Should a teacher ever say “no” to an investigation that students propose themselves?
Yes. As noted in the previous answer, a teacher’s response should depend on his or her goals for the students. What might they learn if they conducted the inquiry? Are there cost or safety concerns that might weigh against doing a particular investigation? What topics and approaches are most feasible in light of the school science curriculum and guiding standards? Would it be best for students to design their own investigations or conduct investigations proposed either by the teacher or provided by the instructional materials?
A large number of learning outcomes, particularly inquiry abilities, are best learned through investigations, and those motivated by students’ own questions can be invaluable learning opportunities. Students also learn the characteristics of questions that can be properly investigated if they have opportunities to pose and investigate questions. One approach might be for teachers to ask students (or help them determine) what learning goals they will achieve by pursuing their questions and which goals they will not achieve.
The fact that students are motivated to ask questions and inquire into them is an indication that the teacher is making science relevant and exciting. But not all investigations that students propose will be worth pursuing.
Is it more important for students to learn the abilities of scientific inquiry or scientific concepts and principles?
They need to learn both. Further- more, as the National Science Education Standards make clear, these are equally important learning outcomes that support each other.
In many teaching and learning sequences, students employ inquiry abilities to develop understanding of scientific concepts. Sometimes teachers assume that students develop inquiry abilities just because they use them. However, there is no guarantee of this. Instead, teachers have to work to ensure a proper balance between learning scientific concepts and inquiry abilities.
The development of inquiry abilities should be an explicit student learning outcome. Teachers can select specific abilities on which to focus and develop strategies to achieve those outcomes.
The vignettes in Chapter 3 demonstrate how the learning of science content and improving inquiry abilities can be symbiotic. Scientific concepts and inquiry abilities switch from primary to secondary focus and back again as needed to promote the effective integration of both. Also, as pointed out in Chapter 6, research