Inquiry Learning Pedagogy

Pedagogy and Philosophy:

  • Describe an phenomenon and encourage students to speculate on how it might be explained. Alternately, expose students to an existing theory and ask them to find evidence to support it. Begin with a theory.
  • Give them the tools to gather evidence
  • Have them write a scientific argument to support their conclusions
  • Or: have students present their arguments to the class singly or as a group
  • Or: let them create posters showing their findings.

Approaches that discourage inquiry learning:

  • Having students read the theory and  that show images that provide the answers. Example: plate tectonics. Don’t show them the plate boundaries. Let them determine them using the data. With the data, the boundaries are easy to find anyway.
  • Neglecting to prepare learnings for inquiry. Possible approaches are letting students read short papers of varying qualities and let them critically review them.
  • Caveat: for the theory of plate tectonics, there is a wealth of material that shows the plate boundaries. However, the assignment could ignore these images and require that the students find them themselves.


  • Be sure students understand the difference between observations and interpretations, in the context you are setting. For example, observations in one context may be interpretations in another. Age dates may be the observation to a geologist, but may be the interpretation to the person operating the dating machine.
  • Start small. Short paper, then more “in-depth” assignments.

Applications that support learning about the Earth