Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Power of Inquiry

There were less than five minutes left in class, yet three students asked me if they could use Excel to create a graph from their experimental data. Many other students would have looked at the clock and begun stealthily packing up their binders for the day, but these students wanted to graph their results. My answer was a no-brainer, "Go for it! You can do it!" And in those few remaining minutes they worked up an excellent pie graph showing their results.

Investigating the Rates
of Heating and Cooling
This is the kind of awesome, independent learning that makes my day. I promote an inquiry-based classroom where students are in charge of their destiny. I do not spoon-feed answers to my students, but challenge them to forge their own paths of learning and take charge of their own education. To me, creating and encouraging independent learners is the noblest goal of any teacher. Teachers as facilitators and cheerleaders, who provide the resources and scaffolds to enable students to blaze their own trail.

I was so proud of these three students that day. They epitomized all that great learning should be in every classroom, every day.

Some students and parents may balk at my approach. "Why won't you just tell me the answer?" is an oft-heard question, especially in the beginning of each school year. But slowly, with encouragement and cajoling, I wean students off their dependence on quick, easy answers in favor of deeper thinking, problem-solving, and meaningful learning. I realize I may not be every student's favorite teacher at that moment when I ask them to do and think for themselves, but given our challenging times and complex world, how could I expect less?

The National Science Education Standards (1996) define the fundamental abilities of inquiry as follows:
  • Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations.
  • Design and conduct a scientific investigation.
  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.
  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions.
  • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.
  • Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry.

In its official position statement on scientific inquiry, the National Science Teachers Association "recommends that all K–16 teachers embrace scientific inquiry and is committed to helping educators make it the centerpiece of the science classroom. The use of scientific inquiry will help ensure that students develop a deep understanding of science and scientific inquiry."

These are the standards toward which I strive...

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