Scientific inquiry is defined as applying current knowledge in pursuit of learning something unknown about the natural world. Not true science experiments, scientific inquiry activities should focus on the process of asking questions and using evidence to answer these questions.
Start by cutting a piece of foam carpet padding into a specific shape. Glue the piece of foam onto one of the large flat sides of a square piece of 1/4-inch plywood. Place the wood, foam side down, onto the floor and have the students come into the room. Tell the students that they must determine what is underneath the piece of wood, using everyday items, but without picking up the piece of wood. Document the steps and observations made to try and determine the nature of the unknown object. Discuss which steps or observations were the most valuable. Reveal the foam shape on the bottom an ask which methods or observations could have helped students the most in their inquiry.
Gather together different kinds of balls that bounce: a tennis ball, basketball, super ball and so on. Have students watch as you drop the first ball from about chest height and tell them to record their observations.Then allow the students their turn with the balls -- along with a meter stick, for determining bounce height, and a scale, for determining the mass of each ball. Have the students make observations and write down questions on why each particular ball bounces as it does. Take a few questions and then have students investigate them and form a hypothetical answer for each one. Review the questions, hypotheses and any findings. Discuss the process used to investigate each question and how successful the process was.
Food Chain Cube
From a piece of thick paper, create a six-sided cube. On one side of the cube, draw a plant or animal from one food chain in a particular ecosystem, and on three more sides, draw other plants and animals from the food chain of the organism drawn on the first side. On the last two sides, draw physical attributes of that ecosystem. Then place the cube organism-side down on a table and bring students into the room. Ask them to make observations about the sides of the cube that they can see and then have them form a hypothesis for what is on the unseen side of the cube. Ask for the basis for their hypothesis. Allow one student to slide the cube to the edge of the table, peek at one corner of the unseen side and report what was seen to the rest of the students. Have students make a final hypothesis and reveal the sixth side.
What Is a Worm?
Provide worms to students and have them observe the worms moving along a flat surface. Next, have students generate a series of questions about worms. These questions should involve something that can be tested. For example, how does a worm react to freezing temperatures? Or does a worm have a top and a bottom? After having students form a hypothetical answer to their question, supply them with any materials necessary to test their hypotheses. After testing their hypotheses, have students discuss what they learned and which experiments yielded the most information.
- National Science Teachers Association: Scientific Inquiry
- University of California Berkeley: Poking Around: Having Students Experience the Real Process of Science
- University of California Berkeley: Exploring Bouncing Balls
- National Institutes of Health: Lesson 1—Engage/Explore Inquiring Minds
- Exploratorium: Inquiry Into the Zen of Wormness
- Photo Credit Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/Getty Images
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