As an outgrowth of Constructivist Learning and Social Learning Theory, Dewey’s Inquiry Based Learning in the form of Guided Inquiry becomes the backbone of Phenomenal Science units. Each instructional Cycle follows a modified “Five E Approach” as proposed by Bybee. This model helps us ensure that investigations happen prior to asking students to develop concepts and that student concepts have begun forming before we introduce vocabulary or expert voice.
As has been noted in How People Learn, “ Simply telling students what scientists have discovered, for example, is not sufficient to support change in their existing preconceptions about important scientific phenomena.2 Similarly, simply asking students to follow the steps of “the scientific method” is not sufficient to help them develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will enable them to understand what it means to “do science” and participate in a larger scientific community. And the general absence of metacognitive instruction in most of the science curricula we experienced meant that we were not helped in learning how to learn, or made capable of inquiry on our own and in groups. Often, moreover, we were not supported in adopting as our own the questioning stance and search for both supporting and conflicting evidence that are the hallmarks of the scientific enterprise.” (How People Learn, page 398)
The key factor being that students should EXPERIENCE a phenomenon or concept before they try to describe it or read about it. So in each iteration within the instructional cycle in PS units we strive to ensure students have as real and concrete an experience as possible. This is followed most naturally by student talk as a way to make meaning of the experience (perhaps whole-class, partners, or collaborative groups or some mix). The next step to build upon the experience and layer in meaning would be drawing followed by writing and reading. Whether reading or writing most naturally follows drawing is dependent on the level of text or writing task. Of course, once the concrete experience occurs, often times the next steps happen simultaneously or at least with student talk layered throughout the process. This is the sort of “Gradual Release of Responsibility” that works most naturally in developing student explanations of phenomena. As one can see the Guided Inquiry Model allows students to build from more concrete experiences to abstract experiences.
Within each iteration throughout the instructional cycle, students get closer in their own explanation, model, or argument about the phenomenon to a “scientific” one. The following shows a description of the types of activities that occur in each of the phases of the Five E Inquiry Model followed in Phenomenal Science units.
For an even deeper dive into understanding inquiry-based teaching visit Concept to Classroom’s Inquiry Based Learning Workshop. For a synopsis of the research supporting the use of Inquiry-Based instruction, visit Inspired Issue Brief: Inquiry Based Teaching and Teach Thought’s 10 Benefits of Using Inquiry-Based Teaching.
Another key aspect of the Guided Inquiry model followed in PS units, is the challenge of following this model at the same time as encouraging students own questions and ideas. Through the discourse, drawing, and students questions, the artful teacher will fine tune the craft of using what students bring to the experience as the springboard for the next experience, discourse, reading or writing. One guide for encouraging this sort of interaction between teacher and curriculum goals and student-driven ideas can be found in the suggestions given in Playful Inquiry for Elementary Students. For some more ideas, check out TeachThought’s 60 Ways to Help Students Think for Themselves.
Further, as students and teachers move through each instructional cycle from beginning to end, they become more adept at managing the skills of inquiry and the Science and Engineering Practices. Another layer of gradual release of responsibility occurs in this way as well. This article from Edutopia is an excellent resource for helping students take charge of the inquiry process: Inquiry-based Learning from Teacher-Guided to Student-Driven. This same article also shows how helpful Classroom Question Boards and Exploration Stations can be as does the article: Inquiry-Based Learning: Developing Student-Driven Questions. Hopefully, these resources put Phenomenal Science teachers and students well on the way to learning together through inquiry.