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Background on Inquiry

Inquiry involves:

  • the identification of problems and solutions, and the testing of these solutions
  • the students' own design of procedures and data analyses
  • formulation of new questions based on previous claims and solutions
  • the development of questions based on prior knowledge
  • the linking of experiences and activities, science concepts, and science principles
  • the sharing and discussing of procedures, products, and solutions


Engaging in Inquiry

Children should experience science by engaging in inquiry that shares commonalities with the activities of scientists in these five aspects:

1. Participants learn in contexts constituted in part by ill-defined problems.

2. Participants experience uncertainties, ambiguities, and the social nature of scientific work and knowledge.

3. Participants learning is predicated on and driven by their current knowledge state.

4. Participants experience themselves as part of communities of inquiry in which knowledge, practices, resources, and language are shared.

5. In these communities, members can draw on the expertise of more knowledgeable others, whether they are peers or advisors.

When the adjectives "open-inquiry" and "authentic" are employed, they refer to the above five aspects in which the learning environment overlaps with the scientific world.



Challenges facing educators today include how to:

  • clarify the role of the laboratory or investigative activity in developing scientific inquiry skills
  • determine the value that the laboratory has in developing an understanding of learning.

One of the things we have learned about laboratory instruction over the years is that it is easy to overestimate the ability of students, on their own, to derive meaning from the empirical world.

This does not mean that students should be denied all practice in trying to solve scientific problems as a scientist would do, although it does suggest that the method should be used sparingly, within the context of a reasonably well-understood body of concepts, and not as the primary means of acquiring knowledge or skill.

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