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What Makes Inquiry so Hard? (And Why is it Worth It?)

Paper presented by N. Trautmann, J. MaKinster, and L. Avery at the 77th Annual Conference of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Vancouver, BC, April 1-4, 2004

Despite growing consensus regarding the value of inquiry-based teaching and learning, the implementation of such practices continues to be a challenge for many teachers. The Cornell Science Inquiry Partnerships (CSIP) program aims to provide sustained and long-term support for teachers who wish to implement inquiry-oriented teaching. Through CSIP, university graduate student fellows work with middle and high school teachers to develop and implement inquiry-based lessons and units. This study investigated challenges and rewards inherent in this process. Analysis of teacher interviews, focus group sessions, classroom observations, and ongoing discussions with teachers and fellows suggests that the participants face multiple barriers to engaging their students in open-ended inquiry. The most commonly perceived barriers include district or state mandated curricula, insufficient time for inquiry, student expectations and abilities, concern about the potential for not accomplishing specified learning goals, and fear of the unknown. Through partnerships with university fellows, teachers are able to address these concerns and become increasingly comfortable with inquiry-based teaching and learning. Benefits reported by teachers and students include increased motivation and interest in science, a greater degree of higher order thinking leading to deeper understandings, and development of abilities to work independently in designing and conducting valid scientific experiments and interpreting the results.

 

 

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