When we lived in California we had a tropical bird-of-paradise in our yard. While it was not a native flower, we could agree that it was extravagant. When we traveled to Peru, we enjoyed a nature walk at the Inkaterra Hotel in Machu Picchu where we observed over 100 different native orchid species in their natural habitat.
Tropical species provide an interesting point of discussion in the classroom, sparking questions such as: “Why are our local flowers different?” or “What characteristics do the wildflowers we find here in North America share with tropical species?” These questions offer a perfect springboard into science inquiry.
What is Science Inquiry?
When most people think of science class, they picture classrooms of students all engaged in the same canned activity, following a scripted set of procedures that lead to a predictable outcome. Inquiry based science education is much more. Inquiry science engages kids in inquiry-based science lessons provides them with a way to explore on their own. It removes the teacher as somebody who is providing them with information that they need to memorize. Instead, the kids are experiencing, discovering, and developing their inquiry skills as they go. That is what real scientists do.
Although inquiry based instruction has been written about for decades, it is not widely used in science classrooms. Open inquiry, in particular, is often thought to be difficult to use in the classroom. Perhaps one explanation for this is the perceived difficulty in moving students toward the development of experimental questions.
Scientific inquiry also refers to the activities through which students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world.
Many home educators have experience in leading their children through guided nature studies and observations. Keeping a nature journal is a popular pastime amongst many. When we take a group of kids outside, however, you will quickly observe that the majority of their questions are reference questions. Questions they can answer relatively easily with experience identifying and using reliable sources.
If your goal is for students to generate questions that inspire investigations, then you need to be able to guide learners into reframing their questions. The Integrating Inquiry for Educators: Developing Student Science Practices online course is a wonderful guide designed to help you – the educator – do just that.
Science Inquiry Skills for Educators
If you wish to go further with inquiry and citizen science, I strongly recommend Cornell University’s BirdSleuth online course Integrating Inquiry for Educators. They have designed this self-paced course to help educators explore the process of science inquiry and investigation, especially as inspired by outdoor observations and citizen-science participation.
I was provided free access to this course in exchange for an honest review. Having completed the course, I would gladly have paid three times the course fee of just $49. I was very happy with the design of the course as well as how the material was delivered. The course text (eBook option is FREE), videos, assigned NSTA reading materials, case studies, interactive quizzes, and the application assignments were all nicely balanced.
The online course both challenged and piqued my interest in science inquiry. I am now – more than before – looking forward to engaging my kids in a inquiry based science explorations in the years to come.
You can also elect to earn two optional Continuing Education Units (CEUs) if you successfully complete the course. All online materials will be available to you for six months following your enrollment.
Whether you choose to enroll or not, you can support student inquiry by taking the opportunity to download their free Investigating Evidence lessons which will guide you towards supporting scientific questions through citizen science. To accompany these lessons, they have also compiled an extensive list of resources including power points and videos.
Publish Student Work
In addition to the course materials and other online resources, their annual publication BirdSleuth Investigator provides students with an opportunity to share their research. You will find rich pieces of work done by students in grades K-12 throughout the country. Written by and for students, is also beautifully illustrated by youth.
The goal with BirdSleuth Investigator is to encourage students to pursue their scientific interests through inquiry and investigation by showing them that their hard work can get published. They accept bird-related submissions from all students. Submissions can take the form of artwork, poetry, or scientific reports; anything that a student has truly put effort into has the potential to get published.
To share your students’ projects with us, submit them here. Students certainly feel rewarded for their hard work when they find their work in a published journal! Read the submission guidelines for more details.