What does PISA tell us about inquiry learning in science?

Filling the pail

It seems like a no-brainer. If we want to reverse our students’ stagnation in international science tests then some argue that we need to transform the way that we teach science. Instead of boring, teacher-dominated forms of instruction where students are expected to passively absorb facts, they suggest that we need to engage studentsin what real scientists do: Studentsshould be working in groups, formulating their own hypotheses, discussing the science and carrying out investigations. In this vision, the teacher is a guide-at-the-side who is there to ensure that students have the right resources and don’t go off track. This approach is generally described as ‘inquiry learning’.

It doesn’t work

Unfortunately, the evidence to support this inquiry learning is underwhelming. Approaches that have low levels of teacher guidance have repeatedly failed. Those where the amount of guidance is increased have more supporting evidence but, even then, under the…

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