What is Inquiry?

Inquiry is an approach to learning which uses a series of processes to explore the natural, material and/or social worlds. Inquiry engages students in asking and answering meaningful questions. Some of these questions will be posed by the teacher, while others will be generated by the students. As often as possible, students should have the opportunity to participate in practical activities that generate answers to questions and solutions to problems and may lead to further inquiry.

Scientific inquiry involves the following processes. These processes are not always a linear progression but often more of a back and forth, or cyclical series of events.

Graphic Demonstrating Cyclical Nature of Inquiry

The process of inquiry usually starts with an Initiating and Planning phase, and then moves to the phase of Performing and Recording to conduct fair tests or protocols to produce data and evidence. The data and evidence gathered is then examined in an Analyzing and Interpreting phase, which can lead to further questions and start the cycle all over again with the initiation and planning of a new inquiry. Communication and Teamwork are important to the success and efficiency of all phases of the inquiry cycle.

The familiar 5Es instructional model, which includes the cyclical steps of Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend and Evaluate can be superimposed over the basic cycle of inquiry. The Engage phase corresponds to initiating and planning. Explore and Explain encompass the performing and recording phase of inquiry, and Extend and Evaluate encompassing the analyzing and interpreting phase of inquiry.

Features of Scientific Inquiry

Scientific Inquiry: Exploring and Investigating

Scientific inquiry is driven by curiosity, wonder, interest, need or passion to answer a question within the context of science

This process begins with a question to answer

A prediction and/or hypothesis is generated

An investigation is planned and implemented based on background knowledge from resources such as books, videos and the expertise and insights of others

Observations and data are collected and recorded using a variety of representational formats

Additional questions/problems may emerge which can lead to additional exploration and investigation

Making meaning of the experience requires reflection, conversation, comparisons of findings with others, interpretation of data and observations, and the application of new conceptions to other contexts. All of these serve to help the learner construct an improved mental framework of the world.

From: Let’s Talk Science Framework – The Goals of Science and Technology Education