Remember those boring dull science lessons where the teacher droned on and on while simply writing incomprehensible equation after equation on the blackboard? No, neither do I. And that is exactly the point. We don't remember when information is simply presented to us. Lecturing is often a poor form of learning.

Inquiry-based science is different. Instead of being 'taught' information, students actively learn to create it themselves. This is a much better form of learning. You wouldn't teach someone to drive by telling them how using a blackboard, you'd actually get in a car and get some practise done on the road. Inquiry-based science is exactly the same; students learn science by acting as scientists.

Do you know the meaning of the word 'inquiry'? This word means to investigate, to study, to find out for yourself. Traditionally the work scientists did was known as 'inquiry'. They were inquiring into how the natural world works. And in inquiry-based science the key is to getting students to develop their own questions then work towards answering themselves.

Inquiry-based science can be defined as being science where students formulate their own questions, create hypotheses, and design investigations that test these hypotheses and answer the question proposed.

Mirroring Science

How does a scientist discover new things? They use a distinct process, which although it can vary depending on the discipline or subject, share a number of key characteristics. This is generally known as the 'scientific method'.

  • Observation: Scientists are observant. They watch the natural world and see something that interests them.

  • Asking questions: Something puzzles scientists. They ask questions. Actually asking the right kind of questions is very difficult. It is an 'art' requiring skill.

  • Forming a Hypothesis: A hypothesis is some statement which can then be tested.

  • Design an experiment: Scientists then conduct an experiment to test the hypothesis.

  • Experiment: Arguably the least important part! We all have an image of a scientist over bubbling test tubes, 'tinkering' away. Actually they know exactly what they are doing and why.

  • Make conclusions: using the results of the experiment students decide what they have found and whether it confirms the hypothesis or not.

And this is the key to inquiry-based science; students act like scientists. They follow exactly the same steps as the scientists and follow a process analogous to the scientific method. How ever the scientific method is not set in stone; it is more a way of thinking than a strict prescribed list to follow.

A traditional and an inquiry-based experiment

Remember school experiments? You followed a list of instructions in a textbook until you got the result that they said you would. Experiment by rote. But scientists rarely work like this. Cooks follow recipes step by step. Scientists don't.

In an inquiry-based experiment, students have no list of instructions. Or if they do it is very short and very vague. An advanced form of inquiry might simply pose a single question 'What makes the pondweed bubble?' The best form of inquiry does not even provide that. Students have to develop their own questions.

There are many advantages to inquiry-based science; students find them more interesting than traditional lessons, probably because they have more control and they are more engaged. Students also learn better, being better able to remember science knowledge. Additionally, they really learn how science is being conducted.


Germination is dependant on temperature

Background Information:

Germination is the beginning of planned and systematic growth of a seed. Just like many other life processes germination is affected by the temperature. In chemical reactions inside living things the speed of reactions increases with increasing temperatures. However, the temperature required for germination to begin can vary greatly depending on the species of plant. Every species has its own optimal temperature for germination to start.


2 Petri dishes, a thermometer, garden cress seeds, a large clear plastic container kept damp, a fridge.


What influence does raising the temperature have on germination?

Why do seeds germinate faster when it is warmer?

List 3 factors, which seeds need in order to germinate.


Imagine that you work as a scientist in a biological research lab. One day your boss comes to you with a problem they wants you to answer:

‘Global warming could be a big problem for farmers all around the world. The germination of some species of plants could be affected. Design an experiment to find out how global warming could affect seed germination in the spring, and if this will be a problem for farmers’.

You have to design and conduct an experiment to find out what effect global warming could have on seed germination. You should:

  • Decide which experiments to conduct

  • Decide which data to collect

  • Do the experiment

  • Make a poster showing your results and conclusions


Which other factors apart from temperature affect germination? How would you conduct an experiment to find out what effect these other factors have on germination?

Your boss gives you a chemical that is able to remove the oxygen from the air. How could you design an experiment to find out if germinating seeds need oxygen? Draw a diagram of how you would set up the experiment.