Teaching & Learning Through Inquiry

Most of us have experienced science (from our science classes in school) as memorizing huge numbers of new and strange words and a wide assortment of seemingly disconnected facts and other ideas. However, such an approach grossly misrepresents science and the way science should be taught and learned. Even if we participated in experiments, they were based around the standard view of the "scientific method" and on finding the correct answer to a predetermined question.

Although science does construct knowledge about how our world works, it is the process or rather processes of doing science that are essential for understanding how science works. But, more importantly, this developing skills in these processes allow us to decode the multitude of science claims that we encounter throughout our lives, such as those involved in health, medicine, and the environment. These processes of science do not follow the standard "scientific method." In fact, the methods used by scientists vary widely. An astronomer doesn't perform experiments, since she cannot manipulate variables. A quantum chemist or physicist rarely if ever steps into a laboratory. An ecologist spends a great deal of time in the field.

However, a general, flexible, and recursive approach to doing science may look something like that depicted in the figure at the right. Notice that questioning lies at the center. Curiosity and questioning are the driving force behind science. From this "center," scientists try to investigate their areas of interest and construct explanations that are consistent with their data or theoretical frameworks. The key difference between science (including the social sciences) is that these knowledge claims must hold up to the scrutiny of other scientists and the results of their investigations, which may be replications of the original investigations.

The other idea about doing science that is important to keep in mind is that science cannot prove anything, which is widely misunderstood as is evident by the numerous instances in the media and advertisements about how scientists or someone have "proved" something or another. However, scientists can disprove knowledge claims. And, this happens all of the time. Good scientists try to substantiate and enhance their knowledge claims, while also looking for instances that can disprove these claims.

The material and activities on this site are meant to explore and develop this approach to science as well as other variations, which are explained elsewhere on this site.

© 2010 by Jeffrey W. Bloom


Add a New Comment
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License