Embracing Inquiry-Based Instruction
Following recent education changes, it is vital to change the way students are taught in order to provide them with the skills they will need to be competitive in a global society. A successful method to meeting the goals and processes of the Next Generation Science Standards, inquiry-based instruction, is one such transition that has been proven to be effective (NGSS).
Inquiry-based instruction is a student-centered approach in which the instructor helps the students through the process of posing questions, developing methodologies, and interpreting results. Students actively discover facts to assist their investigations as a result of their inquiries.
Saddle Brook High School in New Jersey, where I teach biology, collaborated with colleagues to establish a guided inquiry programme. Students were introduced to a case study in which DNA sequences and related amino acid sequences were assigned to each student, rather of listening to a lecture on protein creation. Initially, they were tasked with evaluating the supplied sequences in order to identify patterns that existed between them. They were invited to develop predictions about how proteins are generated and to formulate questions to assist illustrate the connection between the two concepts. A sequence of exploratory activities, research, and peer review were then used to discover the link between DNA and proteins, with the results being presented to them.
When I looked back on our implementation of the new curriculum, I realised that I had underestimated how tough it would be to let go of more than two decades of my thinking that had been ingrained in traditional teaching. That was a source of aggravation for me.
In addition, I discovered that my students had little or no previous experience with the framework of an inquiry-based course. It was as a result that they became frustrated and resistant very soon.
My students and I were not alone in our dissatisfaction; research has shown that it is widespread among the science education community as well as among students in general. However, simply knowing that began to alleviate some of my concerns.
When it comes to properly implementing inquiry-based instruction, I believe that there are three traditional education principles that must be abandoned and three ideas that should be adopted.
EMBRACING THE FREEDOM
If you’ve ever been in a class that spiralled out of hand, you understand what a horrible sensation it is. As a teacher, I felt the desire to exert control over student behaviour, how pupils arrived at an answer, and a variety of other aspects of their learning. It was necessary for me to lose control of the classroom in order to implement this new method to teaching.
When it comes to inquiry-based learning, I was concerned about whether or not they would arrive at the correct answer. However, most questions can have a variety of answers. As a result, I needed to let go of some of my rigidity and embrace the flexibility that comes with pupils accepting responsibility for their own knowledge formation.
When I eventually did, I saw that my students were still held accountable for their education since they were expected to present evidence for the completion of the case study, regardless of whatever solution they chose to utilise. This was a sobering realisation for me. Due to this change in schedule, I had more time to differentiate and meet their particular needs. My ability to check in with students who were having difficulty progressing through the inquiry and give thought-provoking questions to challenge the comprehension of more advanced students was much enhanced.
EMBRACING THE PROCESSES
There was a voice in my head that kept pressuring me to cover the subject matter. Did my students grasp the concept of standard x? Tradition direct instruction was employed in the past because it was how I was taught and because it was efficient, not because it was the most effective method of instruction.
However, it is inherent in the nature of research that processes, rather than content, must be the primary focus. Remembering that answers were only a part of our learning aim, I reminded myself and the students that we also needed to adopt processes that reflected scientific practise. If students gain a better understanding of the inquiry process, material will naturally emerge as a result of their efforts.
Some of our concerns were alleviated as a result of this realisation. “Can my students make a claim and support it with evidence?” is an example of a question. Queries about content coverage have been replaced with questions such as “can they evaluate data to seek for patterns?” and “can they analyse data to look for patterns?”
EMBRACING DISCOMFORT AND STRUGGLE
I’m still not sure in my ability to implement inquiry-based learning in my classroom, which makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. My former pedagogy, which was more traditional, gave me confidence in knowing our results and the direction in which our investigations would take us before we began our studies. I exaggerated the complexity of science in order to avoid the discomfort of not knowing. As a result, I now believe that I did a disservice to my pupils and gave a false image of scientific procedures.
I also needed to be mindful that high-achieving students who are comfortable in traditional educational institutions may have increased anxiety when learning through inquiry-based instruction for the first time. I stressed the significance of being willing to be uncomfortable and to struggle with one’s feelings when dealing with them.
It was when I completely accepted this and refused the desire to alleviate their dissatisfaction by giving them the one “correct” response that I witnessed what I feel is at the heart of the Next Generation Science Standards: Students were able to gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter by grappling with messy, open-ended questions.