Inquiry in early years science teaching and learning, curriculum design and the scientific story
McMillan, Barbara Alexander.
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Inquiry in school science, as conceived by the authors of the 'Common Framework of Science Learning Outcomes K-12', is dependent upon four areas of skills. These are the skills of initiating and planning, performing and recording, analysing and interpreting, and communication and teamwork that map onto what Hodson calls the five phases of scientific inquiry in school science: initiation, design and planning, performance, interpretation, and reporting and communicating. This study looked at initiation in a multiage (Grades 1-3) classroom, and the curriculum, design tools, and inquiry acts believed to be necessary precursors of design and planning phases whether the inquiry in which young children engage is archival or laboratory investigation. The curriculum was designed to build upon children's everyday biological knowledge and through a series of carefully organized lessons to help them to begin to build scientifically valid conceptual models in the area of animal life cycles. The lessons began with what is called benchmark-invention after the historical work of Robert Karplus and the contemporary work of Earl Hunt and Jim Minstrell. The introduction of a biological concept was followed by a series of exploration activities in which children were encouraged to apply the concept invented in the benchmark lesson. Enlargement followed. This was the instructional phase in which children were helped to establish scientifically valid relationships between the invented concept and other biological concepts. The pre-instruction and post-instruction interview data suggest that the enacted curriculum and sequence in which the biological knowledge was presented helped the nineteen children in the study to recognize the connections and regularities within the life cycles of the major groupings of animals, and to begin to build scientific biological conceptual models. It is, however, argued that everyday biology, in the form of the person analogy, acts as an obstacle to biological understanding, and that the construction of scientific knowledge depends upon first hand experiences with organisms, as much as it does dialogical interaction, "acts of inquiry", and reflective exploration of multiple sources of information.