Questions to Ask Yourself about Your “Inquiry” Activity

As with so many other words in education, inquiry has become a buzzword. Textbook companies have repurposed … to put it nicely … hands-on but recipe-driven activities as inquiry (you know, first do this and then do this, and this should be your final result) in newer editions of their books. Hands-on and inquiry seem to have become interchangeable in some conversations about pedagogy in the science classroom. It’s a puzzlement.

What Inquiry Looks Like

What Inquiry Looks Like

Given the masquerading of lessons as inquiry that aren’t, I was happy to run across a research report from a 2000 issue of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (Vol. 37, No. 9, pp. 916-937), “Embracing the Essence of Inquiry: New Roles for Science Teachers” by Barbara A. Crawford.  Based on the author’s study of the classroom of a high school biology teacher in a small rural town in the Pacific Northwest, it provides a handy list of descriptors of a genuine inquiry classroom.

So here are six key characteristics of that teacher’s inquiry practice that Crawford identified, presented as questions that you could easily ask yourself about any activity you are thinking to use as an inquiry activity with your students.

  • Is your instruction (the activity) situated in an authentic problem? Is it real or is it Memorex?
  • Will students be grappling with data?
  • Does the activity allow for a genuine collaboration between you and your students?
  • Is there a connection to society? Does this matter in and to the world outside your classroom?
  • Will you be modeling the behaviors of a scientist? Will you be modeling (maybe by wondering out loud) how a scientist thinks?
  • Can you envision your students developing ownership of this work? Will you be able to foster that sense in them? Will they get excited about it?  Be intellectually engaged? Care?

These may not be the only key inquiry indicators, but they seem to be a good starting point for helping us select and modify activities to get closer to an authentic inquiry classroom. And they challenge all of us to raise the bar higher. We may not get there the first time around, but, guided by reflection, we eventually will.

~ Penny

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



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Filed under children as scientists, inquiry science, The Scientific Method, Uncategorized

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