Education is one of the major building blocks of our modern society. One subject in the educational system that has made significant contributions to the advancement of human civilization is science. In recognition of the importance of science, researchers have dedicated many resources to search for the most effective method of giving science instructions to learners. Inquiry-based science instruction has been presented as one method that leads to significant improvements in science education. This paper will examine the major components of an inquiry-based science classroom and proceed to describe some of the instructional methods that might improve inquiry in the science classroom setting.
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Components of an inquiry-based science classroom
The first essential component of the inquiry-based classroom is that students make use of scientifically oriented questions. The teacher or the learner can initiate the purposeful questions that often lead to a productive investigation on the subject (Minner, Levy & Century, 2009). It is important to initiate questions that can be investigated using resources that are available within the classroom setting.
The second component is that the students give priority to the evidence provided, allowing them to come up with explanations that help answer the questions raised. A key element in this component is that the data obtained from the observations should be accurate (Minner, et al., 2009). To ensure this accuracy, the evidence obtained is verified through repetition.
The third component is that the learners come up with explanations based on the evidence obtained through observation and experimentation. The explanations formulated by the students aim to answer the questions raised. The scientific explanations are logical in nature and they help the learner to establish relationships between the new knowledge and what they already know (Minner, et al., 2009). As such, the learners rely on their existing knowledge base to understand what is unfamiliar and this leads to them increasing their knowledge base.
The fourth core component is the evaluation of learner explanations by considering any alternative explanations that might be offered to explain the evidence (Minner, et al., 2009). By reviewing these alternative explanations, the learners can eliminate some of the pre-formulated explanations or revise the explanations in light of the new explanations. It is important for the learner to relate the results obtained with scientific knowledge thereby fostering their scientific understanding.
The final component is learner communication of their identified explanations for the results obtained. This communication should justify the conclusions reached in an elaborate manner. This makes it possible for an independent party to replicate the study and possibly obtain similar results. Through scientific communication, other students can question the evidence and possibly identify any mistakes made or offer alternatives (Minner, et al., 2009). The empirical process is strengthened through this communication component.
Instructional Methods to Improve Inquiry
A number of instructional methods can be employed to improve inquiry in the science classroom. The first method is the use of small groups in the science class. Cuevas et al. (2005) suggest that Inquiry in the science classroom can be encouraged by engaging in cooperative learning using small groups. In this instructional method, the teacher divides the class into small units that work together to achieve certain set goals. In the small group setting, discussions occur and this encourages a deeper analysis and evaluation of the material being learned. An inquiry is increased since the students are allowed to play an active role in the learning process. Student participation is increased in the small group setting for the small group is a safe environment for the students.
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Inquiry can be fostered by using brainstorming as an instructional method. In this approach, the students are encouraged to participate in the formulation of questions or answers in the science class. An important effect of this method is that it promotes creative thinking and the formulation of many ideas that interest the students (Tal & Geier, 2000). The students will be more involved in the learning process if they are solving problems that are of interest to them. The teacher plays the role of the facilitator and he/she should intervene if the process loses focus or if the students are stuck.
Research can be used as a teaching method to improve inquiry. In this method, the teacher will require students to carry out research on topics of interest. By visiting the library and carrying out research, the knowledge base of the students on the topic will be increased (Tal & Geier, 2000). This will promote inquiry since the inquiry-based method relies on the knowledge base of the students. A rich knowledge base will, therefore, improve the inquiry process.
Effective instructional methods are crucial for the advancement of students’ understanding of science topics. This paper set out to examine the inquiry-based method with a focus on the components of this method. It proceeded to highlight the five core components and explain why each is important in the inquiry-based approach. The paper then reviewed some of the instructional methods that might improve inquiry in the science classroom. By employing these instructional methods, the teacher will increase the likelihood of favorable academic outcomes for students in the science class.
Cuevas, P., Okhee, L., Hart, J. & Deaktor, R. (2005). Improving Science Inquiry with Elementary Students of Diverse Backgrounds. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(3), 337-357.
Minner, D.D., Levy, J.A., & Century, J. (2009). Inquiry-Based Science Instruction—What Is It and Does It Matter? Results from a Research Synthesis Years 1984 to 2002. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(4), 474–496.
Tal, T., & Geier, R. (2000). Urban students’ beliefs about science in an inquiry-based classrooms. New Orleans: AERA.