What Inquiry-Based Science Instruction Requires

The Department of Education in the Philippines touts its K to 12 science as a curriculum that makes use of the following: multi/interdisciplinary approach, science-technology-society approach, contextual learning, problem/issue-based learning, and inquiry-based approach. At first glance, these approaches sound attractive, but the difficulty in implementing any one of these is often underestimated and unappreciated. What each one of these approaches requires is frequently taken for granted. Worse, these approaches are oftentimes not fully understood.

For example, an inquiry-based approach is often contrasted to "traditional" instruction. The comparison is usually done incorrectly when "traditional" instruction is defined merely as students sitting passively or quietly as a teacher carries a monologue in front of the entire class. Right off the bat, there is a presumption that "traditional instructors" do not even attempt to engage their students. On the other hand, an inquiry-based approach teaching is generally and incorrectly equated to designating the teacher merely as a facilitator and never a transmitter of knowledge. To see why this is wrong, one can look closely at an example of an inquiry-based instructional approach, the 5E instructional model. 5E stands for engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration and evaluation. Kate Silber of Highland Park High School succinctly describes 5E with the following paragraph:
One approach to teaching inquiry is the 5E learning cycle. It starts with the teacher introducing an engaging experience. This can be anything from a YouTube video to a class discussion. Students then explore the content through a lab experience. This exposes students to the content without specifically telling students the information. Next, the teacher explains the content through direct instruction. This can take the form of a PowerPoint® lecture or class discussion. Finally, the teacher can introduce an extension exercise followed by an evaluation. The evaluation may be a formative or summative assessment.
In a "traditional" classroom, an instructor can begin by relating a story or phenomenon to pique the students' interest. Traditional science classrooms can have a laboratory component through which the topic can be further explored hands-on if possible. And obviously, the explanation part can be provided by a lecture. Then, homework can be assigned. This is elaboration. At the end, there is an exam, which is an evaluation. Due to practical limitations, "traditional" instruction sometimes leaves the first two E's, but the last three E's are staple elements. Thus, it is really not that useful to draw a distinct line separating inquiry-based from "traditional" instruction.

It is therefore more useful to recognize what effective instruction entails as these requirements apply whether the instruction is inquiry-based or "traditional".  In any classroom, the student is supposed to be learning and it is that two-way interaction that greatly matters, regardless of how instruction is delivered. Thus, in both cases, for example, informed guidance is necessary.

A recent article scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology illustrates what goes into guidance that truly helps students learn. The study actually looks at how effective guidance can be automated in an online authoring and instructional delivery system, Web-based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE). The study finds that knowledge integration guidance is necessary to make a significant difference in learning outcomes. The following is an example:

Above copied from
Gerard, L. F., Ryoo, K., McElhaney, K. W., Liu, O. L., Rafferty, A. N., & Linn, M. C. (2015, July 6). Automated Guidance for Student Inquiry. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000052
There is one example for knowledge integration guidance (one that works) and one example for control guidance. The difference between these two demonstrates what it takes to be an effective instructor.  The automation program constructs a set of knowledge integration guidance by analyzing 1000 scored responses from a diverse set of students. As the paper puts this number in perspective, this is equivalent to the number of responses a teacher may receive after teaching the same content over five years. The program also uses a natural language processing tool for reading and assessing a student's essay and assigning an appropriate knowledge integration guidance. A similar experiment is likewise performed on student's drawings. In both cases, essays and diagrams, learning outcomes are only slightly better when students are provided knowledge integration guidance. The effects are actually negligible when pre- or posttest scores are considered. The authors add, "A “no guidance” control condition would likely yield larger effect sizes...." But that would be grossly unfair because teaching, no matter what approach is used, should be so much more than just saying, "that is right" or "that is wrong", or nothing at all.