The Research Base Supporting Inquiry Investigations


The Importance of Inquiry-based Approaches

An inquiry based instructional approach provides students with the opportunity to:

  • Develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills1
  • Enhance student interest in the subject matter2
  • Conduct an investigation, collect evidence, develop an explanation from the data, and communicate and defend their conclusions3
  • Build a strong foundation of fundamental science concepts4
  • Develop understanding using mental and physical skills to gather evidence about the natural and man-made world5
  • Learn more than just a body of concepts and facts, they learn the processes involved in establishing those concepts and facts6
  • Participate in a laboratory experience; virtual lab-supported7

"As children discover objects and situations that are puzzling or intriguing—things that provoke their curiosity—they begin asking questions and looking for ways to find answers, all in an effort to understand the world around them. This is the essence of the inquiry process."

—National Science Foundation's Division of Elementary, Secondary, and Informal Education (ESIE)

"Scientific inquiry refers to the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work. Inquiry also refers to the activities of students in which they develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world."

—National Science Education Standards, p. 23.

"The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) recommends that all K–16 teachers embrace scientific inquiry and is committed to helping educators make it the centerpiece of the science classroom. The use of scientific inquiry will help ensure that students develop a deep understanding of science and scientific inquiry."

—The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)

The following research-base guided the development of the Inquiry Investigations product line:

Barron, Brigid., et al. Powerful Learning: What We Know About Teaching for Understanding. Jossey-Bass, 2008.
A study conducted at the Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools found that 2,128 students in twenty-three schools were found to have significantly higher achievement on challenging tasks when they were taught with inquiry-based teaching, indicating that involvement leads to understanding.
Darling-Hammond, Linda., et al. (2008). Teaching For Meaningful Learning: A Review of Research on Inquiry-Based and Cooperative Learning. Edutopia.
There is strong evidence to show that inquiry-based, collaborative approaches to learning benefits both individual and collective knowledge growth. Inquiry-based learning helps students to develop content knowledge and learn increasingly important twenty-first century skills, such as the ability to work in teams, solve complex problems, and apply knowledge gained through one lesson to other circumstances.
Hall, D. A. and McCurdy, D. AW. (1990). A comparison of a biological science curriculum study (BSCS) laboratory and a traditional laboratory on student achievement. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 27: 625-636.
A study revealed that inquiry-based curriculums develop independent and critical thinking skills, positive attitudes, curiosity toward science and increased achievement in biological content.
Marx, Ronald., et al. (2004). Inquiry-based science in the middle grades: Assessment of learning in urban systemic reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, v. 41, issue 10, 1063-1080.
A study on student learning was conducted spanning 3 years from a science education reform collaboration with the Detroit Public Schools. Data were collected from nearly 8,000 students who participated in inquiry-based and technology-infused curriculum units that were collaboratively developed by district personnel and staff from the University of Michigan. The results show statistically significant increases on curriculum-based test scores for each year of participation. Moreover, the strength of the effects grew over the years, as evidenced by increasing effect size estimates across the years.
Quin, Z., Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. (1995) Cooperative versus competitive efforts and problem solving. Review of Educational Research, 65(2), 129-143.
In a comparison of four types of problems presented to individuals or cooperative teams, researchers found that teams outperformed individuals on all types and across all ages.
Wise, K.C. (1996). Strategies for Teaching Science: What Works? The Clearing House, July/August, 337-338.
Study of middle and high school science found 140 published comparisons between traditional teaching and alternative instruction (inquiry-oriented approach). Inquiry instructional strategies averaged thirteen percentile points higher in achievement measure over traditional text lecture modes of instruction.
  1. The National Science Foundation
  2. The Inquiry Learning Forum is an Inquiry Learning Forum Project supported by the Center for Research on Learning and Technology at Indiana University
  3. National Science Teachers Association (NSTA): Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A guide for teaching and learning. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  4. Biological Science Curriculum Study (BSCS): BSCS Science: An Inquiry Approach, Level 2. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 2008.
  5. National Academy of Sciences (2004): Evaluating Inquiry-Based Science Developments. Dr. Wayne Harlen. University of Cambridge and the University of Bristol.
  6. Center for Inquiry-Based Learning (CIBL)
  7. "Laboratory experiences provide opportunities for students to interact directly with the material world (or with data drawn from the material world), using tools, data collection techniques, models, and theories of science." SOURCE: National Research Council, America's Lab Report: Investigation in High School Science, 2006.