An inquiry approach recognizes the need for students to engage in the processes
of doing science while deepening their content knowledge. According to the National
Research Council, classroom inquiry consists of five essential features:
Scientifically Oriented Questions. Learners develop and
investigate questions that can be answered through scientific investigations.
Evidence. Learners give priority to evidence, which allows
them to purposefully construct explanations of observed phenomena.
Explanations. From the evidence, learners formulate explanations
that address their scientific questions.
Evaluate. Learners evaluate their explanations, in light
of alternative explanations, to determine whether or not their findings and conclusions
Communicate. Learners communicate and justify their proposed
Inquiry follows the learning cycle as it moves from engagement with scientifically
oriented questions, blends into explorations that gather evidence, and emphasizes
the need for explanations based on this evidence. During this process, students’
evaluations of their findings often give way to expansion, which leads back to inquiry
questions and the continuation of both the inquiry and learning cycles. As is the
case with assessment in the learning cycle, communication in the inquiry cycle is
envisioned as an integral portion that is woven throughout all parts of the cycle.
In classrooms, an effective working definition distinguishes inquiry in the general
sense from inquiry as practiced by scientists. Effective patterns of instruction,
differentiation, and assessment may be viewed as occurring along an inquiry continuum,
based on how people learn and the identified learning needs.
It is a best practice to match the level of shared responsibility for classroom
inquiry with the specific learning need, the environment, and the readiness of teachers
to provide instruction. Students should be encouraged to assume responsibility for
their learning as much as possible.