Using an Inquiry-Based Approach for Cross-Curricular Teaching

hyrdaulicsBy Christopher Reaume

Curriculum Connection: All science courses; article specifically identifies Grade 10

Inquiry-based teaching (referred to as IQT throughout this article) is a relatively new method of teaching that has recently been implemented into schools within the past decade in an effort to promote student involvement in teachers’ lesson plans. This method of teaching involves introducing students to a problem, allowing them to conduct their own hypotheses, conduct an experimentation to test their hypotheses, and finally determine how well their hypotheses compare to the experiment’s results.

The main concept of IQT involves students solving problems independently or with their fellow classmates, and the teacher provides guidance, when necessary, to help them arrive at the correct conclusion. An example (from chemistry) involves examining the relationship between pressure and temperature when keeping the volume constant using a balloon. First, students would hypothesize if a relationship does indeed exist, then conduct an experiment where the temperature inside the balloon increases, and finally examine how the walls of the balloon become much firmer (due to increased pressure). Students would then compare their hypothesis to the experiment’s results, and the teacher would discuss their findings with the class. In essence, it is the students who determine the relationship between temperature and pressure, rather than the teacher simply providing them with the relationship without any experimentation.

Although IQT may appear at first glance as simply a specific style of teaching, it can actually be used as a form of evaluation in cross-curricular teaching. In high school, in particular at the grade 10 level, teachers from all areas of the Ontario curriculum are encouraged to incorporate literacy-based activities into their lesson plans to help prepare students for the Grade 10 Literacy Test. IQT can serve as an excellent foundation for not only designing literacy-based activities, but also for connecting these activities with areas throughout the science curriculum.

A significant aspect of the Grade 10 Literacy Test requires students to read an article, provide their opinion on an aspect related to the article, and defend their opinion. When using IQT in the science classroom, students are often required to formulate and defend their hypotheses on a specific problem. Teachers can use these opportunities to design literacy-based activities according to their students’ hypotheses. For example, students could be required to write a brief one-page paper explaining the formulation of their hypotheses, and also provide reasons as to why other student’s hypotheses may be correct or incorrect. To provide a second example, given a list of each student’s proposed solution to a particular problem, students could be required to write a brief paper outlining the pros and cons of each solution and then determine the optimal solution to the problem based on these pros and cons. An additional, closely-related idea that will also give students a chance to develop their communication skills could involve group presentations where each group is required to conjecture a hypothesis on a specific problem, and then defend their hypothesis in front of the class, while also attempting to disprove other groups’ hypotheses.

Various benefits also arise from using IQT as a method of evaluation in the classroom. The most important benefit is the strong connection between these literacy-based activities and the science curriculum, as opposed to simply providing students with activities that have no connection with science. Although I have mentioned that literacy-based activities in the science classroom are being used primarily at the grade 10 level to help prepare students for the Literacy Test, these activities can be applied in classrooms at any grade level and to any branch of science. It is essential that any students who pursue a post-secondary degree in any branch of science are able to prepare and write an effective lab report in which their hypotheses are clearly stated and different reasons are provided to support their hypotheses.
Literacy-based activities that are directly connected with the science curriculum provide students with an excellent opportunity to not only improve upon their literacy skills, but their lab writing skills as well. Teachers can take advantage of the information that is provided to them by their students when completing these activities. Students’ misconceptions about a topic are usually exploited when they are required to formulate and defend their hypotheses. More importantly, students usually include real-life experiences when defending their hypotheses and teachers need to be aware of these experiences so they can not only identify a student’s misconceptions, but also determine the source of these misconceptions. Once a teacher has gathered this information, they can make any necessary changes or adaptations to their future lesson plans to ensure that students’ misconceptions are being addressed and corrected. In addition, students need to be provided with a plausible explanation as to why their hypotheses are incorrect in order to help them eliminate these misconceptions from their beliefs.

With regard to students who plan on pursuing a post-secondary education in any area of science, these IQT literacy-based activities serve as an excellent introduction to the process of how scientific knowledge is constructed and developed. Depending on how far students are willing to pursue science following high school, such as obtaining a master’s or PhD degree, it is extremely important that they have been introduced to the whole process of being able to look at problem, formulate a hypothesis, propose reasonable solutions for solving the problem, and compare the results with their original hypothesis. These types of activities provide students with valuable experience in this process and will ultimately help them succeed academically when they leave high school and continue on in their post-secondary education, where it is usually assumed that students already have the ability to formulate and defend their hypotheses on a particular topic.

The outlook on IQT, especially in the science classroom, needs to be viewed as much more than just a specific style
of teaching. By using IQT as a form of evaluation, teachers are able to make a strong connection between the science
curriculum and developing a student’s literacy skills. Students will be provided with more opportunities to improve upon their critical thinking skills, which are important for succeeding in any area of the curriculum, not just science. Although these activities will be particularly helpful in preparing students for the Grade 10 Literacy Test, the idea of using an inquiry-based approach for cross-curricular teaching can be applied to any branch of science regardless of the grade level. As a result, it will help students develop the fundamental skills that are necessary for them to succeed in their post-secondary education.

* In the context of a science classroom, I consider literacy-based activities to be cross-curricular primarily because the science curriculum does not place much emphasis on the area of literacy development. If the context of the article
pertained to an English classroom, then I would not consider literacy-based activities to be cross-curricular because these activities are already a fundamental aspect of the English curriculum.

Christopher Reaume was a pre-service teacher at the University of Windsor when he wrote this article. He was a
recipient of the 2012 Don Galbraith Pre-Service Teacher Award of Excellence with this submission.