“Although the Standards emphasize inquiry, this should not be interpreted as recommending a single approach to science teaching. Teachers should use different strategies to develop the knowledge, understandings, and abilities described in the content standards. Conducting hands-on science activities does not guarantee inquiry, nor is reading about science incompatible with inquiry” (National Research Council, 1996, p. 23).
Everyone knows that investigations often take longer than other ways of learning, and there are simply not enough hours or days in the school year to learn everything through inquiry. The challenge to the teacher is to make the most judicious choices about which learning goals can be best reached through inquiry (remembering that deep understanding is most likely to result from inquiry), and what the nature of that inquiry should be (see Chapter 2 for some variations). Other teaching strategies can come into play for other learning goals.
How can teachers cover everything in the curriculum if they use inquiry-oriented materials and teaching methods?
As noted above, the Standards do not suggest that all science should be learned through inquiry. However, investigations are important ways to promote deep understanding of science content and the only way to help students practice inquiry abilities. So there is still the issue of coverage vs. learning strategy to address.
Analysis of data collected in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) reveals that the typical U.S. eighth-grade science textbook includes about 65 topics. A similarly large number of science topics appears yearly in state and local science standards and curriculum guides. Teachers, understandably, feel obligated to teach all of the topics called for in their local science curriculum. The result can be the “mile wide and an inch deep” curriculum often decried in U.S. education. Furthermore, research shows that this “cover everything” approach provides few opportunities for students to acquire anything but surface knowledge on any topic (Schmidt et al., 1997).
There are several steps that teachers and administrators can take to deal with this problem. They can renegotiate the expectations embodied in the curriculum. They can carefully select a few areas to emphasize, spending more time teaching those areas though inquiry. They can carefully analyze the curriculum expectations and combine several learning outcomes in lessons and units. They can work with other grade-level teachers to eliminate the redundancies that