Explore, Question, Discover

The best part of my role as Hart High School’s Instructional Coach is that I am able to observe other teachers in action, learn from them and then bring the information to all of you so that we all benefit!  In a way, I explore, question, and discover…the very same way our science teachers lead students through labs.

Science teachers seem to naturally be able to engage their students and help them become interested in making meaning of the world around them.  I learned a great deal about the art of inquiry from the science teachers I observed over the past few weeks.  Inquiry, as we know, is a fantastic tool in the classroom.  Socrates perfected this art and, thanks to the classical philosopher teacher, today we have an easy pedagogical technique available for use.  This technique is aptly named the Socratic Method. When a teacher uses the Socratic Method he/she avoids directly giving information to the students.  Instead, the teacher ask questions of the student and even answers student questions with more questions.  This method helps students to deepen their understanding and come to conclusions on their own.  Developing this skill as a teacher can help move you away from lecture/notes/memorization (20th century) to an inquiry-based classroom (21st century)!

Heather Cox, Kathryn Smith, and Tami Williams all used inquiry in the labs I observed and are masterful at this teaching art.

The Explore Stage

On a hot day a few weeks ago I was walking through the quad and observed Tami Williams (one of our new science teachers!) and her students running back and forth with what appeared to be cups of water.  I watched for a bit, curious about the lesson.  The “Explore” stage of a 5 E’s science lesson (or a “lesson cycle” as it is also referred to by CollegeBoard) gives students tools for a hand-on experience that leads them to discovery of the concepts on their own, prior to any lecture.  That afternoon I noticed how students interacted with one another.  They were asking one another questions and Tami encouraged this and modeled this by asking questions of her own.  Modeling questions in the classroom signals the type of thinking our students should be doing in our specific content areas.  We no longer need students to simply memorize information and move on, especially when a Google search is at their fingertips.  What they can do with information is what really matters.  When we model the thinking they need to look at ideas critically, to make meaning, to sort, to solve, to argue, to critique, to question— we prepare them to succeed in college and careers and we teach them how to become engaged, thoughtful citizens.

Discovering Meaning 

Heather Cox is another one of our new science teachers.  She invited me in to her classroom and I was able to watch her masterfully infuse inquiry into her lab.  Heather, a former researcher, believes that students must discover the meaning behind a concept before any direct instruction.  I also agree that this method helps students to become engaged with the material and the ideas. When I observed Heather’s chemistry class she communicated her objective: students will write their own procedures for a mixture lab.  Students were given a mixture of salt and sand.  They had to devise a way to separate the two and determine how much of each was in the mix.  Working in groups, the students created their plans and then met with Heather to share their thinking.  Watching each group confer with Heather as she guided them with questions led to students later asking each other and other groups questions of their own.  For example, I overheard one group asking another, “How are you recording your data?”  They exchanged ideas and then got back to work.  In a 20th century classroom this may have been considered cheating, but not in a 21st century classroom that encourages students to use available tools, including collaboration with peers, to help discover meaning and carry out tasks.

Modeling The Thinking We Want Students To Do 

Kathryn invited me to observe her students during a 1D and 2D Kinematics lab.  I’ll pause while you click on “kinematics” for the definition. (Don’t worry, I had to, too!)  Physics of pure motion…I love the way that sounds!  The first thing I noticed about this lab is that students were encouraged to share their findings with description, graphs, equations, and a paragraph.  Below you will see the lab challenge and goal:


The variety of ways a student can demonstrate knowledge allows for differentiation.  Remember the video we watched at our last PD? (You can find it here).  In the video the Chemistry teacher talked about how some of her students excel at math while others may need to see models or write out their responses in a paragraph form.  As a student who excelled more at English than math and science, I would certainly have benefited from this type of differentiation in a Chemistry classroom.

For her inquiry lab Kathryn allowed students to be in pairs (more collaboration!) and she used the Team Shake App to help pair up students at random.  Next, students worked hands-on with the lab materials.  Here is what I adore about Kathryn.  She works through the lab first and brainstorms all of the responses she thinks the students could write.  In fact, she did a bit of collaborating with fellow science colleague Judy Jennings and together they recorded all of the good and possibly poor responses they could think of that students may have.  You can see her science notebook below. (As a huge Writer’s Notebook fan, this Science Notebook made my heart sing!)

Armed with possible results from her own inquiry into the lab, Kathryn then led students on a quest to success with collaboration, questioning, and good old fashion trial and error.  On day 2 of the lab the students paired up with another group to critique and defend their claims, evidence, and reasoning.  Sound familiar?  That would be because it hits one of our anchor standards this semester Speaking and Listening 3:  Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric. 


Let’s take a look at a video of Kathryn as she demonstrates the art of inquiry.  Watch and listen as she leads her students through their exploration with questions, allows for wait time (even though it is an awkward silence!), and encourages her students to make claims and reason throughout the inquiry process!

Don’t you love the pure joy on Kathryn’s face?  She loves what she does and this enthusiasm is infectious!

What ways can you help students explore, question, and discover so that they begin to make meaning first without direct instruction?  How do you use the Socratic Method in your classroom?  Invite me in, I would love to see inquiry in action for all of our content areas!

If you are looking for ways to help with questioning, check out two books about which I have previously written:  Cultivating Curiosity and Questioning for Classroom Discussion.

Thank you Tami, Heather, and Kathryn for sharing your teaching lives with us! 




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