Book study! Starting with Science: Chapter 2, Strategies for Teaching in an Inquiry-Focused Environment

Book Study Starting with Science I am so excited about inquiry-based teaching these days! Eventually I'd like to learn how to incorporate it in all subjects, but for now I am starting with science. For the next 7 weeks, I’ll be posting a summary and relevant resources from each chapter of the book Starting with Science: Strategies for Introducing Young Children to Inquiry by Marcia Talhelm Edson. I’ll also add a few of my thoughts in there as well!

Chapter 2: Strategies for Teaching in an Inquiry-Focused Environment

This chapter was filled with easy, practical advice for what teachers can do to make their classrooms more open to inquiry-based learning. They talked a lot about the types of questions we ask as teachers, the importance of modeling inquiry and curiosity, and how to organize a classroom that "keeps inquiry alive" (p. 19). I was excited to see that I already incorporate some of these practices into my teaching, but there are a lot more I can work on.

For example, they explained that good inquiry teachers don't automatically interrupt children when they are playing and learning to ask questions or prompt for answers. Experienced teachers back off, take time to listen, and wait for when the time is right to ask a guiding or probing question. Often times if we interrupt children as they solve problems or investigate something new, we will halt their curiosity and teach them to wait for us to give them the answer. Instead of jumping in to provide information, we should wait to ask questions.

The types of questions we ask are also important. I've heard this lots of times in teacher trainings - ask open ended questions that encourage children's thinking, rather than direct questions with finite answers. But they provided a really good list of questions to "enhance exploration and take children deeper in their investigation." I decided I wanted to print out this list and post it by my desk, to remind myself of what questions will help encourage inquiry in my classroom. And since I was making it for myself, I decided to share! Click on the link below to download a copy.

The author also really emphasizes the importance of teacher modeling in an inquiry classroom. Teachers should model enthusiasm and curiosity about the natural world whenever possible! Kids pick up on this enthusiasm, and begin to mimic the way you ask questions and show interest in learning new information. This is definitely true of kindergartners, who often copy exact phrases that I use, such as "I was wondering..." and "I'm so interested in..."

The last part of the chapter focused on making an inquiry-based classroom environment. They discouraged the use of a "science table," and instead recommended that natural items be scattered throughout the classroom. Magnifying glasses here, a pet fish there, a fossil collection over there. They also recommended a touching table, with items frequently changed out so they don't become like wallpaper (so stagnant that the kids stop noticing it). I use a Wonder Table, and allow the kids to bring in any items that make them wonder something. Since they are always bringing in items, I have lots of options to change what is displayed on the table.

Two other very cool ideas that I walked away with:

  • Have science themes in your dramatic play area, such as an entomologist laboratory for an insect unit, or a vet clinic. Such an easy way to encourage kids to be scientists!
  • Make a backpack for the playground filled with investigation materials, such as magnifying glasses, a bug box, field guides, and clipboards. I am definitely going to do this once the weather warms up!

After reading this chapter, I am definitely going to rethink the way I ask questions, how I model curiosity and wonder, and how my classroom promotes interest in the natural world!