One challenge that we face as educators is how to start incorporating more student directed inquiry into our investigations. It is typical for investigations sourced from textbooks and other sources to provide a recipe from start to finish. The Inquiry Slider is a pedagogical tool that can assist teachers to address this challenge.
The essential features of inquiry, and inquiry skills, are identified in research and in the various state and national school syllabuses as:
- problem solving
The Inquiry Slider unpacks these essential features of inquiry. The first level of how this is practised is when a teacher does a demonstration; the investigation is carried out by the teacher and the students observe. Demonstrations are a very common form of teaching in school science classes, and beyond. Normally in demonstrations, a phenomenon is being observed, there is no obvious questioning. The next level of inquiry for this feature would be where the teacher provides a question for the student who will then and carry out the investigation. This is followed by the structured level of inquiry. For the ‘questioning’ feature this would correspond to a teacher giving a broader question/statement that is then reflected on, and sharpened by the student. The next level of inquiry is the ‘guided’ level. At this level the teacher supplies a series of questions/statements and the students selects from this list to create a question of their own. The last level would be the ‘open’ level of inquiry; in this case the student will create their own question, with no question provided by the teacher.
It is important to note that the inquiry slider is presented as a tool that can be modified and adapted within schools to meet the needs of the students and teachers. The inquiry slider is designed to be tool which teachers can use to help them reflect on investigations and implement them in their classrooms. It is not always appropriate or advisable for all aspects of all of our investigations to be at the ‘open’ level of inquiry. This is quite an unattainable and often undesirable goal.
The process of using the inquiry slider empowers the teacher, giving them ownership of trying small steps, rather than being overwhelmed by open inquiry. For example, a teacher might provide a question but leave the planning and conducting at an open level of inquiry, and then bring the level of inquiry back to help students in analysing and communicating their results. Teachers report that this is a major improvement over the standard, and ever present, ‘recipe’ format.