A pathway to inquiry-based teaching

Delivering a quality science education is key. It can contribute to ensuring that pupils elect to study science when reaching university. Unfortunately, science is often thought of as being somewhat ‘not exciting’, if not downright ruled out for being ‘too difficult.’ Yet, this image is partly due to the way science is taught in schools. Consequently, a renewed educational trend recommends teaching science by inquiry to stimulate pupils’ interest. Although this approach has gained increasing popularity, there is an ongoing debate regarding its effectiveness.

Now, a three-year European project called PATHWAY offers a path towards a standard-based approach to teaching science by inquiry. The vision behind is to offer a way to transfer the science message in its originally exciting manner, so to say, by following the enquiry roots of scientists, through selected examples. Therefore, rather than being told about science and asked to purely remember facts students are guided how to think scientifically, how to dig the secrets of science and how to uncover their secrets.

The project focuses on the quality improvement of science teaching. It aims at showing methods to reduce potential constrains in day-to-day science teaching.It proposes instructional models to specifically support a standard-based approach to teaching science by inquiry. It also sets clear and high expectations for the performance of the pupils. Ultimately, it aims to deliver a set of guidelines for the educational community to further exploit the unique benefits of the proposed approach.

Typical questions are: What content do I wish students to learn? Which teaching techniques provide the best opportunities to accomplish that? What assessment strategies most align with the students’ opportunities to learn and provide the best evidence of the degree to which they have done so?

This approach also deploys methods and exemplary cases of both effective introduction of inquiry to science classrooms to motivate teachers to adopt inquiry-based techniques and activities in their classrooms, as part of their professional development.

In addition, the project closely collaborated with teacher communities to establish a set of support services. An effective training is seen as essential starting point for equipping teachers with the competences they need to successfully change pupils’ views.

In parallel, the project it offers access to a unique collection of open educational resources that have proven their efficiency in promoting inquiry-based education and that are expanding the limitations of classroom instruction.

For example, out of about 50 selected best practice examples within the project, one approach labelled Natural Europe is digitally linking museums and school classrooms. Natural history and environmental education inadequacy in formal and informal contexts is becoming an increasingly challenging issue. Therefore, harvesting the potential of digital libraries in natural history museums appears as a very attractive option.

An impressive abundance of high quality digital content available in Natural History Museums across Europe still remains largely unexploited due to a number of barriers. These include the lack of interconnection and interoperability between the storage systems of Natural History Museums, the lack of centralised access as well as the inefficiency of current content organisation and the metadata used.

Time will tell whether the number of science students will increase once they have been introduced to the spirit of scientists’ thoughts. Ultimately, the sustainability of the Europe is at stakes.

Franz X. Bogner, University of Bayreuth, Chair of the Centre of Math & Science Education (Z-MNU), Germany.

Sofoklis Sotirou, Head of R&D Department of Ellinogermaniki Agogi, Athens,Greece.

Featured image credit: Milena, Giaga and Matteo, laureates of a photo contest organised by the Italian National Museum for Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci (Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci), in November 2012 in collaboration with the Pathway project

Go back to the Special Issue: The future of science education

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One thought on “A pathway to inquiry-based teaching”

  1. Misconception 4: All science should be taught through inquiry-based instruction. Inquiry-based instruction is a tool used by teachers to help them attain educational goals for their students. Despite its usefulness, inquiry is not the most appropriate tool for every instructional situation. Teaching science, as well as the practice of science, requires varied approaches. Using any single method exclusively is less effective than using a combination of methods. Ultimately, using a single method becomes boring for the student. Inquiry-based instruction is perhaps most appropriate when teaching concepts that do not conform to common student preconceptions or that require students to analyze discrepant information. Students tend to need more time to construct their understandings of abstract concepts than they need for more concrete information.