Enquiry in sciences

A photo of a row of glass chemistry flasks

Enquiry is a term used both within and outwith education to refer to seeking knowledge or information by asking questions. It is sometimes equated with research, investigation, or 'search for truth'.

In the context of education enquiry-based approaches aim to develop skills that are widely recognised as needed more than ever in the 21st century – skills such as critical thinking, collaborative working, consideration of alternatives and effective communication.

They are generally focused on real-life situations and problems which engage pupils, are seen as relevant by them and help to prepare them for future citizenship. Whilst the skills that can be developed through inquiry are of value, enquiry does not lead to understanding in science unless it concerns content that provides opportunity to develop ideas of science and about science. So enquiry-based science education would mean:

...students progressively developing key scientific ideas through learning how to investigate, and building their knowledge and understanding of the world around them. They use skills employed by scientists such as raising questions, collecting data, reasoning and reviewing evidence in the light of what is already known, drawing conclusions and discussing results. This learning process is all supported by an inquiry-based pedagogy, where pedagogy is taken to mean not only the act of teaching but also its underpinning justifications.
Report of the IAP International Conference on Taking IBSE into Secondary Education, p19

Supporting materials

In this article Dr Wynne Harlen describes the process of building understanding through collecting evidence to test possible explanations in a scientific manner, which we describe as scientific inquiry. 

PDF file: Learning science through inquiry (74 KB)

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