Using Science Trade Books to Support Inquiry in the Elementary Classroom

By Morrison, Judith A.; Young, Terrell A. | Childhood Education, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Using Science Trade Books to Support Inquiry in the Elementary Classroom


Morrison, Judith A., Young, Terrell A., Childhood Education


Scientific inquiry, as defined by the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council [NRC], 1996), is a method by which students can find answers to questions they may have about the world around them. Students' questions must be motivated by what they already know about the world, and the inquiry process must add to their understanding.

When a scientist begins an investigation, both background knowledge about the topic and initial research are important. The scientist might read about what is known regarding a science topic in preparation for the inquiry investigation. During the investigation, observations are made, a question is posed, an experiment designed, and data collected. But the inquiry investigation does not stop with the collection of data. The scientist will then analyze and interpret data, trying out possible explanations and comparing them to what is already known about the topic. The inquiry process is not complete without a thorough analysis and evaluation of the scientist's proposed explanation in light of current scientific understanding. After all this has occurred, communication of the whole process may be made or a revised investigation initiated.

Some important aspects of scientific inquiry that are often unclear to non-scientists include: 1) the goal of science is not getting an answer, but rather using evidence to develop or revise an explanation; 2) no single, step-by-step method captures the complexity of doing science; and 3) an important aspect of scientific inquiry is creativity. Albert Einstein stressed the idea that imagination is important in the development of scientific knowledge, because imagination and creative thinking allow the scientist to think beyond what is currently understood.

Inquiry in the Classroom

Students can imitate scientists at work by conducting inquiry investigations in the classroom, thereby exhibiting a multitude of skills and competencies. As stated by Bransford and Donovan (2005), learning science as a process of inquiry involves students in observation, imagination, and reasoning about the phenomena under investigation. Rather than giving students "recipes for experiments," which might be described as hands-on activities with explicit step-by-step directions on how to collect data, involving students in inquiry investigations provides students opportunities to generate their own questions about everyday phenomena, design ways to collect data, use creative thinking to make inferences about their data, and propose possible explanations of the phenomena. Table 1 illustrates the specific elements of scientific inquiry that are essential features of an inquiry lesson (NRC, 2000). Students, no matter the grade level, bring a variety of prior experiences to their science investigations as well as many levels of content understanding. Science trade books can be a wonderful addition to conducting inquiry in the classroom, and can facilitate the inquiry process, provide accurate science content, and motivate applications to new topics.

Table 1
THE ESSENTIAL FEATURES OF SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY, BASED
ON THE NATIONAL SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS
(NRC, 2000)

* Exploration leading to questions about the natural world

* Investigations producing data

* Explanation proposed based on data collected

* Evaluation and analysis of the explanation

* Communication of the whole process

It is important for students to have many opportunities throughout their elementary years to observe as inquiry is modeled and to engage in conducting inquiry investigations on their own. Students must have a variety of experiences involving inquiry investigations, as well as opportunities to learn about the fundamental elements of inquiry and reflect on the scientific processes as they engage in inquiry (NRC, 2000). Just as the scientist completes all aspects of an investigation, so must students during their classroom investigations. …

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