What Science Enquiry Skills Should I Teach?

The problem with the word ‘enquiry’ is that it means so many different things. It can mean rich authentic science tasks with minimal guidance, or it can mean precise skills which can be explicitly taught and practiced.

If you’ve read my previous blogs on enquiry (here and here), you’ll know that I favour direct, explicit teaching. One source of evidence is the 2015 PISA (see here and the chart below).

My argument is not about whether science enquiry skills should be taught (they should), but how.

This post is about what enquiry skills should be taught. I have used two books to help make my list: Developing understanding in scientific enquiry (Goldsworth, Watson and Wood Robinson, 2000) and It’s not fair – or is it? (Turner, Keogh, Naylor and Lawrence, 2011).

The list might also be titled “How Science Works” or “Scientific Literacy” and include:

  • Types of Enquiry
    • observing over time
    • identifying and classifying
    • pattern seeking
    • fair tests
  • Asking Scientific Questions
  • Making Predictions
  • Measuring
  • Describing Relationships
  • Relating evidence to scientific knowledge
  • Evaluating Results

There’s less written about teaching “how scientist solve problems” which I think is equally important. Methods written about (e.g. Klahr in Constructivist Instruction: Success or Failure (Tobias & Duffy, 2009)) include:

  • using analogy to solve problems;
  • means-end analysis and
  • pattern detection.

These should be taught in context. If you are teaching plants or rocks or electricity, pick the most appropriate type of enquiry skills for that topic and focus on them. You don’t need to try to make a complete investigation. Break it down into small teachable chunks and focus on those.

Elaborate if possible – compare how you classify rocks with how you classify plants or objects in space. It isn’t the same, because the questions you ask are very different.

The books I referred to making this list provide excellent activities to teach these skills in a well structured, explicit way.

My next post will be the last in this sequence of posts on enquiry/inquiry/discovery/minimally guided teaching. In it I ask the question about teaching enquiry skills: how much class time should I give it?

Thanks for reading – I’d welcome comments.


1 Comment

  1. “My argument is not about whether science enquiry skills should be taught (they should), but how.”
    Good to see you rowing back from your previous (extreme ?) position (though, I appreciate it may have been a tactic)


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