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Framworks for Inquiry
Big Sky Transition
to Framework for
Science Inquiry
Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaboroarte, Evaluate Engage Elaborate Explore Explain Evaluate



What does inquiry teaching mean to you?

Which of the following scenarios would best describe your approach in presenting a unit on the gas laws?

At the start of the gas unit, students are given balloons, hot plates, beakers, graduated cylinders, thermometers, pressure probes, syringes, etc. They are instructed to be creative while they record observations and manipulate the items to see what they can discover about gases.

The teacher explains the relationships among temperature, volume, and pressure of a gas. Students then design their own experiments to investigate each relationship, being careful to select and control variables.

Prior to being taught the gas laws, students are provided instructions in order to collect data relating volume and temperature, volume and pressure, and pressure and temperature. Then, by studying and analyzing the data, they begin to discover and construct their own understanding of relationships among the variables.

After presenting the relationships among temperature, volume, and pressure of a gas, the teacher provides students with instructions for collecting gas data. Students perform the experiments and verify that the mathematical relationships among variables are indeed true.


Continuum of Teaching Styles (Traditional to Inquiry)

  Traditional Expository
Guided Inquiry
Principle Learning Theory Behaviorism
Student Participation and Role Passive; Direction Follower
Active; Problem solver
Student accountability in outcomes Decreased
Curriculum Goals Product Oriented
Process oriented
Teacher Role Director
Guide or facilitator


Continuum of Lesson Designs:  Expository to Guided Inquiry to Open Inquiry 

Traditional Expository Lesson Guided Inquiry Open Inquiry
Inform: Teacher provides definition(s) and examples of new concept(s)
Engage: Question posed by teachers or a teachers demonstration stimulates students’ affective domain; Often elicits prior knowledge from students 

Students are curious about a topic after making personal observations and are motivated to continue investigation.

Verify: Teacher provides lab question and materials for students to confirm the previously-defined concept. Data Analysis should verify concept.
Explore: The teacher has a clear direction about what students should learn and provides students with a question to enable them to collect evidence.  Students collect data with materials provided by teacher.
Students formulate a question and then design an experiment to collect evidence.
Practice:  Teacher provides similar problems and questions to re-enforce content knowledge. Re-teach if necessary.
Explain:  Students are guided through meaningful and thought-provoking questions to formulate an explanation from their evidence. 
Students independently formulate an explanation after summarizing the evidence.
Repeat the Inform-Verify-Practice cycle with a related concept.
Elaborate:  Students is guided to possible connections or expansions on the concept.  Often a second 5E learning cycle is used to examine connections. May be used to introduce real-world applications.

Student independently examines other resources and forms links to other explanations or phenomenon. Often designs and carries out further data collection and analysis.

Evaluate: Students can provide or recognize concept definitions, examples, and solve algorithmic problems
Evaluate: Students can communicate explanations, compare and contrast with other possible explanations, provide arguments in support
Student conducts a critical analysis of investigations and modifies or expands as necessary.


Frameworks for Inquiry: Overview of Project

Inquiry is an approach to learning where the learner constructs his own knowledge about how the world works by gathering data through any of the 5 senses and by making meaning of the interrelationships that exist. The learner gathers data to answer a question that is either posed by the learner or by the instructor. Inquiry learning is a process that is cyclical in nature and requires the student to be engaged as an active participant in his own learning process. The inquiry process emphasizes the learner’s process skill development as he interacts with science and the world around him. It is through these process skills that ANY learner at ANY age interacts with the natural and material world. These interactions lead the learner to new discoveries and understandings by forming mental models and frameworks that new knowledge and concepts can attach to, thereby strengthening and enlarging the individual's overall intelligence. The learner will not only gain science content knowledge with this program but will also use his process skills with increasing sophistication and improve “higher-order-thinking-skills” as he interacts with data through hands-on experiences.

High School Chemistry: An Inquiry Approach is specifically a Guided Inquiry approach that has been developed, improved upon and carefully sequenced with a specific goal in mind.  This goal is for high school Chemistry students to derive the concepts contained within a two-year course sequence.  The curriculum ensures the student success by starting off with a unit on simple measurement.  This unit allows students to focus on how data is collected and analyzed so that meaning comes from the collected data.  The course work then addresses chemistry concepts through a macroscopic lens and through the gas laws, progressing in a sequenced journey that parallels chemistry’s historical sequence of discovery and building on a student’s mental model of the particulate nature of matter.  As the students work through the units, they continually revisit skills and concepts that are integrated into content that is presented later in the course. 

