If you asked a science educator to describe the essence of science education, the answer very likely would be "inquiry" -- how a scientist (or anyone) goes about finding the answer to a question. So it is surprising that the word "inquiry" does not appear at all in a new policy document that will set standards for science education in the US for years to come.
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is now under review nationally, and you are invited to read and comment through January 29. It is being developed by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve, the facilitator.
Inquiry was a central element of science education as defined by the predecessor to NGSS, the National Science Education Standards, published in 1996. But now, the hottest topic among science educators is the NGSS.
One of the biggest questions is where inquiry is, because the word is not mentioned in the NGSS. But inquiry is still there, if you look. It is embedded in many of the practices of the NGSS -- the way we as educators can lead youth to harness their own curiosity to learn.
The challenge in teaching inquiry is that it has been interpreted over time in many different ways throughout the science education community. The hypothesis-research-predict-test-conclusion model is the familiar way in the classroom. In a nonformal setting, we are able to let youth lead the inquiry in different ways. Many science educators "know" inquiry and the importance of teaching it.
But there is no one way to teach it. Therefore, parts of the NGSS do explain better and extend what science inquiry means, and the range of cognitive, social, and physical practices that it requires as performance expectations. Instead of inquiry, the NGSS uses the term "practice". It emphasizes that engaging in scientific investigation requires not only skill but also the knowledge that is specific to each practice. Teaching inquiry in the NGSS becomes concrete practice, rather than an abstract concept. I would say that "inquiry unpack" is a better term to describe this action.
The NGSS is scheduled to be published in March, and I intend to write about the final version in a future blog post. The NGSS will be the guideline for science education in the US, and will be the basis for judging program quality, for all stakeholders, including founders. You can give your feedback on this important document through January 29.
Starting this year, science teaching and learning in the US will enter a new era. How do you think about practices in NGSS that relate to inquiry? Have you commented on the NGSS?
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