Developing the Essential Features of Inquiry

Journal Article by: Robin Harris and Kathaleen Burke Digital resources are stored online in your NSTA Library.

This lesson can be used at the beginning of the year to teach students how to conduct inquiries using the essential features described in Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996). The lesson is divided into several activities which may be spread over several days or interspersed with your other beginning-of-the-year lessons. Students learn the essential features of inquiry through direct experience by conducting an initial field-based inquiry, which helps them come to an early understanding that science is not linear.

  • Middle

A selection from Science Scope—September 2008

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Reviews (8)
  • on Sat Nov 25, 2017 1:17 AM

I really enjoyed reading this article and learning more about the process of inquiry. This article provides a vivid instruction to simplify the inquiry process and using a poster where the students can look at their levels of involvement by all the types of learning behaviors they are doing. The children can move the process to another inquiry lessons during the school year. The article also discusses an outline process for the students to engage in an outdoor setting project. This activity process has many scaffolding going on to be sure that all the children are involved. This article was extremely helpful in showing how to introduce an inquiry investigation.

Jenneffer Pinto
Jenneffer Pinto

  • on Thu Apr 28, 2016 9:46 AM

I chose this because this entire semester we have been working on how to incorporate this into our classroom and if you used the four main parts you will be successful. Starting with, engaging in questions, finding evidence when responding to the questions, formulating an explanation from the evidence found and then connecting the explanation to scientific knowledge.

Carolina Lopez
Carolina Lopez

  • on Tue Feb 10, 2015 10:57 PM

Reading the inquiry process that Harris took the class was more than just 'reading' about what inquiry is. The students used all and every available resources they had available to them, even their basic senses. Harris shows that inquiry can take place anywhere they go and demonstrates this with his class by having them follow ta scientific approach to infer their inquiries. Students question their findings and then create an explanation of their findings for future use (in the article's case a project). The students then post their data on a graphic organizer and then share the information with the rest of the class, justifying their findings to their peers. Overall, the method used in the article is a positive way to have students interact in the classroom.

Arielle Swies
Arielle Swies

  • on Tue Feb 10, 2015 9:06 PM

I found the complete details of lesson plans so helpful. This is a lengthy classroom activity, but if done correctly, it can be very beneficial to your students. The article begins by explaining how versatile the lesson can be. If you do not live near a beach; it will not be a problem implementing this wonderful experiment. I also liked how the article gives an example of an experiment that serves the community. The article also explains how to practice with the students beforehand. It also clearly explains how to complete each step of inquiry. It was also nice that the worksheet and quiz examples were given. The figures were also helpful in providing the types of questions to ask your students. The value of group work was present in the article. The article also offers the idea to ask for parent volunteers and gives advice on the procedures for taking students on a field assignment. The author also provides more than one option for some of the activities. This article will be extremely insightful for teachers who have never completed a science experiment with a class.

Anne Fonrouge
Anne Fonrouge

  • on Tue Feb 11, 2014 12:54 PM

The article highlights the process in which students conduct inquiries and investigation. The process is well organized in various focuses to enable any teacher/instructor to use the lessons in their classroom. The article also does a great explanation of students involvement both in the classroom and outdoors while utilizing the the scientific approach to inquiry through observations and evaluation of data. Lastly, throughout the focuses, student involvement is key.

Devleta Memic
Devleta Memic

  • on Thu Nov 03, 2011 3:25 PM

Through the years, the authors have used a variety of environments to anchor their inquiry activities (greenhouse setting, forest or marsh ecosystem, the school yard, etc.). No matter where students conduct their fieldwork, the basic inquiry process remains the same. First students are given time to observe and wonder. They write in their journals using observation prompts like I see, I hear, I smell, etc. Next students reread their observations and write them into questions. One group’s example had to do with an interest in identifying the kinds of birds they noticed at the beach. After the investigative questions have been determined, students conduct research. Using the bird example, students discovered that the Audubon Society keeps records of bird sightings of their area, and the group was able to use that data to identify 10 birds that were permanent shore birds at their beach. The next step is to design an experiment that will answer an inquiry question and that includes a testable hypothesis. The bird group went back to the beach to count the actual numbers and types of birds. They wondered if their observations would mirror the Audubon Society’s data. After collecting their evidence, they returned to the classroom to formulate explanations from their evidence. A “Making Sense of Evidence” graphic organizer is provided; students connect their explanations to scientific knowledge, and the graphic organizers are handed in for grading. The final activity involves student groups communicating and justifying their results/explanations. The article provides clear instructions to simplify the inquiry process and a poster where students can check their levels of engagement by the types of learner behaviors they are exhibiting. Students can then transfer the process to other inquiry lessons during the school year. This was a helpful article to show how to introduce middle school students to inquiry investigations.

Carolyn M  (Buffalo Grove, IL)
Carolyn M (Buffalo Grove, IL)

  • on Tue Aug 13, 2013 7:40 PM

The article outlines a process for students to engage in while working on an outdoor project. The process is detailed and with many scaffolds to insure all students are engaged and successful.

Susan German  (Hallsville, MO)
Susan German (Hallsville, MO)

  • on Wed Mar 23, 2011 10:57 PM

The learning progression described in this article would take place over a long period of time in a classroom. Although the article states that it could take as long or short as the teacher needed it to, I see the concepts being described in this article as needing lots of processing time for students and lots of repetition with key ideas.

Kate Geer  (Louisville, CO)
Kate Geer (Louisville, CO)

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