Teachers who transform their teaching method and pedagogy with this guided inquiry style will find that they also will grow dramatically from the experience.  Instructors will discover a deeper and broader understanding of the basic chemistry concepts and will learn new and better ways of relating course concepts to one another.  Instructors will also discover that their guided inquiry approach to teaching has as much an impact on their students’ success in the course as their attitude and content knowledge.  It is just as important for an instructor to aid in the development of formal reasoning patterns as it is to pass on course content.  The classroom environment that encourages the use of data for conceptual development will cause the student to be more engaged and construct his own learning while increasing his affective domain, improving his energy and attitude toward learning.  The student will internalize and integrate the information on his own to a much greater degree.  This will transfer to other learning situations and will help improve success in other academic endeavors. The instructor and the learner will grow in content knowledge, higher order thinking skills, process skills and will become lifelong holistic learners.

How can the abstract science of chemistry be taught by Inquiry?

“High School Chemistry: An Inquiry Approach” Table of Contents
Inquiry Title Traditional Title
Unit 1 How are Units of Measurement Related to One Another? Measurement & Density
Unit 2 How are the Pressure, Volume, and Temperature of a Gas Related to One Another? The Combined Gas Laws
Unit 3 Is There a Smallest Piece of Matter or Can We Keep Cutting a Piece in Half Infinitely? The Atom
Unit 4 How Can Matter be Classified According to its Composition? Classification of Matter
Unit 5 How Can Particles be Counted by Weighing? The Mole
Unit 6 What are the Patterns in the Chemical and Physical Properties of Elements? Periodic Trends
Unit 7 What is the System Used to Name Chemical Compounds? Nomenclature
Unit 8 What is the System Used Symbolize Chemical Change? Equations and Reactions
Unit 9 What are the Relationships Among Reactant and Product Quantities in a Chemical Change? Stoichiometry
Unit 10 What are the Relationships Among Reactant and Product Quantities in a Chemical Change involving a Gas? Gas Stoichiometry
Unit 11 What is Specific Heat? Heat Energy
Unit 12 What Model Describes the Structure of the Atom?  Atomic Structure
Unit 13 What Joins Atoms Together? Bonding
Unit 14 What are the Properties of Homogeneous Mixtures? Solutions
Unit 15 How do Protons Behave in Chemical Change? Acids and Bases
Unit 16 How do Electrons Behave in Chemical Change? Oxidation-Reduction


Sample Lesson Measurement & Density

Comparing Expository (traditional lecture delivery) and our Inquiry Lesson on Density:

Unit 1 Process Skills

Traditional Expository Lesson on Density, using the Inform, Verify, and Practice Model

observing measuring graphing interpreting analyzing communications
Inform: Teacher provides definition of density; Density ° mass/volume. Discussion follows with examples          
Verify:  Students conduct confirmation lab(s) to find density.      
Practice: Use algorithmic formula to solve for the mass, volume, or density of different substances.          
Evaluation questions            


Unit 1 Process Skills

Guided Inquiry Lesson on Density, using the 5-E Learning Cycle (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate)

observing measuring graphing interpreting analyzing communications
Engage: Students reveal prior knowledge about measurement units.  “Construct a list of ten units of measurement and explain the relationship among any three units in your list.”          
Explore: Students develop a personal measuring unit (head circumference) and find the relationships between different units of measurements. “Construct a graph of your head measurements vs. accepted lengths in centimeters.”      
Explain: “Draw a line of best fit and determine the line’s slope.  What does the line’s equation tell you?  Explain how the relationship between your “head” unit and the centimeter involves proportionality.” Students use the conversion ratio from their graph’s slope and apply dimensional analysis in problem solving    
Elaborate: Measure the mass and volume of different substances and graph.  Students find that one substance, like copper, will have a constant slope (density) that is different from another substance’s slope.  Students have construct their own definition of density.
Evaluate: Using proportional ratios, students solve for the mass, volume, or density in problems.             



Sample Lesson: Unit 7 What is the System Used to Name Chemical Compounds? (Nomenclature)

Comparing Expository (traditional lecture delivery) and our Inquiry Lesson on Acid Nomenclature

Unit 7 Process Skills

Traditional Expository Lesson on Acid Nomenclature, using Inform, Verify, and Practice

observing measuring graphing interpreting analyzing communications
Inform: Teacher provides the rules for naming and writing formulas of binary acids and oxyacids.          
Practice: Students do practice drills with names and formulas of acids.            
Evaluation: Students name and write the formulas for some acids.            


