Kendall Hunt Publishing

From Memorization to Inquiry-Based Learning

November 19, 2021

By: Laurel Curtiss

 Throughout my time in grades K-12, memorization was a requirement and treated as a prerequisite to success. In first grade, my teacher had our class memorize one Spanish tongue-twister a week to present. In fourth and fifth grade, my teachers would line us all up against the whiteboard to recite the multiplication and division tables. In middle and high school, my classmates and I memorized the plant cycle, cell cycle, and carbon cycle and all kinds of math formulas, from the Pythagorean Theorem to the Quadratic Formula (there’s even a song for that one to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel”). 

True understanding has too often been put on the backburner in exchange for rapid memorization of concepts that tend to go in one ear and out the other for students. Education can get so wrapped up in the “how” of everything that we often forget to acknowledge the importance of the “why.” 

“When am I going to use this?” What has long been viewed as the question of a classroom smart aleck is in reality a query that students should be taught to ask at every stage of the scientific process. It is questions like these that further students’ scientific exploration and encourage lifelong learning.

Why is the sky blue? How was the Earth made? Why can’t we breathe underwater? How do the seasons work? Why does mold grow on my bread when I leave it out? What is inside a black hole? Questions are nothing to be afraid of. In fact, they are the cornerstone of scientific understanding.

Opportunities for scientific exploration are everywhere. Something as common as baking bread, making a phone call, or even using a bath bomb involves multiple scientific processes that we do not necessarily think about because “that’s just the way the world works.” Children are naturally more curious than this, and nearly everything could present itself as a type of learning opportunity. 

OpenSciEd gives students the opportunity to create hypotheses and think about the experiment beforehand through interactions with classmates. Questions jumpstart learning and encourage active participation in the scientific process. These might look like: “What do you know about bath bombs?” and  “What are your experiences with bath bombs?” and “What do you think will happen when they go in the water?” Answers from students quickly follow detailing their experiences, existing knowledge, and hypotheses. After the experiment (ex. placing a bath bomb in water) students are asked to share what they have noticed and ask what they wonder. 

This model of instruction breaks down the scientific process to make it more approachable and student-driven. Students are able to choose how to communicate their understanding of science concepts, and classrooms are encouraged to work together to come to a consensus. By placing the ability to drive lessons and explore concepts into the hands of students, learners immediately become more invested in their education. 

Students grow equally invested in lessons when they pose challenges that students care about. BSCS: Understanding for Life has taken a new approach to scientific learning by connecting science to issues that students are passionate about. The majority of the lessons within Understanding for Life circle back to issues in our world today: health and the environment. One lesson deals with “Zach’s Story.” In this case study, a boy of 11 experiences severe symptoms of infection and ends up in the hospital for several days. Doctors struggled for days to determine what was wrong with him; in the end, the diagnosis was MRSA. Through Understanding for Life, students are exposed to situations such as these, and they are encouraged to work through the problems, familiarize themselves with solutions, and generate hypotheses. Just like the doctors who contributed to saving Zach’s life, students take the reins in helping to solve real-life issues.

This approach to learning not only motivates students to be invested in their coursework, it also prepares them for scientific understanding for life. Real-world experience will always provide more knowledge and skill than learning from a book or lecture. Students should be emboldened to explore and figure out socioscientific issues, rather than simply learning about them.

Help your students discover the “why.” To learn more about these two Kendall Hunt offerings, visit BSCS Biology: Understanding for Life and OpenSciEd Middle School Science.