"Students ... should be provided opportunities to engage in full and in partial inquiries. In a full inquiry, students begin with a question, design an investigation, gather evidence, formulate an answer to the original question, and communicate the investigative process and results. In partial inquiries, they develop abilities and understanding of selected aspects of the inquiry process. Students might, for instance, describe how they would design an investigation, develop explanations based on scientific information and evidence provided through a classroom activity, or recognize and analyze several alternative explanations for a natural phenomenon presented in a teacher-led demonstration," according to page 143 of the National Science Education Standards. The Student Observation Network, or SON, is designed to provide opportunities for students to engage in inquiry, as well as to learn specific content.
It is constructive to begin with the basic assumption that students are innately curious -- that they want to learn, discover and create. This assumption doesn't mean that they are curious about chapter one of a science book, but that learning normally originates from a desire to know as much as from a need to know. Recognizing that people learn through a variety of modes (e.g., aural, oral, visual and kinesthetic), SON attempts to engage problem-solving in as rich an experiential matrix as possible. Learning can be described as the interaction between the self and an experience that brings about a change. There must be an experience and, while this could include a lecture or a reading, the greatest interaction occurs when an individual is engaging more of the learning modes. Learning is also enhanced if the person desires and needs to know. The richer the experience is, the richer the interaction will be, and the more substantial the change will be. With this approach, the language of teaching changes from controlling, molding, giving ... to enhancing, opening, challenging, nourishing, guiding ... as outlined in "Science Teaching Standards -- Changing Emphasis," on page 52 of the NSES.
Creating an environment in which the students are active participants in the learning process is vital. In this environment, the students are the essential workers in the educational process. They construct, discover and develop central concepts. They create and solve problems. They read, write, talk, think, pose questions and solve problems. They observe and manipulate aspects of their environment, and in the manipulation, confront problems about which they think, talk, write and read. They take risks. Students exhibit the ability to learn how to learn. Students exhibit understanding of the central concepts and competence with the essential skills in a problem-solving environment. Students exhibit competence in individual and group problem solving. Students exhibit a willingness to accept different kinds of solutions to the same problem. They exhibit a willingness to work with other students outside class.
Within this changing emphasis, the teacher is committed to presenting learning experiences, not necessarily information, and to using open-ended questions whenever appropriate. Teachers guide the experience. Teachers often define the problem field, and sometimes define the central question -- although in full Inquiry, the student defines the central question. This does not mean that teachers do not ever give information. The criterion, it seems, must be, "Is this information closing down investigation or enabling and enhancing investigation?" "Is it giving the answer or providing the framework in which questions can be asked, problems posed and investigation begun?" Teachers respect the student's ability to solve problems. Whenever teachers give an answer, they run the risk of communicating that they believe the student is incapable of solving the problem. Teachers praise careful thought and process publicly and often, recognizing the risks taken. Teachers encourage different problem-solving techniques and the involvement of as many different learning modes as a student needs. Teachers also encourage students to develop problem-solving techniques that are weaker than the students' preferred style. For example, teachers encourage intuitive problem-solvers to marry analysis to their intuition and encourage analytical problem-solvers to use intuition.