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Inquiry – Understand What it is from Different Sources

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Inquiry – Understand What it is from Different Sources

As provided by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA):

The National Science Education Standards (NSES p. 23) defines scientific inquiry as:

 Scientific Inquiry - the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work. Scientific inquiry also refers to the activities through which students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world."

 The Science as Inquiry Standard in NSES includes the abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry and understanding about scientific inquiry.

 Scientific inquiry reflects how scientists come to understand the natural world, and it is at the heart of how students learn. From a very early age, children interact with their environment, ask questions, and seek ways to answer those questions. Understanding science content is significantly enhanced when ideas are anchored to inquiry experiences.

Scientific inquiry is a powerful way of understanding science content. Students learn how to ask questions and use evidence to answer them. In the process of learning the strategies of scientific inquiry, students learn to conduct an investigation and collect evidence from a variety of sources, develop an explanation from the data, and communicate and defend their conclusions.

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) recommends that all K–16 teachers embrace scientific inquiry and is committed to helping educators make it the centerpiece of the science classroom. The use of scientific inquiry will help ensure that students develop a deep understanding of science and scientific inquiry.


Regarding the use of scientific inquiry as a teaching approach, NSTA recommends that science teachers:

  1. Plan an inquiry-based science program for their students by developing both short- and long-term goals that incorporate appropriate content knowledge.
  2. Implement approaches to teaching science that cause students to question and explore and to use those experiences to raise and answer questions about the natural world. The learning cycle approach is one of many effective strategies for bringing explorations and questioning into the classroom.
  3. Guide and facilitate learning using inquiry by selecting teaching strategies that nurture and assess student's developing understandings and abilities.
  4. Design and manage learning environments that provide students with the time, space, and resources needed for learning science through inquiry.
  5. Receive adequate administrative support for the pursuit of science as inquiry in the classroom. Support can take the form of professional development on how to teach scientific inquiry, content, and the nature of science; the allocation of time to do scientific inquiry effectively; and the availability of necessary materials and equipment.
  6. Experience science as inquiry as a part of their teacher preparation program. Preparation should include learning how to develop questioning strategies, writing lesson plans that promote abilities and understanding of scientific inquiry, and analyzing instructional materials to determine whether they promote scientific inquiry.

Regarding students’ abilities to do scientific inquiry, NSTA recommends that teachers help students:

A)  Learn how to identify and ask appropriate questions that can be answered through scientific investigations. 

B)  Design and conduct investigations to collect the evidence needed to answer a variety of questions.

C)  Use appropriate equipment and tools to interpret and analyze data.

D)  Learn how to draw conclusions and think critically and logically to create explanations based on their evidence.

E)   Communicate and defend their results to their peers and others.

Regarding students’ understanding about scientific inquiry, NSTA recommends that teachers help students understand:

a.   That science involves asking questions about the world and then developing scientific investigations to answer their questions.

b.   That there is no fixed sequence of steps that all scientific investigations follow. Different kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations.

c.    That scientific inquiry is central to the learning of science and reflects how science is done.

d.   The importance of gathering empirical data using appropriate tools and instruments.

e.   That the evidence they collect can change their perceptions about the world and increase their scientific knowledge.

f.    The importance of being skeptical when they assess their own work and the work of others.

g.  That the scientific community, in the end, seeks explanations that are empirically based and logically consistent.

Adopted by the NSTA Board of Directors, October 2004



Science Inquiry by the National Research Council:

The 5 features of science inquiry, students:

  1. Engage in Scientifically Oriented Questions
  2. Give Priority to Evidence in Responding to Questions
  3. Formulate Explanations from Evidence
  4. Connect Explanations to Scientific Knowledge
  5. Communicate and Justifies Explanations




Goals of the NIH Module: Doing Science: The Process of Scientific Inquiry

helps students achieve four major goals associated with scientific literacy:

  • to understand a set of basic elements related to the process of scientific inquiry,
  • to experience the process of scientific inquiry and develop an enhanced understanding of the nature and methods of science,
  • to hone critical-thinking skills, and
  • to recognize the role of science in society and the relationship between basic science and human health.

NIH Curriculum Supplement for Middle School

The Process of Scientific Inquiry

Students explore the basics of scientific inquiry, refine their critical-thinking skills, and appreciate the purpose of scientific research.

 l. The first is to help students understand the basic aspects of scientific inquiry. Science proceeds by a continuous, incremental process that involves generating hypotheses, collecting evidence, testing hypotheses, and reaching evidence-based conclusions. Rather than involving one particular method, scientific inquiry is flexible. Different types of questions require different types of investigations. Moreover, there is more than one way to answer a question. Although students may associate science with experimentation, science also uses observations, surveys, and other non-experimental approaches.

 ll. The second objective is to provide students with an opportunity to practice and refine their critical-thinking skills. Such abilities are important, not just for scientific pursuits, but for making decisions in everyday life. Our fast-changing world requires today’s youth to be life-long learners. They must be able to evaluate information from a variety of sources and assess its usefulness. They need to discriminate between objective science and pseudoscience.

Students must be able to establish causal relationships and distinguish them from mere associations.

 lll. The third objective is to convey to students the purpose of scientific research. Ongoing research affects how we understand the world around us and provides a foundation for improving our choices about personal health and the health of our community. In this module, students participate in a virtual investigation that gives them experience with the major aspects of scientific inquiry. The lessons encourage students to think about the relationships among knowledge, choice, behavior, and human health in this way:

Knowledge (what is known and not known) + Choice = Power

Power + Behavior = Enhanced Human Health

 lV. The final objective of this module is to encourage students to think in terms of these relationships now and as they grow older.

