Inquiry-based learning (IBL) is a student-centred Pedagogic strategy, a process that is ideally led by students. This strategy aims to teach students science by doing it, to attain conceptual change, or accommodate new knowledge, as one of Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development claims. To achieve that, students work collaboratively, building on previous knowledge and one another’s work, and engaging in active self-directed learning, to find resources, means, and use tools, based on their own formulated questions, and find appropriate resolutions to questions and issues. Each inquiry leads to the creation of new questions and ideas.
This process of exploration of the world around them leads the learner to questions and discoveries in the seeking of new understandings. However, to succeed in an inquiry learning environment, the process of transforming information and data into useful knowledge, that the learner undergoes, must be facilitated (Scaffolded) by teachers, or more advanced learners, taking into consideration the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), as Vygotsky defined in the social development theory; is the difference between what can the learner achieve independently and what would the learner achieve with guidance from another person with better understanding or a higher ability level, concerning a particular task, process, or concept.
Several theories underpin the IBL approach; its roots in constructivism stem from social-constructivist theories of learning, holds the theories of intelligence, concepts of Learning Styles (approaches to learning), and favours with learning cycle-based teaching or Kolb’s Learning Styles Model and Experiential Learning Theory.
In the guided inquiry learning activity about diffusion and osmosis, students are initially engaged through the use of a day to day phenomena – air freshener, primarily aiming to activate prior knowledge on some properties of matter (in this case air/gas). Following, open and closed-ended questions are posed, to guide students’ previous knowledge towards the spreading of the scent/diffusion as a mean of scaffolding, and on the other hand, to promote higher-order thinking through introducing temperature and the fan as factors affecting the phenomenon, allowing students to partially build on what they already know. Similarly, the second demonstration, food colourant spreading in water, activate prior knowledge on solutions, concentration, solute, and solvents, supported by teacher-guided questions, further, it emphasizes on factors affecting diffusion, as they observe how the colour spread faster in hot water. At the end of these activities, using guided inquiry, the students will individually formulate some hypotheses, share their conclusions, and eventually figure out the occurrence of a spontaneous mechanism moving from higher to lower concentrations; which they will eventually learn that it is called diffusion. Finally, they will associate the fan and the temperature to its occurrence, as factors not as triggers, and by such figuring out and learning about the passive process of transport during diffusion. These demonstrations initially, allow students to, synthesize previous knowledge and the new knowledge obtained through sensory observation, supported by teacher-led inquiry, into a new understanding, on one hand, allowing them to connect with their daily lives, by asking them to give real-life examples were diffusion occurs, and ensuring concept attainment on the other.
In this section, it’s important to note, students’ thinking is directed towards the lesson content is a smooth transition, and “conveys to students the usefulness and excitement of the concepts they are being taught,” by employing both dimensions of the anticipatory sets. Initially through the affective dimension, “Sparking students’ interest” with sensory triggers, followed by a cognitive process, through activating previous knowledge and key concepts, allowing them to see and experience the relevance of real-life occurrences, to the concepts they are about to learn, thus contributing to enhanced learning interest. Besides, “we remember better what we are interested in learning”; thereby, influencing strong content knowledge formation, through comprehension and effective learning in an enthused environment.
For the second part of the learning activity, students will confront a problem “the sailor’s death resulting from drinking saltwater” based on which they will need to experiment on potatoes and discover a new form of diffusion /mechanism – “osmosis”. After the students’ interest was triggered, prior knowledge activated, the potato experiment, involving material the students are already familiar with, in their daily lives. This guided experimental procedure, allows students to rationalize the observable phenomena (in this case osmosis), providing them with the opportunity to draw meaning from the data they collected during the experiment. Additionally, the experiment involves a set of challenging questions to guide students through the development of their understanding (developing and validating of hypothesis), on what happened with the potatoes, and how would this phenomenon relate to the why/how the sailor died. Furthermore, the use of a dramatic scenario (A shipwrecked sailor’s death), encourages the application of knowledge effectively in new situations and contexts (de-contextualization). Thereby, students will be challenged to apply the learned skills/concepts learned to figure out this relevant “out of context” case; and as such fostering the practice of conceptual association between the learning content and their daily lives (interconnectedness) that facilitates and strengthens the learning of content. Lastly, in the course of ensuring strong content knowledge is being built, the experimental practice guided and supervised by the teachers provides the students with an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of previously and newly acquired knowledge and skills. Also, it allows the teacher to determine the level of comprehensive knowledge or skills attained by the students and accordingly provides individual support or more challenging experiences as needed before proceeding.
