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Inquiry-Based Learning Approach in Science

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The world of science is one that is intriguing, complex, and often times, difficult to teach. Most traditional schools adopt a teacher-centered approach for this subject. However, in these modern times, many institutions have taken an inquiry-based learning approach on the matter. Please read on for MYP Science and DP Physics Teacher Catherine Zhou’s interesting perspective on this topic.

Teacher-centered approach (i.e. lecture presentation) is usually used in classrooms in China due to many reasons, such as large class size, content-driven examinations, fierce competition among Chinese students, and so forth. The inquiry-based learning (IBL) approach is therefore quite different from traditional lecture teaching. It provides students the chances to develop skills that are essential for their success in schools, careers, and future. IBL is a learner-centered and concept-driven approach. Teachers are facilitators who guide learners to explore bigger, conceptual ideas in the real world.

The IBL approach significantly enhances science learning by providing a science research atmosphere and developing students’ scientific skills. The 5E inquiry-based instructional model (Rodger Bybee et. al) is widely implemented in science classes all over the world. An example from Grade 10 science class in the school year 2016-2017 is used to talk about IBL and the 5E model. The 5E model consists of five stages (engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, and evaluation).

(1)  Engagement

The unit is “Powering the Planet.” Students are divided into four groups to rotate between four different workstations. There is a different generator at each workstation. Students make observations and formulate similarities observed from four different generators. They then come up with some questions such as:

-       Why is a magnet needed to produce electricity?

-       Why do I have to rotate something to produce electricity?

-       Why is voltage sometimes positive and negative if I rotate from another direction?

At this stage, students are fully engaged in doing the experiment with curiosity and ask many different inquiry-based questions.

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(2)  Exploration

Students explore inquiry-based questions by researching (online or reading textbooks) and designing simple labs to test their hypothesis. They explore from different perspectives. Some lab research questions include:

-       How does increasing the speed of the wheel rotating affect the amount of voltage created by the bicycle generator?

-       How does the diameter of a wire affect the current of LED light?

-       What is the effect of the voltage on the maximum magnetic force of an electromagnet?

-       What is the effect of the number of coils on the magnetic field strength?

-       How much distance does the moving rod move on the track with increasing voltage?

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(3)  Explanation

Based on the results of practical work and research in the exploration stage, students demonstrate their knowledge and explain their understanding of the concepts. They learn the concepts of magnets, magnetic field, magnetic force, magnetic flux, and more.

Moreover, students work in groups and brainstorm ideas to deepen their understanding by applying concepts to design a product. Some product ideas are:

-       How can we produce electricity while rotating the handle of a pencil sharpener?

-       How can we light up an LED while riding a skateboard?

-       How can we produce and collect electricity while having basketball practice?

-       How can we make a shoe generator charge a portable power bank?

-       How can we collect electricity from a sewage pipe?

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At this stage, students develop their creative thinking, communication, research, and collaboration skills. The teacher guides each group to finalize their product based on time limit and availability of materials. Interest is the best teacher. Students are given freedom to choose their own topic and show great motivation in their learning. Every student challenges himself/herself and learns new things based on their foundation. Some students who are weak in science may choose simple topics, while some students who are strong in science may choose more challenging topics.

(4)  Elaboration

This is the product making stage. Students need to find out the essential parts of their products and learn how each works. They face new difficulties and challenges. They do research online, consult experts, and try different ways to fix the problems through collaboration.

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(5)  Evaluation

This is an important reflection stage. Students are encouraged to evaluate their products and the learning process.

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The above is a simple example for IBL and differentiation in learning. In this learning process, there are many chances for students to develop essential life skills, such as problem-solving skills, communication skills, collaboration skills, thinking skills, and social skills. Simsek and Kabapinar (Şimşek and Kabapınar 1190-1194) did a study on the effects of IBL on students. A positive impact was found on students’ conceptual understanding and scientific process skills.

No matter the subject in science, all disciplines follow the same scientific path. The scientific method starts with defining a research question, followed by formulating a testable hypothesis. Then an experiment is designed to test the hypothesis, and data is then collected and analyzed. A conclusion is made afterwards based on the analysis. However, this is not the final stage of the scientific method. Some improvements or extensions of the design can be suggested after evaluating an experiment, which reflects back to the first stage in the scientific method. Therefore, the scientific method is a cycle which promotes wider and deeper research. (Shuttleworth) IBL has similar essential elements as the scientific method. IBL consists of asking questions, collecting facts and information, as well as finding answers to acquire new knowledge and understanding. IBL provides a conducive research atmosphere and process. Therefore, IBL is an effective learning approach in science for students to practice and deepen their understanding of the scientific method.

Established scientific theories are supported by accumulated facts and evidence. However, they can be modified with new evidence or facts. Therefore, scientific knowledge is not permanent and evolves with time. ("Myths of the Nature of Science — Science Learning Hub") Scientists are not 100% sure about the accuracy of underlining principles. This is the nature of science. Traditional lecture teaching simply presents established facts and students are expected to listen and memorize. Students tend to learn from what teachers tell them and believe everything told is correct. However, due to the nature of science, the theories or information memorized by students could be inaccurate or modified in the near future with new evidence. What students need to learn instead are the skills involved and proper ways of thinking. IBL provides a research process for students to develop these skills that can lead them to understand how these theories are formulated, as well as how they can turn these into useful knowledge. Furthermore, students are challenged to think critically, which may lead to smarter minds and the development of present scientific theories. In terms of nature of science, IBL is certainly a necessary learning approach in science.

Works Cited

"Myths of the Nature of Science — Science Learning Hub." Science Learning Hub, www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/415-myths-of-the-nature-of-science. Accessed 12 Aug. 2017.

Shuttleworth, Martyn. "Steps of the Scientific Method - The Stages of Scientific Research." Explorable - Think Outside The Box - Research, Experiments, Psychology, Self-Help, explorable.com/steps-of-the-scientific-method. Accessed 12 Aug. 2017.

Şimşek, Pınar, and Filiz Kabapınar. "The effects of inquiry-based learning on elementary students’ conceptual understanding of matter, scientific process skills and science attitudes." Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 2, no. 2, 2010, pp. 1190-1194.

Bybee R. W. et. al. (2006). The BSCS 5E Instructional Model: Origins and Effectiveness. Colorado Springs. BSCS.


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