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Exploring Science as Open-Ended Transactional Inquiry:
A Working Group on Elementary Science Education

Schedule and Discussion Links
On-line Forum

This working group is open to everyone interested in elementary science education, science education, and education generally. See schedule for meeting details. For further information contact Alice Lesnick or Paul Grobstein.

Images by Rachel Grobstein

The development of science education curricula is frequently dominated by concerns about content mastery, and preparation for more sophisticated content mastery.

For this reason, science curricula often reflect a commitment more to conveying to students the current state of scientific understandings than to engaging students with the practice of science and enhancing their skills as scientists. For similar reasons, science is often treated as a distinct curricular activity, one in which knowing the answers is given precedence over the process of discovery and creation. A common and unfortunate consequence of such an approach to science education is the progressive creation of two distinct populations of students, those who actively pursue further engagement with science and those who become increasingly disengaged from it.

The content dominated approach to science education actually significantly misrepresents the activity of science itself, which is primarily driven not by finding answers but by treating all existing answers with skepticism and using them to motivate new inquiries and new ways of thinking about the world and one's place in it.

The process is not only a creative one but also a social one, perhaps best described as an ongoing inquiry in which observations and interpretations/stories of those observations are shared among individuals in a continuing effort to generate wider and more generally applicable forms of understanding. Viewed from this perspective, the primary concern of science curricula should to build on inquiry skills that all humans are born with and to provide an environment and experiences that progressively enhance the abilities of all students to engage in ongoing inquiry, both individual and collective. The objective of this working group is to explore alternate ways of thinking about science education that more accurately reflect the nature of science itself, viewed not as a body of knowledge but as a fundamental and generally useful style of human inquiry. Some starting points:
  • While changes are needed at all levels of the educational system, elementary science education creates a pattern of expectations that affects all subsequent levels and so needs special attention.
  • Contemporary understandings of the brain are directly relevant to thinking about how to facilitate the development of inquiry skills
  • There is a need to extend beyond constructivist and inquiry-based approaches by adding an explicit commitment to open-ended inquiry involving active exchange among students and between students and teachers.
  • The purpose of knowledge is to drive curiosity; what people know and what they can ask -- and be -- are importantly linked.
  • Ongoing access to science learning may be enhanced by educational experiences that fundamentally include learners in the process of scientific discovery and discourse.
  • Science as "open-ended transactional inquiry" can meaningfully and valuably influence other areas of the curriculum as well.

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Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:19 CDT