the principals and teachers of these schools this summer and beyond.

~ Penny

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


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Filed under assessment, Byrne Elementary, children as scientists, inquiry science, NAEP, Uncategorized

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