Teaching Science Using an Inquiry-Based Approach to Investigations

Teaching scientific inquiry using as a process for learning science provides teachers with the opportunity to develop student abilities using critical thinking, along with deepening student understanding of science.

As students focus on the experimental processes of doing science investigations, they develop the ability to ask questions, investigate aspects of the natural world around them, and use the power of observations to construct reasonable explanations of experimental findings.

So they can apply their knowledge to a term paper or research essay writing.

Inquiry-based learning stresses science process skill development and nurtures the habits of mind necessary to think like a scientist.

Scientific inquiry integration in a science curriculum is quite different from a traditional science curriculum because it is student-centered.

Teaching science shifts from being the purveyor of knowledge to a facilitator of learning.

An inquisitive classroom involves active learning and web-based technology integration.

Basic Principles of Learning and Teaching Scientific Inquiry, Good Outlines Are the First Step

  1. A science topics outline for a minimum of a month, or an entire academic quarter of 3 months, is required. Clear, precise decisions are made on science topics, their order of presentation, and the kinds of activities. For each school type — whether public, private, or home — these requirements are mandated either professionally, or personally.


  1. Daily, subject or topic science lesson plans are also needed. For example, in Botany a single-hour activity might be as follows: Plant leaves, read and explain text and discuss structure and function aspects and photosynthesis aspects (15-20 minutes); show pictures and pass around different types of actual leaves (maple, oak, pine needle, birch, hickory, zinnia, etc., 15–20 minutes); slides or video showing leaf structure and function experiment (15–20 minutes).

Inquiry Learning: Benefits for Students

One of the benefits of inquiry learning is that students are fully involved in the active learning process.

Students who are making observations, collecting data, analyzing data, synthesizing information, and drawing conclusions are developing useful problem-solving skills.

These skills fully incorporate the basic and integrated science process skills, which are necessary for scientific inquiry.

A second benefit of inquiry learning is that students develop the lifelong skills critical to thinking creatively, as they learn how to solve problems using logic and reasoning.

These skills are essential for drawing sound conclusions from experimental findings.

Teaching Strategies: Guided and Student-Initiated Scientific Inquiry

Using teaching strategies that involve scientific inquiry, allows students to assume all or partial responsibility for determining the procedure for the investigation.

Guided Inquiry – the teacher chooses the question to be investigated and assists students in developing the scientific investigation.

This serves as a transition from traditional science classrooms of canned investigations which are teacher-centered to student-centered learning classrooms.

During this transition, students focus on different aspects of the scientific inquiry process with their teacher.

This includes learning how to develop investigations using the following seven steps of the scientific inquiry process.

  1. Problem Statement – identifies the problem and a central problem question
  2. Hypothesis – predicting the outcome of an investigation into a problem
  3. Experimental Design – designing how the investigation is conducted
  4. Data Collection – how observations and measurements are collected
  5. Analysis and Interpretation of Data – a summary of collected data using statements, data tables, and graphs
  6. Drawing Conclusions – making logical conclusions from investigation findings, along with answering questions developed from the problem statement
  7. Extension – posing new questions related to the original question that leads to new investigations

These teaching strategies provide opportunities for teachers to model and guide students using individual, small group, and whole class discussions to provide an informal assessment of student understanding of the scientific inquiry process.

Scientific Research: Appropriateness of Investigation

Investigation appropriateness is very important when coupled with students being asked to critically think about their scientific research.

An important part of the inquiry learning process is that students need to ask themselves the following questions as they follow the seven steps of scientific inquiry.

  • Is the investigation intelligible? – is the investigation based on prior scientific knowledge, experiences, and concepts.
  • Is the investigation plausible? – can the investigation be conducted as designed within a classroom setting?
  • Is the investigation useful? – will something new be learned or help explain the natural world?
  • Is the investigation repeatable? – adds validity by someone else being able to replicate the investigation and obtain the same findings.

Scientific Inquiry and Logical Methods, Questions and Summaries, for Teachers and Students

  • The scientific method is always presented with its four basic components as an introduction for new students and a brief review for seasoned students. For beginning students, an entire session on the scientific method is given, always as the first or second lesson. The scientific method covers 1. Observations 2. Hypotheses 3. Experiments and 4. Results and conclusions or laws. A useful, insightful review is the scientific method.
  • Experiments or lessons can be shown in outline form, from beginning to end. All the main ideas and definitions are outlined to promote and enhance understanding. The outline is an ordered, short sequence with brief aspects of the hypotheses, experimental procedures, and basic facts.
  • Teachers should always encourage the student or students to respond with questions or comments after the complete explanation and presentation lesson.
  • Questions and comments should never be feared, whether as a teacher or as a student, questioning is fundamental and foundational to good thinking and good science.
  • Summarize today’s just completed lesson, activity, or experiment just before dismissal.
  • Finally, conclude this summary with a brief, one-minute insight into tomorrow’s activity on science and a reminder to preview study and homework, as the case may be.

Making Connections between Teaching Scientific Inquiry and Learning

Once students have constructed a working concept of the scientific inquiry process, they are on the path to thinking and acting like scientists.

Teaching science as inquiry learning encourages students to apply critical thinking and reasoning skills to gain new knowledge about the natural world.

Scientific inquiry is completed within the context of understanding the appropriateness of an investigation to solve a specific problem or scientific phenomenon.