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Enquiry Learning Has Pitfalls, Science

Enquiry Learning Has Pitfalls

Enquiry Learning Has Pitfalls discusses problems arising from the introduction of Enquiry tasks to students in primary school. This conversation with my student illustrates many of them.

“What are you doing in Science?” I asked.

“We don’t do Science,” Year 5 student replied. This was the answer for several minutes of discussion.

“What do you mean? Of course, you do Science,” I said. His mother then became involved.

“We only do Enquiry,” Year 5 student clarified for me.

I delved into the mysteries of No Science, All Enquiry.

“Would you like to see my Enquiry Report on Biomes?” student said.

So, I was given a booklet he made about biomes.

  • It was about eight to ten pages of small sheets.
  • It had less than 100 words in it.
  • It had several diagrams that he had found on the net and pasted in.

My Assessment Of This Enquiry

  • It took far too long to produce, about one month;
  • It had never been assessed by the teacher; and
  • there was no assessment or teacher’s comments in the School Report, according to the parent.
  • The student was unable to use the advanced information from the internet sites to gain any understanding of biomes.
  • He could not use the vocabulary correctly.
  • I had to prompt him when he felt around for the word “tundra”, but he could not tell me where the Arctic is located.
  • When I asked him about information in his graphics and diagrams, he could not explain them.
  • He had not learned that “coniferous” is the adjective of the word “conifer” in reference to coniferous forests in his Report. Nor did he know what a conifer is.

What Went Wrong

  • Although he had a question to prompt his Enquiry project, it had somehow got lost.
  • The terms of the Enquiry were far too broad.
  • No preparatory reading was done in class, with the class.
  • Although videos were shown to the class, very little was gleaned from them, even though instructed to take notes.
  • Very basic information, such as a definition of a biome, was not acquired and not taught.

Putting Enquiry Learning Right

I agree completely with Professor John Hattie when he says that Enquiry sounds terrific and that the logic of Enquiry learning is well argued. The evidence, however, indicates that it is introduced too early.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUooOYbgSUg

Why Enquiry Learning Needs Review

Students need information to manipulate in their minds. While transferring information to students is strongly criticized as an outdated form of teaching, it is nevertheless an essential part of teaching and learning.  Information needs to be presented to students in an orderly, structured and comprehensible way, appropriate to their level of language and intellectual maturity. Up till the age of about ten, a child is in the concrete phase of development.

Students can drink in great amounts of fascinating factual information in the first six or seven years of their formal education.

As they mature, students

  • manage the information,
  • query it,
  • move it around,
  • discuss it,
  • write about it, and
  • use it to solve problems.

This phase of learning entails understanding relationships between facts.

The challenge for teachers and schools is to pick the right time to introduce Enquiry Learning that builds on the bedrock of facts in contexts of scientific language in primary school. Terms, methods and even history of discoveries help them with later Enquiry Learning.

The problem needs to be refined. There is a problem introducing this method to primary school children but there appears also to be problems with the way teachers manage Enquiry tasks. Let’s hope it is not too long before these issues are ironed out.

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