Big Ideas in Literacy
Science as Inquiry
Science is a continual process of inquiry into how natural systems work, from how subatomic particles behave, to the chemical code for hereditary information, to the mechanisms of plate tectonics that shape Earth’s continents, to the composition of comets. The path of inquiry is not straight, and it never ends; however, along the way it does yield practical benefits, such as nuclear power, new medicines, weather prediction, and space travel. Therefore, whether you are a student or a professional, inquiry is the main purpose of reading in science. Scientists of course read to learn and understand what their colleagues and predecessors have discovered. Perhaps less appreciated is that they read to be stimulated to ask fresh questions and explore new avenues for research.
The focus on inquiry in science is a huge benefit for instruction in disciplinary literacy because pedagogical inquiry can be based directly on the professional methods and language of scientific inquiry. Teachers should be prepared to provide students with useful framing questions, while students need to be encouraged to formulate their own questions and to learn how to break big questions into smaller actionable questions. They also need to learn to be critical of the quality of their own questions while recognizing the role of different types of questions for different aspects of scientific inquiry.
Reflect: Think about ways to help students be critical and skeptical without being criticizing, harsh, or argumentative. What approaches have you used in the past to foster constructive criticism and pointed dialogue while damping down heated arguments? Have you managed the composition of teams and work groups with individual student temperaments in mind?