to focus more on inquiry in classrooms: to propose a working definition that distinguishes inquiry-based teaching and learning from inquiry in a general sense and from inquiry as practiced by scientists. The following definition is derived in part from the abilities of inquiry, emphasizing questions, evidence, and explanations within a learning context. Inquiry teaching and learning have five essential features that apply across all grade levels (see Table 2-5).
Learners are engaged by scientifically oriented questions. Scientifically oriented questions center on objects, organisms, and events in the natural world; they connect to the science concepts described in the content standards. They are questions that lend themselves to empirical investigation, and lead to gathering and using data to develop explanations for scientific phenomena. Scientists recognize two primary kinds of scientific questions (Malley, 1992). Existence questions probe origins and include many “why” questions. Why do objects fall towards the earth? Why do some rocks contain crystals? Why do humans have chambered hearts? Many “why” questions cannot be addressed by science. There are also causal/functional questions, which probe mechanisms and include most of the “how” questions. How does sunlight help plants to grow? How are crystals formed?
Students often ask “why” questions. In the context of school science, many of these questions can be changed into “how” questions and thus lend themselves to scientific inquiry. Such change narrows and sharpens the inquiry and contributes to its being scientific.
In the classroom, a question robust and fruitful enough to drive an inquiry generates a “need to know” in students, stimulating additional questions of “how” and “why” a phenomenon occurs. The initial question may originate from the learner, the teacher, the instructional materials, the Web, some other source, or some combination. The teacher plays a critical role in guiding the identification of questions, particularly when they come from students. Fruitful inquiries evolve from questions that are meaningful and relevant to students, but they also must be able to be answered by students’ observations and scien-