Scientific Inquiry: Five Essential Components

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There are five essential components of scientific inquiry teaching that introduce students to many important aspects of science while helping them to develop a clearer and deeper knowledge of some particular science concept and/or process.

Research has demonstrated that student
involvement in the inquiry process provides a much needed connection and ownership of scientific investigations that will lead to a deeper conceptual knowledge about the content.
Inquiry can be labeled as “partial” or “full” and refers to the proportion of a sequence of learning experiences that is inquiry-based. For example, when a textbook doesn’t engage students with a question, but begins with an experiment, an essential element of inquiry is missing and the inquiry is said to be partial. Also, inquiry is partial if a teacher chooses to demonstrate how something works rather than have the students explore it on their own and develop questions and explanations. What is important is that at least some of the components of inquiry are present within classroom hands-on experiences and hands-on does not necessarily guarantee inquiry. If all five elements of classroom inquiry are present, the inquiry is said to be full, however each component may vary depending on amount of structure a teacher builds into an activity or the extent to which students initiate and design an investigation.

How does a teacher decide how much guidance to provide in an inquiry-based activity? The key element is in the intended outcomes. Whether the teacher wants the students to learn a particular concept, acquire certain inquiry abilities, or develop understandings about scientific inquiry influences the nature of the inquiry. In some instances partial inquiry may be more appropriate than a full inquiry-based experience. Teachers need to make meaningful decisions about how to best deliver the curriculum.

The Five Essential Components to Inquiry
1. Learners are engaged by scientifically oriented questions....
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