Quality Education in the Benedictine Tradition
Dr. Richard G. WatsonSciencewisePhone: 724-771-4149 Fax: 724-805-2024
Section 1: Inquiry Science
Studies by education researchers indicate that to learn science concepts well, students must confront their preconceptions of how the universe works, compare these with what they glean from books and hands-on experiments, and then discuss discrepancies among themselves and with teachers. Often, however, textbooks and classroom activities don't allow for such analysis or reflection, and instead, simply present statements, questions, and experiments with little view of "the big picture."
For students to have the time needed to acquire essential knowledge and skills of science literacy, the sheer amount of material that today's science curriculum tries to cover must be significantly reduced. Effective education for science literacy requires that every student be frequently and actively involved in exploring nature in ways that resemble how scientists themselves go about their work.
But for the most part, the nation's curricula, textbooks, and teaching continue to lack focus and emphasize quantity over quality, often emphasizing the learning of answers and memorization more than the exploration of questions, and reading rather than doing. They fail to encourage students to work together, to share ideas and information freely with each other, or to use modern instruments to extend their intellectual capabilities.
In learning science, students need time for exploring, making observations, taking wrong turns, testing ideas, doing things over again, asking, reading, and discovering – not just memorizing scientific facts.
Meaningful learning occurs when new information is linked to existing or previous concepts.
Information derived without meaningful learning is not retained for long periods.
(Source: David Ausubel, Educational Psychologist (1918- 2008) Chinese proverb: “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, let me do it and I understand”.
Defining Inquiry-Based Learning
What is inquiry-based learning? There are as many specific answers as there are people to ask, but there are common themes to the descriptions that represent a core of belief about inquiry. The list below is loosely based on Nickerson (1988), but includes some additional thematic elements and some connections to technology.
Constructivism. The major claim of this theme is that learning is an active process, described as forming new mental models rather than as assimilating information. Students continually create their own mental models as they encounter new material. It is questionable if "passive learning" could even exist. Integral to the concept of constructivism is the notion that much of learning comes from grappling with complex problems, for which there may be multiple approaches. The interaction a learner has with others engaged in the task adds to the learning potential; language is the most important carrier of these inquiry-supporting interactions. Out of such experiences, learners build their own knowledge.
Importance of conceptual understanding, rather than procedural efficiency. Especially in math and science, much of the knowledge students are often expected to know is procedural; that is, how to follow particular rote recipes. If this knowledge is not situated in an understanding of how and why the procedures work, students may not be able to know when and how to use them. Conceptual understanding includes a much richer and more flexible array of knowledge that makes it possible for students to think deeply even without a procedure, to know when and how to apply proper procedures, and to interpret their results appropriately.
Responsiveness to what students already know. No student enters a class as an empty vessel. Education must take account of what students bring with them. Based on life and school experiences, every student has formed many ideas about math, science, social studies, writing, etc. Some of these pre-existing ideas are valuable bases for continued learning; others are wrong and would lead the student further into territory that is not educationally useful. Students' incorrect ideas have sometimes been called "misconceptions" and inquiry-oriented methods to help students reform their ideas into more correct conceptions have been designed. Technology can play a role in this regard by assisting teachers in understanding students' knowledge and current conceptions, as many pieces of software help students display their thinking and procedures in a more accessible form.
Summarizing: What is Inquiry?
Inquiry is a multi-faceted activity that involves making observations; posing questions; examining books and other sources of information to see what is already known; planning investigations; reviewing what is already known in light of experimental evidence; using tools to gather, analyze and interpret data; proposing answers; explanations, and predictions; and communicating the results.
-National Research Council, National Science Education Standards
-National Research Council, National Science Education Standards
In the inquiry cycle six steps are performed during a scientific investigation.
(Source: Douglas Llewelynn, Inquiry Within, pg 24)
Invitation to Inquiry Grid
The four levels of inquiry are demonstrations, activities, teacher-initiated inquiry, and student initiated inquiry.
(Source: Douglas Llewelynn, Inquiry Within, Ch 6)
(Source: Douglas Llewelynn, Inquiry Within, pg 196)
There are several characteristics that are indicators of an effective science instruction. These characteristics capture the imagination of both the teacher and student.
The 5E and FERA instructional models are both based on the constructivist approach to lesson planning. Using this Learning Cycle approach one can structure inquiry-based lessons in science. (Llewellyn, Inquiry Within, pg 134) The 5E model and the FERA learning models are similar in nature but differ slightly. Both models will be described below. Planning a science lesson around either of these models will create an effective inquiry-based lesson.
