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Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning
posing questions; examining books and other sources of information to see what is already known; planning investigations; reviewing what is already known in light of experimental evidence; using tools to gather, analyze, and interpret data; proposing answers, explanations, and predictions; and communicating the results. Inquiry requires identification of assumptions, use of critical and logical thinking, and consideration of alternative explanations. (p. 23)
Developing the ability to understand and engage in this kind of activity requires direct experience and continued practice with the processes of inquiry. Students do not come to understand inquiry simply by learning words such as “hypothesis” and “inference” or by memorizing procedures such as “the steps of the scientific method.” They must experience inquiry directly to gain a deep understanding of its characteristics.
Yet experience in itself is not sufficient. Experience and understanding must go together. Teachers need to introduce students to the fundamental elements of inquiry. They must also assist students to reflect on the characteristics of the processes in which they are engaged.
This chapter addresses the several perspectives on inquiry included in the National Science Education Standards. It first provides some historical background to place the role of inquiry in context. It then gives the actual content standards on Science as Inquiry: what should students know and be able to do? A description of a set of elements or features essential to inquiry-oriented teaching and learning sets the stage for a discussion of instructional models that can help teachers structure activities to foster student inquiry. Finally, several myths that misrepresent inquiry in school science programs are described and debunked.
INQUIRY IN SCHOOL SCIENCE:HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES
Inquiry has had a role in school science programs for less than a century (Bybee and DeBoer, 1993; DeBoer, 1991). Before 1900, most educators viewed science primarily as a body of knowledge that students were to learn through direct instruction. One criticism of this perspective came in 1909, when John Dewey, in an address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, contended that science teaching gave too much emphasis to the accumulation of information and not enough to science as a way of thinking and an attitude of mind. Science is more than a body of knowledge to be learned, Dewey said; there is a process or method to learn as well (Dewey, 1910).
By the 1950s and 1960s, the rationale for inquiry as an approach to