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 last several weeks, I’ve been 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. This is the last chapter (well, technically it's the second-to-last, but the last chapter is basically just a few pages that summarizes the book), and I would highly recommend the book to a preK-2 teacher who is looking to start dabbling in inquiry-based science! I had no idea where to start, and this gave me some great ideas.
This chapter was an easy read, basically just a conversation between teachers who teach inquiry-based science in preK-2nd grade. The whole chapter is worth a read, but here are a few highlights:
- Research the topic you're going to do an inquiry unit on. This seems like a no-brainer, but even in kindergarten I have found myself in over my head on a subject that we are studying. Chickens for FOSS science?? I knew absolutely nothing about chicks or eggs when I first started.
- Don't let your knowledge (or lack thereof) stop you! Even if you don't know much about the subject, you can research and learn right along with your kids. It's the perfect way to model the inquiry process.
- One idea is to have a science workstation or center in the classroom. The kids can rotate through it each week, and get a chance to study their subject, or do other planned science activities. Then report back on what they learned in an end-of-the-week science meeting.
- Almost no topic is too small to do an inquiry unit on! If your kids are fascinated by blocks, do an inquiry unit on blocks (what can be built, what they're made out of, where they came from). If they are really interested in maps, see what you can learn about maps!
- Teachers have to make time to answer questions that come up during the inquiry process. I love having science discussions about what kids are curious about, and I even have a wonder wall where they can post questions they are wondering. But I often don't make time for kids to share answers that they have discovered with the whole group. I am really good at introductory science inquiries, but don't make time to get beyond the basic facts.
- Facts and answers are less important in inquiry-based science than the problem-solving skills kids learn from inquiry investigations.
The last point was interesting, and it's one of the reasons I'm most excited about learning this teaching practice: teaching inquiry-based science "keeps every year fresh and exciting. As a teacher, you have to remain open to what the children are interested in and to learning about something you don't know much about" (Edson, p. 104).
Constant learning, even while at work? That's a type-A, forever-in-school-because-I'm-a-teacher's dream come true!