Weston Middle School

Life Science Course Materials

Weston, Massachusetts
| Introduction | Site Map | Env Science | Cell Biology | Heredity | Evolution| Classification | Plants | Animals | Human Body |
Inquiry-Based Learning

Course Home








Principles of Inquiry-Based Investigations ( adapted from Zubrowski ) :
  • An Inquiry investigation is based around a scientific( i.e., testable) without a unique right answer, such as:
    • What organisms can be found within a one-meter square?
    • What is the distribution of tree species around Weston Middle School?
    • What animal organisms can be found in a hay infusion cell culture?
    • What percentage of students in the class are PTC-tasters?
  • Investigations should be based around a question framed by the student, for example:
    • At the beginning of the year, and of each unit of study, ask students to frame as many questions as possible
    • Ask student to perform at least one in-depth investigation around a question framed by the student- such as:
      • How does strength training affect muscle fatigue?
      • How far will my dog run to catch a ball?
      • How does fertlizer affect the growth of pea plants?
      • etc.
    • Quizzes and exams should at least in part contain questions submitted by students
    • Lab practicums should consist of student-designed stations

  • Before formal instruction, students should "mess around" with a limited set of materials, such as:
    • Do standard strawberry DNA extraction lab, then open it up to other materials of study

  • The activity should be intrinsically interesting: This tends to involve things that move, grow, change, are slightly yucky, or personal to the student:
    • Studying pond water organisms
    • Dissecting a cow eye
    • Fermentation lab
    • Dragon Genetics simulation
    • Growing pea plants
    • Bacterial Survey of school
    • Sheep Brain Dissection

  • The activities should be aesthetically pleasing, such as:
    • Cell Models
    • DNA Models
    • Virus Models
    • Strawberry DNA extraction
    • Drawings, videos, and photographs

    " .... Students who are part of an interactive community are more likely to be successful....."

    • Make some exams take-home, with computer-randomized questions, to encourage students to engage in self-directed social conversation about science;
    • Encourage small-group presentations and videos( to be posted on web) in lieu of traditional reports;
    • Encourage a class wiki ( using tools such as PBworks or Teacherweb)

    c) "....knowledge is personal; students enjoy themselves more and develop greater ownership over the material when they are given an opportunity to construct their own understanding."

    - http://new.pogil.org/about

    As Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, on human motivation ,writes, "...the secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world...."

Notes on differentiated instruction and inquiry-based labs:

In my experience, inquiry-based labs are highly suitable for classrooms with a wide range of student learners.

Because inquiry is based around the student's own questions, it does not require extensive prior abstract, vocabulary-based knowledge which some students may have difficulty with.

Because inquiry labs involve hands-on activity, social interaction, and intrinsically interesting stuff, such as observing swimming micro-organisms or dissecting a cow eye, it tends to be attractive to students who may have a hard time sitting still in vocabulary-based classroom discussions. And because it is doing cool stuff ( a positive), inquiry-based hands-on labs provide a "carrot" incentive for many of those students who may otherwise have behavior issues.

Projects can also be structured to involve several different skills and strengths; investigations can involve both tactile learning and written aspects.

Advanced students need support just as much as struggling students; if advanced students are bored, they frequently stop doing work altogether. For these students, the complexity and level of analysis for a given project can be increased, with optional web sites recommended. For modeling, which involve tactile learning and aesthetic aspects, advanced students can make models of things such as lipid bilayer membranes with protein channels, specific tissue cells or protists, mitochondria, or proteins.


Exploratorium- Fundamentals of Inquiry

Misconceptions in Science (MOSARTS)

Zubrowski on Science Education

The Art of Teaching Science Blog

Revised November 2011 by Jonathan Dietz, dietzj@mail.weston.org