Teaching Inquiry-Based Science and Social Studies

What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

Traditionally in science, engineering, and social studies education, a teacher relates facts and concepts to students, who in turn learn these facts and concepts, and apply them to problems posed by the teacher-

  • How much can a 3 cubic foot helium balloon lift?

  • Given an Arduino microcontroller and moisture sensor, design a system that will automatically water a garden

  • What were the causes of the American Civil War?

Inquiry-based education takes a more student-centered approach to teaching, and puts the focus instead on student-generated questions and problem-solving. Students learn through reasoning and doing, through asking questions, carrying out experiments, designs, or historical investigations, weighing up evidence and considering alternative hypotheses. Thanks to their own curiosity and the skills of inquiry they develop, students learn about the facts rather than having them presented to them as a fait accompli.

Motivation is heavily dependent on three factors- a sense of autonomy, a sense of mastery, and a sense of purpose. By letting students have control over their investigations, these feelings are enhanced.

The inquiry-based approach can thus motivate children to be interested in science, engineering design, and social studies, and to develop literacy and critical thinking skills. It is important to introduce IBSE to children in a manner that harnesses their innate curiosity, which is particularly strong when they are in primary-level schooling between the ages of about six and 12.

Inquiry-based instruction still requires the teacher to set expectations, to structure a learning environment which will enable this to take place, to teach fundamental technical skills needed to accomplish the inquiry, and to monitor and guide the investigations.

The goal is a student who is authentically engaged with school, who associates the work of school with a result or product that has personal meaning and value, and who will persist in the face of difficulty and will learn at high and profound levels.

Types of Inquiry:

  • Structured inquiry( for example, they get to choose which weather instrument to build or which city's temperature to graph),

  • Guided inquiry( they choose the methods and do the research) or

  • Open inquiry ( they research a question or create a design that accomplishes a goal of their own choosing).

Limitations of Inquiry-Based Instruction:

Discussion Questions:

1. What are 3 advantages of inquiry-based instruction?

2. What are 2 disadvantages or challenges with inquiry-based instruction? How can they be overcome?