Research Summary

Reconceptualising inquiry in science education

An Integrated Approach to Inquiry in the Science Classroom

International Journal of Science Education

Science educators often uphold inquiry-based teaching as a key practice. The authors of this theoretical study argue, however, that inquiry models for teaching often fall short because they are too restrictive and do not account for the implementation difficulties that many teachers experience. Existing practices try at times to oversimplify teaching-and-learning processes, resulting in a systematic cookbook-type approach that can reduce the potential for individual inquiry. The authors suggest that a more constructivist approach, in which students build on previous experiences, may be more effective. This kind of approach would mean student-led and student-centered inquiry, scaffolded by the teacher; as such, students would take more responsibility for their own learning.

The authors suggest a “3D model” that creates an intertwined, fluid learning process, building on the three dimensions of (1) scientific knowledge, (2) procedures and methodology, and (3) psychological energy. The learning process draws in each of these dimensions at different stages. The authors describe scientific knowledge as the body of knowledge for the student; procedures and methodology represent the mechanical skills important for scientists to know; and psychological energy is akin to intrinsic motivation, or the motivation to do investigative work. The authors argue that this kind of student-led approach allows students to feel a sense of autonomy, competence, and connectedness to others, which in turn fosters self-determination. They suggest that incorporating these dimensions in inquiry-based teaching should benefit students by encouraging a positive relationship with science and furthering students’ personal growth.

The authors admit that this scaffolded model will likely be more difficult to implement than previous models for inquiry-based science teaching. However, the researchers believe that this kind of approach will lead to less algorithmic and more active learning that more closely resembles “authentic science.” It encourages consideration of how to help students push themselves in areas of interest and allows the space to decide how best to explore those areas. The authors have yet to test a practical application of their model, yet they aim to test possible forms of their suggestions in a pilot study.

The Bottom Line

A three-pronged approach to inquiry, incorporating (1) scientific knowledge, (2) procedures and methodology for generating and handling scientific evidence, and (3) psychological energy or intrinsic motivation, may be more motivating and engaging for young people. Integrating these three dimensions into inquiry-based science teaching may support the development of more competent and confident students who are motivated to have a positive and long-lasting relationship with science and science education.