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Inquiry-based Learning in Middle School Science




Middle school science teacher Aldaine Hunt opened class with a review of the day’s essential question – how does water move around the earth? – and the steps students would follow to make a claim, cite evidence, and offer reasoning.

"What do you observe?" he would ask again and again.

In twos and threes, students made a closed model of the water cycle by stacking two halves of a water bottle, the lower half filled with blue hot water and the top half filled with ice. Over the course of ten minutes we observed evaporation, condensation, and precipitation, a small version of the way the earth and atmosphere interact to create clouds that return water to earth as rain, snow, sleet, or hail. 

Students noted their observations and asked questions like why the condensation wasn’t also blue. “That’s a good question,” Mr. Hunt said but he did not offer an answer. Instead, when students pose questions prompted by their observations, Mr. Hunt encourages them to think through the possibilities. 

This kind of learning – by doing, through inquiry – is slow and rich. In the video below, a student reflects on why learning through multiple senses is effective.