Bountiful answers from Brian

This month I spoke with Brian Brethauer who teaches chemistry and coaches Science Olympiad among other science activities on the west side if Michigan.  Here are his responses to the 4 questions.

Q1:  How do you define inquiry?  What does inquiry look like to you?

A1:  Inquiry is when students are encouraged and required to find answers to questions and ask new questions on their own.  They will usually be guided but their teacher is no longer the giver of information, rather the guide to help them learn on their own. Inquiry is student driven learning.

Q2:  What are the benefits of using inquiry in your classroom?

A2:  It is exciting learning!  Humans need to discover and it is so much more fun to discover than to be told.  Inquiry learning encourages thinking over memorizing and understanding over mimicry.  Inquiry learning means the learner is engaged.

Q3:  What are the hindrances of using inqury in your classoom?

A3:  Time is always an issue because students learn at different rates.  Also students have been trained to expect the teacher to give them everything and it takes awhile to create an atmosphere where students can feel like they can try new things and  possibly fail.  Failure is a learning experience that is not supposed to happen in a traditional classroom, but with inquiry there will be some failures and the teacher becomes the learner with the students, demonstrating what students can learn and how the students can retool the lesson so that fewer failures occur.

Teachers must be willing to try new things without the fear that they will run student learning or be frowned upon by administrators.  This way school is a setting where teachers and students are comfortable trying new things.  This is a must and a hindrance if this environment can not established.

Q4:  How often do you use inquiry?

A:  It is so ingrained in my teaching at this point; I do not even think about it.  It depends on the topic.  Some topics are rich with inquiry possibiities, others not so rich.  I have many inquiry based labs that I usually do one oer unit depending on time.  I have one big exam thst uses inquiry and 5 big labs that I have used as well.

I also have been working on approaching some of the problem solving and homework in an inquiry fashion.  While there are some things I have to lecture on and show problems on, but the more I put students in charge of their learning the less I am in the front lecturing. The less I am lecturing, the more opportunities students have for individual instruction, individual projects, and group projects.

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Comments 2

Lowell Thomson's picture
Lowell Thomson | Wed, 05/07/2014 - 12:37

Sarah, thanks for taking time to interview teachers on inquiry. And Brian, thanks for the thoughtful responses. I teach in the Diploma Program, which truthfully doesn't have as many opportunities for open-ended inquiry given that I have a large body of content to teach to prepare students for exams. However, in my grade 9 and 10 classes before the Diploma Program, I'm trying to increase the use of inquiry to give students more ownership of their learning.

I recently completed an inquiry activity inspired by some blog posts here. It was a great experience, but I feel as though I could have structured the entire activity a bit better. Do you have any suggestions or resources for this aspect of planning? (And on a side note, if you'd like to read some student blog posts on this inquiry activity they can be found here: My students would love some feedback.

Thank you in advance for your thoughts.


Sarah Kong's picture
Sarah Kong | Mon, 05/12/2014 - 09:51

Lowell ~ What a fantastic lab for your students!  I enjoyed reading your student's responses.  They asked so many interesting questions that you could use as a jumping off point for further investigations.  If you would like to make it more structured, consider addiing some guiding questions at the beginning that will lead the students where you want them to go.  For example:  What is on the candy?  What will happen when you add water?  What is the best way to add water?  etc.  Since you recently did the experiment, now would be a great time to write down your ideas.  I'd be interested in what you come up with if you'd like to share them.  Thanks, Lowell!