questions: What led to past and current investigation of the finches on the islands? How have investigations differed, and how have they been similar? Have the scientific explanations derived from these investigations been logically consistent? Based on evidence? Open to skeptical review? Built on a knowledge base of other experiments? Following the readings and discussion of the questions, the teacher would have student groups prepare oral reports on the topic “The Role of Inquiry in Science.”
This learning activity does not contain all of the essential features of classroom inquiry, but many features are present. The activity engages students in scientifically oriented questions. It promotes discussion of the priority of evidence in developing scientific explanations. It connects those explanations to accepted scientific knowledge. And it requires students to communicate their understandings of scientific inquiry to others. This activity thus could be an integral part of a sequence of learning opportunities that in total contains all five essential features of inquiry.
As a final example, consider a series of lessons that seeks to have students develop an understanding of the concept of density. One way to determine the best teaching strategy for this particular outcome would be to think about how students might demonstrate that they understand density. One performance assessment for older elementary students might be to provide them with objects of different densities, a scale, and a water-filled flask with volume markings on the side. Students would then be asked to select objects and, using the scale and flask, determine their densities. Given this assessment, what kinds of inquiry learning experiences would help students understand density well enough to be successful? One teaching strategy would be a series of laboratory activities framed by questions requiring the gathering and use of evidence to develop explanations about mass and volume relationships. Students would connect their explanations to scientific explanations provided by the teacher and their text, so all five essential features of classroom inquiry would be incorporated.
How can the features of inquiry be combined in a series of coherent learning experiences that help students build new understandings over time? Instructional models offer a particularly useful way for teachers to improve their use of inquiry.
Instructional models originated in observations of how people learn. As early as the turn of the century, Herbart’s (1901) ideas about teaching