This month I spoke with Debra Johnson who teaches a variety of science subjects, chemistry and AP chemistry among, them at North Muskegon High School in North Muskegon, Michigan. Below she tells us how inquiry works in her classroom. Let us know what it looks like in yours!
Q: How do you define inquiry?
A: I define inquiry in my chemistry classroom as a both a constructivist and experimental method of inquiry. My students do varying types of inquiry from guided to more open methods and they discuss their findings and theories in both small groups and as a whole class. Also, their experiences and data allow them to draw their own conclusions about relationships/ behaviors in our natural world and classifications of matter in a matter similar to scientists everywhere.
Q: What does inquiry look like to you?
A: Well, inquiry in my classroom has students actively engaged in determining what variables to manipulate, what data to gather, which instruments to use, and what data to focus on as well as how to determine its reliability. My students then discuss to define laws and relationships as well as particle theories that may best explain the relationships/behaviors they observe.
Q: What are the benefits of using inquiry in your classroom?
A: I have seen many benefits of using inquiry in my classroom, from students gaining a deeper understanding, being actively engaged, having better attendance, to being better critical thinkers, but my absolute favorite benefit of inquiry are the unforgettable experiences that plant seeds of curiosity in students which bloom into a lifelong desire to learn science (at least that's what my former students report back to me).
Q: What are the hindrances of using inquiry in your classroom?
A: There aren't any real hinderances of using inquiry in my classroom, although it can be challenging when there is a large class and sometimes limited supplies or equipment to make the inquiry better, faster, more accurate. But these are hinderances in any lab-based class. I have support from my colleagues, administrators, parents and students who all seem to agree, that while they may not understand exactly what inquiry is, they see that it is benefiting students.
Q: How often do you use inquiry?
A: Because of support from GVSU's Target inquiry and American Modeling Teachers training and curricular framework I use inquiry everyday. The only part of my class that doesn't feel like inquiry are the history lessons I share with students about other chemists former findings (like Dalton and Bohr) and the worksheets/tests where students are given new hypothetical situations to check their individual application of new found theories and laws. Both of which lend support and self-reflection to their new understanding of their world. And in retrospect may even still be a part of scientific inquiry, similar to background research and theoretical trials.