Educators need evidence drawn from research to help them implement and justify inquiry-based approaches to teaching and learning science. Many science teachers, for example, question why they should reorient their teaching toward inquiry-based methods. School boards may want to know why they should support inquiry-based curricula and professional development. Preservice teachers may question the need for an inquiry approach in their courses. Parents may want to know why their sons and daughters need to learn so differently from the way they did. Indeed, everyone should want to know the basis for choices about teaching and learning.
Chapter 2 defined inquiry-based teaching as experiences that help students acquire concepts of science, skills and abilities of scientific inquiry, and understandings about scientific inquiry. That chapter also pointed out, as does the National Science Education Standards, that effective science teachers use many teaching strategies. For example, there are times when explicit or direct instruction is a more appropriate choice and will complement inquiry-based teaching, especially when students have already had a great deal of direct experience with a particular phenomenon.
This chapter closely examines the research base for inquiry-based teaching. It begins by looking at the research on learning and the kinds of learning environments that promote learning. This research is of particular interest because of the strong parallels between how research says students learn important science concepts and the processes of scientific inquiry that are used in inquiry-based teaching. The chapter then addresses research that is specifically focused on inquiry-based science teaching. Throughout, connections are made with the images and ideas discussed in previous chapters. Finally, the chapter describes the limitations of educational research in general.