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Learning Science Through Inquiry

Graduate Credit
Teacher-Talk
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Video on Demand and Transcript Excerpts


Workshop 1. What Is Inquiry and Why Do It?

Workshop 2. Setting the Stage: Creating a Learning Community

Workshop 3. The Process Begins: Launching the Inquiry Exploration

Workshop 4. Focus the Inquiry: Designing the Exploration

Workshop 5. The Inquiry Continues: Collecting Data and Drawing Upon Resources

Workshop 6. Bring It All Together: Processing for Meaning During Inquiry

Workshop 7. Assessing Inquiry

Workshop 8. Connecting Other Subjects to Inquiry

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Transcript Excerpts

Workshop 1 | Workshop 2 | Workshop 3 | Workshop 4 | Workshop 5

Workshop 6 | Workshop 7 | Workshop 8


WORKSHOP 1: WHAT IS INQUIRY AND WHY DO IT?

HUBERT DYASI: "One of the things that's happened in the national science education standards, which is very good, is that they finally reveal the broad scope of science — and it is not just subject matter — and inquiry is part of the content. And I think that's a fundamentally important aspect. There's also something that the standards talk about when they’re talking about science inquiry — the national science education standards refer to scientific literacy: that at least, even those people who are not going to be scientists should be aware of the nature of scientific knowledge and how it is developed, and to be aware that there is a role for evidence, and that there is a role for questions and for framing questions in a certain way and once again, it doesn't happen if we are just presenting science to students as factual material."

KAREN WORTH: "There is, I hope, a growing sense that's what's important for children is not just to learn the outcomes of math, or the outcomes of products of science, but to learn the process by which that knowledge is acquired and to be part of and participate so that they become, in some ways, science learners. Even if they never become scientists, their world is still a world to be explored with the strategies of scientific inquiry. So it's really understanding the origins and where that knowledge comes from that is profoundly important for the process, for children to learn, especially nowadays when so much of what they see on TV, read in the newspapers as they grow older, comes with this statement of ‘this is true.’ They need to learn to ask ‘how do we know if it's true’ and ‘is it true’ and ‘should we look at it another different way.’ ‘Where is the evidence,’ as Hubert says. Without that the factual knowledge is not very useful."

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WORKSHOP 2: SETTING THE STAGE: CREATING A LEARNING COMMUNITY

TIM O’KEEFE: "I think traditionally classrooms are viewed where the teacher is sort of the focus of everything. And I think the essence of community is that the students and the learners are the focus of the classroom, not necessarily just the teacher. So say, the talk of the classroom, if you were to measure the talk, the teacher wouldn't be doing the vast majority of the talking, but there's going to be a lot of communal talk."

LISA NYBERG: "When you have large classes, you have to have some way to have the students have a part, to be able to engage. We talk about engaging students, but one way to do that is to group the students in smaller learning communities or smaller support groups and give the students different roles so that they are not just in a group. ‘I have a job, there's a specific job that I'm supposed to do. I might be the leader this time, I might be the reporter, the facilitator, I might be the art director, so I'm in charge of the art work. I might be in charge of whatever. But I have a job.’ And it's important to shift that to different jobs at different times, because some kids will be the natural leaders that want ‘I want to be in charge here’ — and they wanted to do that every time. But it's important that they learn all of the roles, but you have to teach all of the roles."

TIM O’KEEFE: "Certain students just seem to capitalize all the time with the group and they are always the ones with their hands up where they are just shouting out answers. When you are trying to have a discussion, there will be two or three or four kids that kind of capitalize. A real concrete thing which really made a difference in my classroom was that instead of my calling on students, the person who was called on last gets to call on the next person, and maybe you've heard this, it's called Fist and Fingers, or Fist First. And so when the kids want to be called on they'll put up a fist, and if they've been called on once, the next time they put their hand up they have to put up a finger, and the person who has been called on has to call another person in the group with the lowest number of fingers up. So kids measure what they are going to say, they are not just going to blurt out something because they realize that they are just saying ‘I agree with that, or something like that,’ and it's not as valuable a comment — that they are measuring what they are going to say, because they realize, ‘I'm not going to be called until everyone else has a chance to be called on.’ And that has made a tremendous difference for me — and then I can sit back then and just be a regular participant in the group. I wouldn't use this for every interaction or every conversation, but I use it a good bit of the time."

MARIAN PASQUALE: "Another strategy that I haven't tried, but I know about is a student who tends to take over and wants to say more than everybody else. If you ask that student to listen carefully and to say something interesting about what someone else has said, it puts them in that listening role, instead of that speaking role, ‘I want you to really listen to Tim and tell me something interesting or new that you've heard.’ So it kind of reverses the role.

