A Compelling Case for
Inquiry-Based Science Education in Our Schools
The need to champion inquiry-based science education can be clearly reasoned if one begins to look closely at the emergence of China as a global economic superpower.
In the book called, The Chinese Century by Dr. Oded Shenkar, he states the following, “the shift in China industries from Original Equipment Manufacturers to Original Design Manufactures requires significant technological upgrading: more and higher-level engineers, mastery of the latest technologies, creative thinking, and problem solving abilities…These qualities are not found in abundance in China now. That is where educational reform, foreign education, and the transfer of skills from foreign firms to domestic players come in. This explains why those areas are accorded high priority by Chinese leadership.”
The author goes further and explains that the Chinese government is able to move quickly building infrastructure and streamlining regulations supporting high economic growth rate. The strategy has been too moved aggressively into a variety of industries from textiles to appliances.
If for no other reason than to remain competitive in the world economy, the USA must enter into the race to employ INQUIRY as the means by which our students learn science. The Chinese are recruiting experts from the USA and their own USA educated scientists to help implement this educational methodology in Chinese schools. The goal in minds is to produce masses of critical thinking problem solving engineers needed in their industries. It is important that stakeholders committed to the USA education system take notice and now make Inquiry-Based Science Education a national priority for our schools.
A report recently published by the National Academies details a renewed focus upon science education in the United States. The report is titled, A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards. The rational for this new emphasis upon inquiry is detailed within the document and present below:
“Many recent calls for improvements in K-12 science education have focused on the need for science and engineering professionals to keep the United States competitive in the international arena. Although there is little doubt that this need is genuine, a compelling case can also be made that understanding science and engineering, now more than ever, is essential for every American citizen. Science, engineering, and the technologies they influence permeate every aspect of modern life. Indeed, some knowledge of science and engineering is required to engage with the major public policy issues of today as well as to make informed everyday decisions, such as selecting among alternative medical treatments or determining how to invest public funds for water supply options. In addition, understanding science and the extraordinary insights it has produced can be meaningful and relevant on a personal level, opening new worlds to explore and offering lifelong opportunities for enriching people’s lives. In these contexts, learning science is important for everyone, even those who eventually choose careers in fields other than science or engineering.”
Both of these are arguments for the implementation of science in the classroom that is inquiry-based; a curriculum designed to produce critical thinking individuals that deliver creative and intuitive solutions to perplexing problems we face into the 21st century. The process of doing inquiry in the classroom requires a more focused content that is investigated in greater depth. There must be an acknowledgment that our students can take the lead in their own learning by applying knowledge they have acquired to solving practical problems.
Schools are institutions of learning. Faculty and administrators need to embrace a sense of urgency to meet the academic needs of our students. Schools not only provide the physical environment, climate and culture for learning to flourish, but also commit time, resources and talent necessary so all students learn. Learning is the constant in education; time and support are the variables.
The goal in science education is to create movement toward a shared vision for learning in our schools. The starting point is to build collaborative cultures in the school by engaging in collective inquiry regarding matters that impact student learning, participate in action research, create continuous improvement processes, and help each other monitor and improve upon results.