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Using Effective Instructional Strategies: Inquiry-Based Teaching
Using Effective Instructional Strategies: Inquiry-Based Teaching

What We Know

In response to higher standards and real-world demands, there exists a growing need across content areas and grade levels for students to become resourceful, effective investigators and problem-solvers. Inquiry-based teaching is a powerful vehicle through which such goals for learning are possible (Barron et al., 1998; Edelson, Gordin, & Pea, 1999; Lappan, 2000; Owens, Hester, & Teale, 2002; Perez, 2000).

Inquiry-based learning appears to offer multiple benefits to students. Baum and colleagues (1994) reported that with effective teacher facilitation, student-centered inquiry projects can reverse patterns of underachievement (in Owens, Hester, & Teale, 2002). Inquiry-based learning is effective across content areas:

In literacy:
Inquiry-based projects can build learning communities that foster communication skills, interpretive abilities and an understanding of issues from a variety of perspectives (Bruce, 2002; Owens, Hester, & Teale, 2002).

In mathematics:
Inquiry-based learning encourages creative problem solving and risk taking in mathematics (Perez, 2000).

In science:
Inquiry-based learning provides opportunities to understand the scientific inquiry process and to develop general investigative abilities (such as posing and pursuing open-ended questions, synthesizing information, planning and conducting experiments and analyzing and presenting results), as well as to gain deeper and broader science content knowledge that has real-world application (Edelson, Gordin, & Pea, 1999).

Choice, personal interest and meaningful context are powerful motivators (Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi, 1995), and the power of inquiry-based teaching rests in no small part on those aspects (Barron et al., 1998; Edelson, Gordin, & Pea, 1999; Owens, Hester, & Teale, 2002). The key, however, to a student's positive, productive inquiry experience is the teacher (Barron et al., 1998; Lappan, 2000; Owens, Hester, & Teale, 2002). Inquiry-based learning requires teachers to facilitate the inquiry process, granting students responsibility for their learning while modeling and scaffolding the cognitive and investigative processes involved (Barron et al., 1998; Lappan, 2000; Owens Hester, & Teale, 2002).

Technology plays an important role in inquiry-based teaching. Computers and the Internet provide students access to information and the ability to manage multiple and complex sources; they also enhance students' interest, motivation and engagement in active learning (Edelson, Gordin, & Pea, 1999). Technology further aids inquiry projects by allowing students to communicate with sources and peers and forge connections between the classroom and the "real world," as well as produce high-quality presentations of their results (Owens, Hester, & Teale, 2002).

Key Terms

Inquiry-based teaching is an instructional approach in which students' own interests and curiosities drive the learning process and products. Students select topics to research; formulate questions; collect, cull and synthesize information; and, finally, create and present a product that has real-world application (such as models, interviews, experiments) from what they learned. Teachers serve as facilitators and resources (Owens et al., 2002).

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