CHRIS COLLIER: "It's really important to establish an environment with students in which they feel respected, it's a trusting environment, it's safe to say things without anybody laughing at them or not accepting their answers. And I model that from the very first day with kids, that everything we say is accepted is and everything we say is worth listening to."

Judith Johnson: "And they all do that right from the beginning, I'll bet."

Chris Collier : "They don't at the very beginning, but you go on and you say, ‘no no, let's listen to what Kyle is saying or Tom's saying, they are making a good point,’ and you show that you value what everyone has to say in the classroom and they begin to value what each other has to say. At times we process how a conversation went, sometimes in their small groups when they are talking with each other, I’ll listen in and then process with them afterwards, and then we talk about how the conversation went as a whole group. ‘Did we feel respected? Were all ideas accepted?’ And that keeps us going in the right direction."

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WORKSHOP 3: THE PROCESS BEGINS: LAUNCHING THE INQUIRY EXPLORATION

LISA NYBERG: "Each class that comes into your room — each group of kids has a different kind of background knowledge. Sometimes we assume, ‘I've been teaching for 10 years or 15 years,’ and we think well, ‘I've done this before,’ but it's new every year. So it's really important to assess prior knowledge so that you know what the kids have as tools when you begin, so you don't repeat information and so that you don't jump way ahead to areas where they are not prepared."

KAREN WORTH: "The other thing is, from the children's point of view, when you launch an activity the way you did with the KWL or other ways of doing it, it's a chance for the children to get in touch with what they know, because they don't always know what they know. They don't always make the connections and this conversation lets the kids also both realize and come in touch with the things that they already know about sound that they might not if they were just starting, bam! into a book or an investigation. They have a lot of experience that they need to be in touch with and you can see that with some of your kids in your classrooms, the way they reached into their own experiences and brought them to bear on what the discussion was about."

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WORKSHOP 4: FOCUS THE INQUIRY: DESIGNING THE EXPLORATION

HUBERT DYASI: "But the additional reason for students to answer their own questions, and this is an advantage, is that it does convey what we're talking about when we talk about inquiry. Inquiry is not just asking questions, it's also developing ways of seeking answers to those questions and pursuing those ways of seeking answers until we get to somewhere, some tangible important information and understanding. It's my own question, it's my own plans, and it's my own understanding that’s developing. Then only after that, then you could say, I wonder what other people found out, if they did ask this question. If they didn't ask this question I wonder what questions they asked and how they went about to find out answers to those questions."

KAREN WORTH: "Certainly it's important for kids to design their own investigations or to have role in that development, because if we want them to understand the nature of scientific inquiry, if we want them to understand what it means to find answers and to search for it and to develop conclusions, they need to have done it, they need to be engaged themselves. They do not need the teacher to give them a cookbook recipe for how to conduct an experiment, they need to understand what's important to look for, what criteria we're going to consider to be most important for finding out the answer, they are going to need to struggle with how to record data, how to analyze data, they need to just get right into that whole process and work it through."

LUCIA GUARINO: And if you want to have students learn content — it’s amazing the content you have to struggle with when you are trying to figure out how to make something work or how to get the results. They learn a tremendous amount of content through it.

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WORKSHOP 5: THE INQUIRY CONTINUES: COLLECTING DATA AND DRAWING UPON RESOURCES

CHRIS COLLIER: "I like to show kids samples of data that's collected by scientists and how scientists in the real world record data. I like to give them graphic organizers, or other means of organizing their work, because sometimes we are just taking anecdotal notes and we're writing it down, sometimes we're drawing pictures, but it helps to have even some organization to that, our sketch journal, or some way to keep track of it. My students often suggest ways, ‘you know when I was recording this, it would have been better if I'd had another column over here and then I wouldn't have had to look at this other place where I could have compared these two sets of data in an easier way.’ And so then it helps them to make sense, and that's the whole point, we have to make sense out of what we collected, we have to make connections between what we're learning and what we're seeing in our data and if it's not organized, if it doesn't have some kind of sense and structure to it, it's not going to help us in the end."

TIM O’KEEFE "An important role for the teacher might be then, when you see a child who has done something that's a little bit extraordinary, you might say, ‘boys and girls let's stop, why don't you share with the whole class what you've done there because we all can, perhaps, learn from what you have done.’ And another thing is for the teacher to engage in the same kinds of things and the teacher should be doing some experiments along with the kids and demonstrating the kinds of things that would be appropriate ways to deal with this kind of data."

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WORKSHOP 6: BRING IT ALL TOGETHER: PROCESSING FOR MEANING DURING INQUIRY

CHRIS COLLIER: "You really need to look at what they've collected and you have to have some serious conversation about that. You have to set some parameters up in your classroom so the kids are talking about what they've collected and then you have to have some whole group discussion, I have to have some whole group discussion with my students about, ‘what does this mean? What did we find out and what in the world does it mean in the realm of our whole investigation’ — and that causes some long conversations."

