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Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning
shows how a sequence of learning experiences that are carefully crafted by a teacher can build and deepen understanding gradually, through motivating and engaging activities.
Learning Outcomes. Mr. Gilbert used students’ study of moon phases to help them learn both science subject matter and inquiry — learning both how to conduct inquiries and what inquiry is. His subject matter outcomes were drawn directly from the earth and space science standards of the National Science EducationStandards: the regular and predictable motion of objects in the solar system explains such phenomena as the phases of the moon and eclipses. Mr. Gilbert found he could also use the sequence of instructional activities to help students develop many inquiry abilities. They began by collecting data about the moon’s phases through direct observation, using some tools to increase the precision of their observations, and supplementing direct observation with data from sources such as newspapers and the Internet. Their inquiry also helped them learn to use models to construct explanations for natural phenomena, to evaluate the models they were using for their benefits and shortcomings, and to gather an array of evidence to analyze alternative explanations and determine which best fits the evidence.
Mr. Gilbert’s students also deepened their understanding of scientific inquiry, when they discussed how Galileo’s study of moon’s phases helped people understand the configuration of different bodies in the universe. This opportunity helped them to understand the role that scientific inquiry has played over the centuries — how scientists think and work to formulate and advance scientific knowledge, as well as how profound new understandings have come from investigations of the natural world.
Essential Features of ClassroomInquiry. The sequence of learning activities just described contained all five essential features of classroom inquiry that were displayed on pages 24-27 of Chapter 2. Some of these features appeared several times throughout the sequence of lessons. Mr. Gilbert engaged the learners in scientifically oriented questions about moon phases. Although Mr. Gilbert proposed some of the questions, the students became mentally engaged and took ownership of the problems they posed. Assisted by Mr. Gilbert’s questioning, the students identified two different explanations for what causes moon phases. They produced drawings representing the relative positions and motions of the earth, sun, and moon for each explanation. Mr. Gilbert helped the students to determine what would constitute evidence to support each explanation. The students then manipulated