Inquiring about Inquiry

How beneficial and effective can inquiry-based learning be at the younger elementary school grades (K-2)? What are some ideas for incorporating this type of learning at this level?
K., Wyoming

Child using a magnifier to look at a plant.

I would argue the only way to teach science to our youngest students is through inquiry! 

Humans were born with innate curiosity and a willingness to experiment. Why not tap into those built-in characteristics and provide students the opportunity to observe, experiment and reach conclusions on topics of their choice?

Make science hands-on and judiciously guide students with questions. Have them record data in interesting ways that include counting, measuring, representing values with icons or pictures, and use language. Don’t underestimate a child’s ability to observe: when he was kindergarten-aged, my son asked me, “Why do sunrises look like rainbows?” I was about to answer that they don’t, but then looked out the window to observe…the full spectrum of colors! Watch for misconceptions that we tend to pick up very early in life. Teach your students observation skills and how to explain things using evidence.

Teach students the safe use of magnifying glasses and have them go outside to look at grass, weeds, trees, insects, wood, metal, concrete, and so on. Create little exploration stations and give them cameras to record what they observe, organize the photos and explain. Don’t have preconceived ideas of what you want from the stations, encourage out-of-the-box thinking. Don’t be afraid that you might not have the answers for them.

Have fun.

Hope this helps!

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3 Comments

  1. Peggy Ashbrook
    Posted April 30, 2018 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you Gabe. See more about the exploration the pictured child is working on in an Early Years blog post about observing the Cabbage white caterpillars on collard plants: http://nstacommunities.org/blog/2018/04/13/april-brings-real-science-citizen-science-day-and-earth-day/

  2. Sadada
    Posted May 7, 2018 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    My daughter has Down Syndrome. She was sitting on my bed and looked up at the light.” Look”, she said,” the light is making straight lines and they go like this.”..made pulsing movement with hands…
    I think it is adults who have forgotten how to observe …I regularly use this experience when encouraging teachers I work with to reconnect with their childhood capability.

  3. Gabe Kraljevic
    Posted May 7, 2018 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree with you, Sadada! There are a couple of things I do with students that shows how we don’t really see what we look at: Right now – without looking – stretch out your arm and show the width of the moon with your fingers as if you were about to pinch it. (Go ahead – try it!). What colour are tree trunks? (Ok, what colour did YOU pick?). Now go outside and look…I’m not giving out the answer! Artists and scientists need to overcome the brain’s tendency to amalgamate, interpolate and decide what we should see, instead of what we actually do see.

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