Wisdom Begins with Wonder

Make time for… inquiry

I love inquiry – obviously – I mention it in nearly every post. I’m also a co-founder of Inquire Within, a blog dedicated to the awesomeness of inquiry.

I’m not going to lie to you, though; Inquiry takes TIME.

You must hold inquiry as a core value; it can’t just be one of the topics of your course. You can’t pay lip service to inquiry with a flaccid unit about the “scientific method”

<rant>

First, a confession: I used to do this!

A unit on the “scientific method” is code for:

this is the time of the year when I have my students do really lame ‘experiments’ that have nothing to do with science while forcing them to memorize a rigid and phony set of steps that goes something like observation -> question -> hypothesis -> experiment -> conclusion.

PLEASE DON’T DO THIS! IT DOESN’T WORK!

the owl of inquiry will each your eyes if you do this...

beware - the owl of inquiry will eat your eyes if you bore your students with a "scientific method" unit

Make time for inquiry throughout the year in repeated iterations.

</rant>

Take a deep breath, Mr. Rice…

I’ll be okay. Now, where was I? Right, TIME.

You must commit yourself to allowing time for student questions to drive the curriculum. Allow them to generate questions and design experiments to answer their questions. Then, if you’re really serious, let the new questions that they derive from one experiment drive the next!

Crazy talk, you say?

Rebuttal: That is science! That is how students people actually start to see the process of science as organic and creative.

When they dive in headfirst into the inquiry vortex and let it spin them around a few times before emerging intact, you will be shocked at how much important science they learn. You will have rich conversations about content. You will have discussions – in context – about data analysis, about accuracy and precision, about calibration and controls, about reliability and repeatabilty, and all of those other things that we scientists hold so dear, my dear!

Your students will never see science the same.

Owl of inquiry image came from here


4 comments ↓

  • #   MsQ on 12.06.10 at 12:39 pm     

    This is exactly why I can’t “do” science and why I have had such a hard time trying to help my daughter do “science fair experiments.” I have always found it rather odd that science fair experiments/books have “answers,” when the whole point of science experiments should be testing/finding out what the variables are, how many “tests” are needed, and why things work or don’t work. It didn’t do me any good to “learn” the method, if I can’t possibly “do” it.


  • #   Cheryl Barnard on 12.07.10 at 9:10 pm     

    I completely agree with you. I teach Social Studies – and once met a teacher that felt so overwhelmed with the curriculum demands that they felt they couldn’t “cover” the federal election happening at the moment! What a crime!

    While it takes TIME – it is so worthwhile, and truly at the heart of what we’re aiming to do. Great post!

    I once read the following – – – reminds me of what you wrote…

    “An educational system isn’t worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living, but it doesn’t teach them how to make a life.” -Author Anonymous


  • #   Mr. Rice on 12.08.10 at 5:18 pm     

    MsQ,

    I agree. It’s absolutely critical for students to DO science, not just read or hear about it. There is a TON of learning that goes into inquiry that is lost in other teaching methods.


  • #   Mr. Rice on 12.08.10 at 5:20 pm     

    Cheryl,

    You bring up another great point about inquiry – the so-called “teachable moment.” In inquiry, every moment is a teachable moment. Students are learning from everything they do during inquiry work. Not only that but there is ample space for current events and student interests to drive the class.


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