 Science Content and Conceptual Flow of the Lessons

Use this to plan an inquiry-based science program by providing short-term objectives for students:

1: Inquiring Minds  - Engage:

Students become engaged in the process of scientific inquiry.

Scientists learn about the natural world through scientific inquiry.

• Scientists ask questions that can be answered through investigations.

• Scientists design and carry out investigations.

• Scientists think logically to make relationships between evidence and explanations.

• Scientists communicate procedures and explanations.

2: Working with Questions  - Explore:

Students consider what makes questions scientifically testable. Students gain a common set of experiences upon which to begin building their understanding.

Scientists ask questions that can be answered through investigations.

• Testable questions are not answered by personal opinions or belief in the supernatural.

• Testable questions are answered by collecting evidence and developing explanations based on that evidence.

3: Conducting a Scientific Investigation - Explain/Elaborate: 


Students conduct an investigation in the context of a community health department. They propose possible sources of the health problem and describe how they might confirm or refute these possibilities.

Scientific explanations emphasize evidence.

• Scientists think critically about the types of evidence that should be collected.

Scientists analyze the results of their investigations to produce scientifically acceptable explanations.

4: Pulling It All Together - Evaluate:

Students deepen their understanding of scientific inquiry by performing their own investigation and evaluating one performed by another student.  

Scientific inquiry is a process of discovery.

• It begins with a testable question.

• Scientific investigations involve collecting evidence.

• Explanations are evidence based.

• Scientists communicate their results to their peers.


 Assessment Standards - Content Standards: Grades 5–8

Use this for ongoing assessment of your instruction and student learning:

 Standard A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop:

Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

• Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations.

• Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.

• Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.

• Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.

• Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions.

• Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.

• Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry.


Understandings about scientific inquiry

• Different kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations. Some investigations involve observing and describing objects, organisms, or events; some involve collecting specimens; some involve experiments; some involve seeking more information; some involve discovery of new objects; and some involve making models.

• Mathematics is important in all aspects of scientific inquiry.


Standard C: Life Science

As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop an understanding of:

Structure and function in living systems

• Some diseases are the result of intrinsic failures of the system. Others are the result of damage by infection by other organisms.

Populations and ecosystems

• Food webs identify the relationships among producers, consumers, and decomposers in an ecosystem.

 Standard E: Science and Technology

As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop:

Understandings about science and technology

• Science and technology are reciprocal. Science helps drive technology.

Technology is essential to science, because it provides instruments and techniques that enable observations of objects and phenomena that are otherwise unobservable.

 Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop an understanding of:

Personal health

• The potential for accidents and the existence of hazards imposes the need for injury prevention. Safe living involves the development and use of safety precautions and the recognition of risk in personal decisions.

Risks and benefits

• Risk analysis considers the type of hazard and estimates the number of people who might be exposed and the number likely to suffer consequences. The results are used to determine the options for reducing or eliminating risks.

• Important personal and social decisions are made based on perceptions of benefits and risks.

Science and technology in society

• Technology influences society through its products and processes.

 Technology influences the quality of life and the ways people act and interact.

 Standard G: History and Nature of Science

As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop an understanding of:

Science as a human endeavor

• Science requires different abilities, depending on such factors as the field of study and type of inquiry. Science is very much a human endeavor, and the work of science relies on basic human qualities, such as reasoning, insight, energy, skills, and creativity.

Nature of science

• Scientists formulate and test their explanations of nature using observation, experiments, and theoretical and mathematical models.


How does all this promote learning generally and inquiry-based learning specifically?

Instead of passive absorption of materials, students are developing skills, analyzing and evaluating evidence, experiencing and discussing, and talking to their peers about their own understanding - Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate.

1. Understanding science is more than knowing facts.

2. Students build new knowledge and understanding based on what they already know and believe.

3. Students formulate new knowledge by modifying and refining their current concepts and by adding new concepts to what they already know.

4. Learning is mediated by the social environment in which learners interact with others.

5. Effective learning requires that students take control of their own learning.

6. The ability to apply knowledge to novel situations (that is, to transfer learning) is affected by the degree to which students learn with understanding.



Inquiry Vocabulary

It should be a goal of the instructor to foster the development of science process skills. The application of these skills allows students to investigate important issues in the world around them. Inquiry-based units will include many or most of the following process skills. These process skills should be incorporated into students? instruction as developmentally appropriate.

Classifying - arranging or distributing objects, events, or information representing objects or events in classes according to some method or system

Communicating - giving oral and written explanations or graphic representations of observations

Comparing and contrasting - identifying similarities and differences between or among objects, events, data, systems, etc.

Creating models - displaying information, using multisensory representations

Gathering and organizing data - collecting information about objects and events which illustrate a specific situation

Generalizing - drawing general conclusions from particulars

Identifying variables - recognizing the characteristics of objects or factors in events that are constant or change under different conditions

Inferring - drawing a conclusion based on prior experiences

Interpreting data - analyzing data that have been obtained and organized by determining apparent patterns or relationships in the data

Making decisions - identifying alternatives and choosing a course of action from among the alternatives after basing the judgment for the selection on justifiable reasons

Manipulating materials - handling or treating materials and equipment safely, skillfully, and effectively

Measuring - making quantitative observations by comparing to a conventional or nonconventional standard

Observing - becoming aware of an object or event by using any of the senses (or extensions of the senses) to identify properties

Predicting - making a forecast of future events or conditions expected to exist

Note: As an example, these processes are applied in the three key ideas in Standard 1, which outline scientific inquiry. Inquiry may proceed in a cyclical pattern, with students moving from Key Idea 1 to Key Idea 3 and back to 1 again.

*As presented by the State University of New York at:

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