Every year in the spring, Ms. Idoni’s biology class conducts a full and open inquiry. The inquiry takes several weeks of class during the semester, so students have ample time to conduct their investigation. Ms. Idoni begins the inquiry by taking the students on a field trip to an environment where she is relatively certain their interest will be engaged. All year, students look forward to this experience. It is a tradition with Ms. Idoni and the students have heard that it is hard work, but something they will really find interesting.
Earlier in the school year the students have had many opportunities to learn and practice the inquiry skills they will need to conduct a full inquiry. Ms. Idoni has used a series of “invitations to inquiry” (Mayer, 1978), which are short teaching units designed to give students small samples of the process of inquiry. Each sample has a blank the students are invited to fill, for example, the plan of an investigation, a way to control one factor in an experiment, or the conclusion to be drawn from a set of data. Each “invitation” focuses student learning on one or two abilities of inquiry. Participating in the series of invitations over the year has equipped Ms. Idoni’s students to identify questions that can be investigated, design appropriate investigations, gather data, interpret data, consult sources such as the Web for additional information, and draw definable conclusions — all of which will be called on in the full inquiry they are now beginning.
Before starting inquiry, Ms. Idoni makes plans for how to assess students’ learning on an ongoing basis. She will ask each student to keep a journal through the inquiry. Because she is most interested in emphasizing the development of inquiry abilities, Ms. Idoni will have the students organize their journals according to a slightly modified form of the fundamental abilities as described in the Standards. The categories Ms. Idoni will use are:
Questions and scientific ideas that guide the investigation
Design of the investigation
Technology and mathematics for the investigation
Use of evidence to present explanations
Conclusions and defense of explanations
As students record their observations, Ms. Idoni will review their journals and ask more specific questions about scientific concepts that underlie their explanations, how technology helps them, what evidence they are collecting, if they have the best evidence and explanation, what other ideas they have heard, and if they have the strongest conclusions.