Pre-Inquiry Checklist

The three case studies this week left me wondering if these absent or weak abilities and understandings are difficult to integrate into inquiry based learning:

Abilities

  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions.
  • Communicate procedures and explanations.

Understandings

  • Technology used to gather data enhances accuracy and allows us to analyze and quantify results of investigations.
  • New knowledge advances through legitimate scepticism.
  • Investigations sometimes result in new ideas and phenomena for study, generate new methods or procedures for an investigation, or develop new technologies.

Three case studies may be a too small sample but I would suspect that alternative explanations and predictions may not be included because they seem silly. Sometimes history presents us with alternatives, for example, spontaneous generation as the explanation for decomposers on carcasses. But at other times, it may not seem worthwhile to invent alternatives, for example, how identical and fraternal twins are formed.

When it comes time to communicate procedures and explanations, teacher may skip this as a time saver assuming that all students are have the concepts. Skipping this step is unsafe. Even for the students who did get the concepts, communication is valuable reinforcement. Neurons that fire together, wire together. The more often, the better the connections.

The technology issue is of great importance. Time here may be the main factor but I suspect it is complicated by a lack of training opportunities. I think the “No child left behind” starts with “No teacher left behind.” I applaud those teachers who do find and use technological tools but it would be far better for our students if it was offered as training so that there would be support groups. Schools need to start splitting their technology budget in half. Half for software and hardware the other half for training. There is no use investing in a Smartboard if no one on staff has any idea how to use it.

I think scepticism is connected to the alternatives issue. Again, it may seem mad to question the obvious. The obvious may be obvious to teachers, but it may not be obvious to students. Like communicating procedures and explanations, not following up on new ideas, new methods, and new technologies, may be a time saver but it really undermines the scientific method. Science is a cycle with answers leading to new questions that begin the cycle again. Following up on the question, “Are these results replicable?” is the foundation of scientific knowledge.

I’m just finishing Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. I suspect that a well designed checklist would be a solution.  Teachers who follow a pre-inquiry checklist will have a better chance of landing safely with all their students.  A post-inquiry checklist would provide an opportunity for reflection on how to improve the next inquiry based learning experience for students.

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