One of the most integral parts of lesson planning is to identify and clearly state the intended learning objectives. This, in turn, focuses on the teacher’s instructional planning and what content needs to be delivered. Moreover, it facilitates the teaching and the learning process, as learning environments need to be styled to the learning conditions. Lastly, clear learning objectives help guide teachers when selecting methods of assessment and expectation of how well students demonstrate that learning has been achieved. When developing those learning objectives, teachers following Bloom’s taxonomy, need to include action verbs relevant to the desired cognitive levels, in both, the adopted Instructional strategy, as well as in the assessment sections of the lesson plan. This hierarchical cognitive classification focuses on outcomes, and is implementable through the choice of action verbs aiming “to describe behaviour students are expected to perform”. Accordingly, and concerning the presented learning activity, the stated objectives reflect a student-focused and outcomes-oriented instructional strategy describing observable and measurable expected students’ behaviour, and meeting the 6 levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognitive objectives. “Knowledge: The ability to remember previously learned material” achieved through the first two teacher’s demonstrations. Followed by “Comprehension: The ability to grasp the meaning of material”, reflected in the second learning objective – explain passive and active transport. “Application: The ability to use learned material in new and concrete situations”, depicted in objective 3: apply the process of diffusion/osmosis to explain both science and everyday phenomena. Then is “Analysis: The ability to break down the material into its parts so that its organizational structure may be understood.” Presented in objective 1- compare and contrast diffusion and osmosis mechanisms. Finally, achieving “Synthesis: The ability to put parts together to form a new whole” through experimentation, integrating previous knowledge with learning concepts, and employing collected observational data to resolve the challenge from the self-formulated knowledge. Finally, “Evaluation: The ability to judge the value of material for a given purpose.” Targeted mainly in two parts of the lesson plan; the lab sheet, complemented by the set of challenging question, that indirectly helps students bring things together in their minds and make sense out of what they are learning. In parallel, it provides the teacher with tangible information on content/skill, knowledge and new understanding, through a performance-based and conceptualization rubric as a measuring tool. The closure, was the second part directed to meet the 6th level of Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognitive objectives, by simply using a 3-2-1exit, initially intended to verify understanding, and an appropriate conclusion of the lesson. Conclusively, both, the presented activities and set of questioning elicit students to engage and interact with lesson content, using different cognitive processes, as demanded by Bloom’s taxonomy, promoting challenge and learning. (Module 11)
Another central requirement while developing active learning instructional plans is to accommodate strategies with differentiation recognition for students’ variances in readiness, skill levels, interests, and learning styles, aiming to maximize each student’s learning opportunities. Strategies for differentiating lessons include differentiation by content, process, and product, which are simultaneously addressed in the presented learning activity on various levels. Starting with teacher’s demonstrations of the day to day events that students can relate to, and received new information through one of the VAK senses, which is visual in this case as students would be able to visualize mechanisms through their sensory observation, particularly during the air freshener demo. Additionally, lower level and ESL students are addressed, using language related explanations adapted to ensure terms and definitions meet all reading readiness. Moreover, to meet the different learning readiness, especially lower-level students, supplementary examples like that of the teabag and sugar, are provided to aid students to make a better sense of the mechanism being taught. Prior knowledge activation was used also to direct students towards higher complexity, in particular, the advanced or higher-level students, by pair up and developing analogies related to cell membrane, by using their knowledge and the experience with osmosis and diffusion to design their experiment proving how a membrane is semi-permeable; in other words, allowing them to drive information and knowledge through experimentation using Howard Gardner’s Ml theory, and at the same time addressing kinesthetic learners, assimilating and accommodating learners, to solve problems, and then combine abstract conceptualization and reflective observation. Lastly, the lesson is differentiated by content, process, and product, promoting maximized student learning, and providing students with practical experience in ways of learning that don’t come naturally to them, and increases their capacities to grow and team.