5 E Model
This model was originally proposed in the early 1960s by Atkins and Karplus. According to Beisenherz and Dantonio (1996), the learning cycle enables students themselves to construct discrete science concepts. (Llewellyn, Inquiry Within, pg 134) The steps in the cycle are:
In the engagement step the teacher sets the stage for learning. This is accomplished by stating the purpose of the lesson. This could be done by introducing an essential question and explaining what the students should know and be able to do by the end of the lesson. It is also a means of focusing the students’ attention as well as assessing student prior knowledge.
The exploration step allows students to explore, raise questions, and develop statements to test and work without direct instruction from the teacher. Evidence and data is recorded and shared in cooperative groups. This stage enables all students to experience hands-on learning and helps to “level the playing field” within a culturally diverse classroom.
The explanation step involves the teacher-directed role of data and evidence processing strategies from the information collected during the exploration step. The information is discussed and the teacher can explain the scientific concepts associated with the exploration.
In the elaboration or extension step the teacher helps to reinforce the concept by extending and applying the evidence to new and real-world situations outside the classroom. This step facilitates the construction of generalizations by the students that may modify their presently held understandings of the concept being studied. This could lead to student questions that inspire other inquiries.
The evaluation step allows the teacher to bring closure to the lesson/unit. It helps students to summarize the relationships among variables studied in the lesson and posing higher-order and critical thinking questions that support students I making appraisals and judgments about their work. Students compare their prior knowledge outlined in the engagement step with their post investigation knowledge to discover that learning that has taken place.
( Douglas Llewellyn, Inquiry Within, pg 135,136,137)
The FERA cycle of learning basically combines the 5E model into four steps.
Focus – Students share ideas they already have about a topic. (Tell what they already think they know about a topic.) This information, revealed in classroom brainstorming sessions or in students’ journals, helps the teacher tailor learning experiences that are appropriate to students’ level of understanding. This information also acts as a benchmark from which to assess growth in students’ knowledge and skills as the unit progresses.
Explore – Students engage in structure, hands-on explorations of science phenomena. Classroom investigations/experiments which are developmentally appropriate are conducted centered on a particular scientific concept. This is done in cooperative groups. First graders begin with simple observing and measuring. Later, they begin to recognize cause-and-effect relationships. By sixth grade, they can design and conduct controlled experiments.
Reflect – After completing their investigations, students record their observations, describe or draw them in their science journal, and discuss them with classmates. These activities help student reinforce and consolidate their learning. This is the time to guide students as they work to synthesize their thinking and interpret their results.
Apply – Students integrate what they have learned in science class with social studies, language arts, mathematics and other area of the curriculum. They apply the science learning and insights to real-life situations.
What does a classroom in which inquiry is taking place look like? Commonly, some or all of the following characteristics are present:
The benefits of an inquiry centered classroom are many. In the inquiry center classroom students develop metcognition skills. Students need to know how to take responsibility for managing and monitoring their own thinking and learning activities. These kinds of skills (e.g., knowing when you have learned something or planning to use your most effective learning strategies to master some content) are sometimes called "metacognitive skills" because they require the students to examine their own learning practices. In an inquiry-based perspective, students need to reflect on the steps they take to generate questions about a new topic, how they collect information to help focus on a smaller set of questions, how they evaluate the relevance of the information, how they decide to what steps to take next, and how they communicate their conclusions.
Students also develop skills for lifelong learning. The students of today will need to learn throughout their lives. In the past, technology and jobs changed relatively slowly, but today's world can change practically overnight. Many of today's jobs require facility with technologies that didn't exist 20 years ago, and reeducation is the only way some people can continue to work at skilled jobs. Students need to prepare in school to continue to learn for the rest of their lives; in terms of inquiry, this means cultivating curiosity, knowing where learning resources might be, having experience with tacking complex problems, and knowing how to work with others in crafting approaches to difficult situations.
A connection to the world outside of schools is another benefit of the inquiry centered classroom. Research is beginning to show that one problem with school learning is that students often fail to connect it to what they have learned outside school.
Students often bring knowledge to class that is directly relevant to what they are learning, but fail to see the connection. In response to this issue, some of the new curriculum efforts are focusing on the creation of authentic tasks which meet needs and goals that students either have already or might have in the future. Furthermore, students often fail to see how the work they do in school is related to their lives at home. The inquiry learning cycle makes this connection with the world outside of school and creates relevance in school work.
In an inquiry centered classroom the students become the center of learning. They process information, interpret, explain and hypothesize. Activities are student designed and shared cooperatively. Students direct their own learning and emphasis is placed on reasoning, reading, and writing for meaning. Problem solving is emphasized and application of knowledge is paramount.
(Source: Traditional-Reform Pedagogy Continuum and Defining Inquiry Based Learning)
Continue to Section 2: Effective Questioning