Teaching is so collaborative! That's why periodically I will interview a fellow instructor and post the questions and answers here. It benefits all of us when we discuss what works, what doesn't, and how we can improve. This month's feature is Sharon Geyer from Pomfret School in Connecticut.
- How do you define inquiry? or What does inquiry look like to you?
In a science classroom the term inquiry is intimately connected with the lab experience. Students are given tools to use, such as lab techniques and content knowledge, that can be used to solve a lab-based problem. I define inquiry as an investigation that requires students to create their own solutions rather than following a set of instructions provided by the teacher. In this type of experience, students will use the tools they have along with their own interpretation of the problem to create a unique solution.
- What are the benefits of using inquiry in your classroom?
Inquiry in my classroom pushes my students to use what they have learned and their own ideas to solve a problem. Too often, high school students can get by executing a plan that is handed to them from a teacher or read from a book/lab manual. In the absence of “the right answer” students are more open to exploring possibilities.
- What are the hindrances of using inquiry in your classroom?
Inquiry learning is very time consuming. Content coverage goes out the window with inquiry learning because there isn’t enough time to teach all the topics. If a teacher has the flexibility to give more time to inquiry learning, which means cutting out some of the topics covered in a comprehensive first year chemistry course, then she will be able to give students the work time to do inquiry. The other difficulty in an inquiry experience is managing frustration, both the students' and the teachers'. Many students, especially high performing students, will resist engaging in inquiry because they prefer “the right answer”. Likewise, teachers often want their students to solve a problem in a certain way because of time constraints, curriculum agenda, or interest in conveying the “usual way”. As a teacher, it is hard for me to step back and allow students to try an experiment that I know won’t work. It is equally frustrating to see students give up on their own ideas because the other groups are doing something different.;
- How often do you use inquiry?
I try to incorporate some aspect of inquiry learning in all of my lab activities. Not every lab is full inquiry, but I will give the students the opportunity to “go off the books” as a part of the experiment. For example, when I teach acid/base titrations I lead the kids through a class demonstration, a step-by-step titration of vinegar, and then an inquiry-based titration of citric acid in a sports drink. This lab looks like any traditional titration lab, with the absence of instructions for the final piece.