NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Goddard Space Flight Center

Space Weather Action Center

Space Weather Action Center

Methods and Techniques: Inquiry

The National Science Education Standards define scientific inquiry as "the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work...also ...the activities through which students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world" (quoted in National Science Teachers Association, 2004).

Space Weather Action Centers provides for students an opportunity to do inquiry-based science, a crucial element in science learning that are directly connected to standards and help students achieve understanding by expressing their natural curiosity about the connection between the Sun and Earth. Most importantly however is that it works.

The National Science Education Standards (NSES) stress the importance of using inquiry-based teaching and learning by suggesting that inquiry is the central strategy and approach for teaching and learning science.

"Students ... should be provided opportunities to engage in full and in partial inquiries. In a full inquiry students begin with a question, design an investigation, gather evidence, formulate an answer to the original question, and communicate the investigative process and results. In partial inquiries, they develop abilities and understanding of selected aspects of the inquiry process. Students might, for instance, describe how they would design an investigation, develop explanations based on scientific information and evidence provided through a classroom activity, or recognize and analyze several alternative explanations for a natural phenomenon presented in a teacher-led demonstration." (NSES, p143)

An Inquiry Learning Environment

In this environment the students are the essential workers in the educational process. They construct, discover, and develop central concepts. They create and solve problems. They read, write, talk, think, pose questions, and solve problems. They observe and manipulate aspects of their environment, and in the manipulation, confront problems about which they think, talk, write, and read. They take risks. Students exhibit the ability to learn how to learn. Students exhibit understanding of the central concepts and competence with the essential skills in a problem-solving environment. Students exhibit competence in individual and group problem solving. Students exhibit a willingness to accept different kinds of solutions to the same problem. They exhibit a willingness to work with other students outside of class.

Within this changing emphasis the teacher is committed to presenting learning experiences, not necessarily information, and to using open-ended questions whenever appropriate. Teachers guide the experience. Teachers often define the problem field, and sometimes define the central question - although in full Inquiry, the student defines the central question. This does not mean that teachers do not ever give information. The criterion, it seems, must be, "Is this information closing down investigation or enabling and enhancing investigation; is it giving the answer or providing the framework in which questions can be asked, problems posed and investigation begun?" Teachers respect the student's ability to solve problems. Whenever teachers give an answer, we run the risk of communicating that we believe the student is incapable of solving the problem. Teachers praise careful thought and process publicly and often, recognizing the risks taken. Teachers encourage different problem-solving techniques and the involvement of as many different learning modes as a student needs. Teachers also encourage students to develop problem-solving techniques that are weaker than their preferred style. For example we encourage intuitive problem-solvers to marry analysis to their intuition, and we encourage analytical problem-solvers to use intuition.