Inquiry Strategies
for the Journey North Teacher

Creating a Climate for Inquiry

In an inquiry-oriented classroom, the teacher is a co-explorer and guide who cultivates curiosity and challenges students to think and act like scientists as they explore intriguing questions. It is a place where diverse ideas are valued and students feel safe taking risks to "think out loud" as they share, debate, and justify emerging ideas. Students have time and opportunities to explore, experiment, test and refine ideas as they collaboratively build understanding. But it takes time, practice, and sometimes, a shift in teaching strategies, to create a classroom where inquiry can flourish.

Consider the following strategies.

Shifting Control: Students as Decision Makers

When students are able to influence the direction of their learning and their opinions and ideas are valued, motivation, reasoning skills, and confidence flourish. Some activities in Journey North prescribe questions, procedures, and data for students to interpret; others challenge students to ask their own questions and design investigations to try to answer them. This reflects the continuum of classroom-based inquiry. Most Journey North classroom science explorations fall somewhere in between.

By gradually shifting to a more student-directed approach, you can develop comfort transferring decision making to students and they can see the inquiry process modeled and build their skills. Here are some examples of how this might work through the year in a Journey North classroom:

  • Give students increasing responsibility for deciding how to approach challenge questions.
  • Give students increasing responsibility for deciding how to gather, organize, and make sense make sense of migration data.
  • After students follow the set protocol for the tulip study, invite small groups to design and conduct their own tulip experiments.
  • As students grapple with ideas and data, routinely ask yourself, Is it more productive at this point to let students struggle with this piece of the puzzle or to introduce a new piece of information (e.g., a scientist's explanation) or change the direction of the discussion?

Creating a Culture of Collaboration

Mirror what scientists do by nurturing a classroom of co-explorers and learners (yourself included) who, in the search for understanding, pursue questions, wrestle with data, respect diverse ideas, and exchange theories. Here are some tips for cultivating collaborators.

  • When practical, have students work in small groups to gather, track, and make sense of migration data or to investigate questions and hypotheses.
  • Involve cooperative groups in setting goals and expectations for their collaborative process and outcomes.
  • Create opportunities for groups to routinely share, review, question, and comment on one another's data, explanations, or investigation designs. Require all group members to participate.
  • Acknowledge that you don't know all the answers, When you do so, you empower students to work together to tackle challenges.

Modeling The Spirit of Science Inquiry

Help students grasp what makes scientists tick by modeling the spirit of curiosity, questioning, self-reflection, flexibility, openness to new ideas and theories, and respect for evidence, that characterize science inquiry. Recognize and offer praise when you notice students exhibiting these scientific values.

Asking Open-Ended Questions

To ignite discussions, show respect for students' thinking, and support active reasoning, try to ask questions that encourage observation and reflection and that help them explore, explain, support, and evaluate ideas. Minimize factual questions that have just one right answer or those that require yes or no response. When you accept students' responses as valid, and probe for clarification, elaboration, and evidence, you send the message that it's okay to take risks and that "rough-draft" thinking is vital to the science process. See Open-Ended Questions That Inspire Scientific Thinking.

Factoring in Flexibility

Like scientists, kids need time to try ideas, make mistakes, and ponder and discuss data. When practical, try to leave "wiggle room" and be willing to diverge from your plans and schedule to enable students to pursue intriguing questions when they are tracking migrations or exploring local phenomena.