What does Inquiry-based Science Involve?

There are many definitions of inquiry-based teaching and what it involves. Students often need help initially to engage in authentic inquiry experiences.

There are a number of different forms of Inquiry.

Structured inquiry: The teacher gives the students a problem to solve, and tells them what methods to use to do this. She does not tell them the desired outcome of the exercise.

Guided inquiry: The teacher provides the students only with the materials and the problem they have to solve. Students have to develop their own methods to solve the problem.

Open inquiry: Students formulate their own problems to investigate, and then determine the method to solve it.

Teaching using inquiry can be seen as a continuum. Students need time to develop the skills to use scientific inquiry. Learning using inquiry should be scaffolded, with students being helped a lot at first, but as they become better and more confident at using inquiry this help can be removed.

It is becoming common to use inquiry-based teaching to do project based work. Students work a few hours per week for a number of weeks on a specific project. But inquiry-based teaching can also be done in a single lesson or part of a lesson.

Examples of forms of inquiry for teaching about electrical circuits

Structured inquiry: Students are given step-by-step instructions as to how electrical circuits are built. Questions prompt students to remove bulbs and record what they see.

Guided inquiry: Students are given bulbs, wire, and batteries. They are told to light the bulbs in as many ways as possible. They are asked what happens when individual bulbs are removed from these circuits.

Open inquiry

: Students are given bulbs, wire, and batteries and instructed to investigate how bulbs light in electrical circuits.