Doris Ash, Cappy Greene & Marilyn Austin
the March/April 2000 issue (vol. 13, Issue 4) of Connect,
a publication of Synergy
to the work of six teachers was contributed by staff members
of the Exploratorium's Institute for Inquiry. ---Editor
is a renowned museum of science, art, and human perception located
in San Francisco. Physicist Frank Oppenheimer founded the museum
in San Francisco in 1969 as a place to introduce people to science
by encouraging self-discovery through a process of asking questions
that lead to further understanding. That process is the basis for
the Exploratorium's philosophy of science education.
For more than
25 years, the museum has been experimenting with inquiry-based
science learning in partnership with teachers and schools in the
San Francisco area and across the country. As part of the museum's
Center for Teaching and Learning, the Institute for Inquiry provides
elementary educators with programs for exploring, examining, and
discussing the nature of inquiry. One facet of this program is
the Teacher Learning Group, comprised of teachers from San Francisco
and nearby Marin County, all graduates of the Institute for Inquiry.
This group of
teachers has used classroom-based research to infuse inquiry into
student learning and into their own teaching practice. The Learning
Group has had an emphasis on reflective practice, collaboration
and discussion and practitioner-based work using the classroom
as the laboratory.
Over the past
six years we have seen tremendous growth in the professional skills
of a changing group of teachers. As they undertake inquiries into
their own practice, they consciously identify the subtle steps
that allow inquiry to grow for their students. Often they begin
by working with the process skills of science, observing, questioning,
predicting, interpreting, communicating, etc. Teachers model the
skills students need to allow process understanding to grow: they
model questioning, use planning templates, introduce reflective
thinking, and emphasize de-briefing and group-sharing skills.
While these teachers
are guiding inquiry in their own classrooms, they are simultaneously
doing an inquiry into their own classroom practices. Their inquiry
shares the same process skills that they model for their students.
They are inquiring into student learning, using student work as
To do this formative
assessment, there must be a mechanism for gathering, interpreting,
and making decisions about student progress and for matching the
pedagogical techniques that will move students forward. But these
next steps also inform the teacher's own practice. This intertwining
of actions of both student and teacher is the basis for self- reflective
practice and professional development.
Group provides opportunities for collaboration within a safe and
supportive environment where there is constructive feedback on
classroom research and practice. Our Learning Group consists of
teachers across many grade levels and areas of interest. They have
found that children of all ages can be successful at inquiry. They
know that inquiry can be practiced outdoors and indoors and in
a wide variety of content areas. We find this diversity to be enriching
to us all.
Featured in this
issue of Connect are six case studies of science
inquiry in the elementary classroom written by participants of
the Teacher Learning Group. Each article explores some critical
aspect of inquiry:
Villavicencio looks at the classroom environment and kindergarten
inquiry into light and color
- Jane Bresnick explores
the facilitation of inquiry into force and motion in the first
- Wendy Cheong examines
the role of questioning in a sound unit in second grade
Mott discusses the role of observation in a third-grade
- Beth Kraft looks
at inquiry and project-based learning in a year-long inquiry
in the fifth grade
- Julia Marrero explores
how inquiry leads to content while exploring a sixth-grade unit
on the water cycle
As we have observed
these teachers work to change their practices to be more effective,
and then share their experiences with their peers, we realize that
this is professional development that comes directly from them
and from their classroom experiences. The teachers have honed their
skills so that their classrooms have become demonstration classrooms.
We have brought participants from other seminars to observe them.
These members of the Teacher Learning Group have become mentors
in their schools and in their districts, have led workshops for
incoming teachers and have presented their work at several professional
conferences. You will find examples of their exceptional work throughout
the pages of this issue of Connect.
Doris Ash, Marilyn
Austin and Cappy Greene, Science Educators with the Exploratorium
Institute for Inquiry, also want to thank Exploratorium Executive
Director Goéry Delacôte, Center for Teaching and Learning
Director Dennis Bartels, and Institute for Inquiry Director Lynn
Rankin for their ongoing support.
post this issue of Connect granted by Synergy
Learning International, Inc.
San Francisco, CA 94123