HUBERT DYASI "There's a value in having groups of students, the working group, visit other groups and share their findings and their data and what they are doing — because then, in this processing for meaning, I think the teacher wants it to be a common occurrence that some students might even say, ‘now wait a minute, when we visit at such and such a table, so and so and so and so, that group, was doing some very interesting things which were different from what we're doing — or were similar to what we're doing.’ And I think the teacher then says, ‘maybe that's a group that has not said anything — and then says ‘well, can we have that group say what they did?’"

MARIAN PASQUALE: "I think too, this is where questioning strategies by the teacher are critical, because it's not getting kids just to share their ideas and wonderings, as you were saying, Virginia — questioning has to be different here. We're trying to get kids to think about the data they've collected, what they've observed, connections, and to bring it another step closer to hopefully the learning goals that we've set at the beginning of the unit."

JUDITH JOHNSON: "I think that what you said is so important. Again, we've said it several times. But the teacher having a real goal in mind — ‘what is it I want my students to know and be able to do and how are we going to get there? And what key questions do I need to ask to bring their thinking into more of a focus on that particular learning goal.’"

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WORKSHOP 7: ASSESSING INQUIRY

TIM O’KEEFE: "I think it's important to get many different looks at the kids. In other words, look at the children through as many different kind of lenses as you can. So you want to look at papers that they give you, you want to look at charts that they've chosen to put in their portfolios. You want to look at your own impressions, your own very subjective impressions of how they are doing, how they are working together in a group, because all of those things go together to inform us as to how the kids are really working as scientists."

TIM O’KEEFE: "But I think there are many stakeholders in this whole business and just as it's important to have many different kinds of data to look at, it's important to have a lot of different people's input. So self-evaluation is an important part of that, ‘how do you think you did on this. Let's come up with a form together so that you can fill it out to tell us how you did on that.’ Also peer evaluation. I think there are some nice opportunities these days to have parents involved in the evaluation too."

VIRGINIA LOCKWOOD: "I think keeping assessment public, keeping my notes — obviously, certain things — if I'm reflecting on things that are not appropriate to share with them, then I will jot them down separately. But I call my notebook a ‘spy’ notebook, but I really make it public and I share it with them and I think that if we're not making it public, it's not actually going to be a tool that helps them. There's an accountability with this record keeping and I think that they then own it and they are more comfortable with the sharing of their process."

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WORKSHOP 8: CONNECTING OTHER SUBJECTS TO INQUIRY

TIM O’KEEFE: "I don't think there really is science without writing, and art, and mathematics. Science doesn't happen all by itself without sharing it with someone. In order to record data about science, you need to have mathematics, you need to sketch what you see and so forth, so science doesn't happen in isolation, so to me, it's just totally natural to draw everything else into it."

LISA NYBERG: "It's interwoven and it gives an opportunity for purposeful learning, but it's very important to remember that the kids maybe don't know how to take notes. The kids don't know how to make a graph. The kids don't know how to draw conclusions without us working with them on those skills. And so when we ask them to do them in a science situation it's important that they have those skills and we've been thoughtful in that presentation. And in addition to the integrity, the individual subject areas, it's also important that the connections are natural, that the are not forced connections, that if we're studying worms or if we're studying decomposition or sound or sharks, that we're thoughtful in, it's not just that we're going to read about it, write about it, do math about it, that it's a natural connection so that the tools are purposeful, it's not forced, it doesn't seem artificial."

HUBERT DYASI: "I think it's important to remember that in the National Science Education Standards and generally in science circles, inquiry is part of science content. And if we overlook that fact, then we will be denying our students a very significant aspect of science content. It is a way that has been developed and defined by scientists, professional scientists to advance knowledge, to gather new knowledge and to reflect upon the knowledge that we have and I think it's such a crucial part that if we omit it, in fact we might be talking about something that resembles science, but it's not quite science."

KAREN WORTH : "As teachers, we do have a direction we're interested in students going. We do have goals, learning goals and objectives that we're thinking about as we encourage children to follow their own pathways and to investigate their own questions. I think we're also responsible not just for those goals in the direction, but for the kinds of challenges we give children. I'm absolutely convinced that the most powerful thing for children that comes out of inquiry well done with integrity is a sense of their own power as inquirers and investigators. And that doesn't happen when we make it easy, when we give them answers, when we cut their investigations short. It comes from really, really struggling with something and coming up with an idea of what that is and coming to a new understanding or a new question, whichever it may be, and really being able to grapple with others about it."

HUBERT DYASI. A teacher was teaching about astronomy and stars and planets and the teacher asked the question, ‘okay children, we’ve been learning about heavenly bodies and so on, tell me about the nine interesting things that we learned about in the sky.’ And one of the kids whispers to another one and says, ‘I thought there were a million wonderful things out there, why nine?’"

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