WWW Site for John Lawrence Bencze, Associate Professor (Emeritus), Science Education, OISE/University of Toronto

Procedural Education
Developing Expertise for
'Judging Ideas'

Developing Skills for
Science Inquiry

Welcome! This page provides perspectives, general practices and links to resources for helping students to develop expertise for conducting empirical inquiries in science & technology. Such inquiries enable students to Judge Ideas, which is a major phase of my constructivism-informed pedagogical framework. If you have comments, questions, suggestions, resource ideas, etc. about anything here, please write to me about them. Thanks.
Inquiry NoST.

Inquiry NoST
'Science inquiry' is an uncertain and debated term, but often refers to investigations intended to document and explain phenomena of the world. It is part of what is classically thought of as 'science,' and is intended to ask such questions as: 'Why is the sky blue?,' 'How does inheritance work?,' 'How does gravity affect the transmission of light?' Although questions of this sort are investigated by what is thought of as 'science,' it is unclear how such questions and activities are related to what is called 'technology' (or 'engineering') and, as well, how 'science' and 'technology' relate to societies and environments. Discussions about such relationships are provided at: NoST, STSE, and WISE Issues.

Although there is considerable uncertainty and debate about the meaning of 'science inquiry,' ideas and resources provided here are organized - for pragmatic reasons - according to the highly stylized framework for science and technology at SciTech Strategies. In this simplistic framework, as indicated in the schema at right, 'science inquiry' implies that investigators use 'experiments' and 'studies' to empirically evaluate predictions and hypotheses. NoST studies suggest that investigators do not always do so, such as in the case of Einstein's development of the theory of Special Relativity. Nevertheless, much of science inquiry does involve studies and experiments - ideas and resources for which are provided below. Accordingly, it is important to help students to develop expertise (e.g., skills & attitudes) for conducting these kinds of inquiries. In doing so, it is important to not that the inquiries that students may eventually conduct using skills addressed here are to be student-directed and open-ended - which means that they are NOT the kinds of inquiries that are traditionally used to reinforce 'products' (e.g., laws & theories) of science.

There are various approaches for helping students to develop skills they could use for conducting experiments and/or studies, but resources here are based on the constructivism-based approach at Skills Pedagogy. Accordingly, resources are provided for helping students to express their pre-instructional skills for science inquiry (on this page) and to develop skills for conducting experiments and studies (on two separate pages).

Expressing how to design science inquiries
As suggested by my Skills Pedagogy, students and teachers can benefit from encouraging students to 'express' their pre-instructional skills. This implies that students might demonstrate their skills and discuss them, given that skills have a conceptual aspect (refer to Concepts of Evidence). After and/or while they express their skills, teachers can provide them with some alternatives for their consideration. For science inquiry as interpreted here, that implies developing skills for experimentation and studies - addressed on separate pages.
  • Inquiry design challenges: Teachers could ask students to 'design and conduct tests of some ideas.' Often, however, teachers' instructions need to be a bit more specific than that. They could ask them to do this for questions students have developed; e.g. @ Questioning. Alternatively, teachers could provide students with lists of questions that could be the basis of some testing. Another, perhaps more practical, strategy is to provide lists of cause - result variables (such as those here) for which equipment & supplies are readily available. For example, about yeast fermentation, students might be encouraged to choose a possible cause - result variable relationship to test from amongst a set such as:
Possible Cause Variables
Possible Result Variables
amount of stirring
concentration of sugar
temperature of water
amount of gas (carbon dioxide) emitted
acidity of the mixture
concentration of alcohol produced
  • Inquiry Design Evaluations: Students could be asked to evaluate the design of science inquiries already designed; e.g., they could evaluate 'labs.' commonly found in textbooks. Or, they could evaluate inquiry reports such as those found in journals or magazines.
Regardless of which of these kinds of approaches teachers decide to use, it is crucial that they remain largely student-directed & open-ended. Otherwise, students' responses may be less about them and more about their instructor! Teachers may struggle, for example, with the 'quality' of students' responses and may be tempted to ask them to consider various inquiry design strategies; such as the extent to which they have controlled variables.
All rights reserved, J. L. Bencze, 2008.