Unit 7: Lesson Progression Process Skills

Guided Inquiry Lesson on Acid Nomenclature, using the 5-E Learning Cycle

observing measuring graphing interpreting analyzing communications
Engage: “Are Scientists memory experts? Are you”?  Students try their hand at memorizing the digits of pi, realizing that simple memorization is not going to work for a complex system.          
Explore: Students compare and contrast the names and formulas of a list of binary and oxyacids, and organize by patterns.        
Explain: Students construct their own set of rules for naming and writing acid formulas, and then create a flow chart.      
Elaborate:  Students apply their rules to a novel set of acids and adjust as needed          
Evaluate:  Students can modify nomenclature flow chart as needed, assign names and formulas to many acids      


Sample Lesson: Unit 13 What Joins Atoms Together? (Bonding)

Comparing Expository (traditional lecture delivery) and our Inquiry Lesson on Bonding

Unit 13 Process Skills

Traditional Expository Lesson on Bonding, using Inform, Verify, and Practice

observing measuring graphing interpreting analyzing communications
Inform:  Teacher gives definitions, examples, and properties of ionic, covalent, and metallic bonding.             
Verify:  Lab activity observing the different properties of ionic, covalent, and metallic substances        
Inform: Teacher defines Lewis Dot Diagrams for ions, covalent, and metallic substances.  Teachers also define and give examples of orbital hybridization in various substances.  Examine the VSEPR theory.          
Practice: Students make Lewis Dot Diagrams and determine the molecular geometry with sample formulas            
Evaluation:  Students classify substances as having ionic, covalent, or metallic bonds, draw Lewis Dot Diagrams, and determine molecular geometry            


Unit 13 Process Skills

Guided Inquiry Lesson on Bonding, using 5-E Learning Cycle with repeating loops

observing measuring graphing interpreting analyzing communications
Engage:  Student reveal prior knowledge when asked “What evidence can you provide that supports the idea that atoms bond with other atoms?” Students then examine and group common substances based on their physical appearances and have to justify their classification system to other groups.        
Explore 1:  Students calculate the difference of electronegativity values and the average of electronegativity in several bonds, graph, and look for patterns and common characteristics.      
Explain:  Students reflect on the nomenclature rules from a previous unit and the substances’ placement on the graph.  Students derive a mental model of how electrons are behaving in the different bond groupings as related to electronegativity values.      
Explore 2: Students investigate the conductivity of materials, and advance their models based on whether electrons are fixed (localized) or mobile (delocalized),    
Explain 2:  Students add valence electrons to their models and use the models to define and classify bonds as ionic, covalent, or metallic.        
Explore 3:  Students construct Lewis Dot diagrams for elements using the electron configurations (Unit 12) and valence electrons. Students look for the relationship to the elements’ placement on the Periodic Table. They then explore the possible bonding in F2, H2O, and NH3, NaCl, CaCl2, and Al2S3. Students watch a 2-minute video on a website to consider metallic bonds. Students must reflect back to the Explore activity to explain the conductivity observations based on bond types.      
Elaborate 1:  Student propose a formula for methane based on the Lewis dot formulas of C and H (usually predicted to be CH2) but then are confronted with combustion values that do not support the prediction.  Students have to modify their model to get the correct stoichiometry. Students examine orbital hybridization with SiCl4 and BCl3.      
Elaborate 2:  Students use balloons (representing electron pairs capable of forming bonds around a central atom) to examine the shapes of molecules, like CH4, BeH2, and H2O.      
Evaluate:  Students determine the bonding type by examining electronegativity values and determine bond shapes        



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Who were the...

Pioneers in Science Inquiry Education

Rober Karplus
Robert Karplus (1927-1990)

At age 32, Robert Karplus left his work as an outstanding theoretical physicist and pioneered the inquiry movement in science education. The work of Jean Piaget showed that children have to progress from concrete thinking to more formal thinking skills. Karplus was revolutionary in applying Jean Piaget’s work to developing new science curriculum. He worked to create curriculum where children construct, or build, their own mental models of science. He felt that effective teachers need to be aware of the reasoning patterns used by children. He developed a three-phase learning cycle, known as Exploration, Invention, and Discovery, emphasizing science study as hands-on experiences.  In 1961 he started the Science Curriculum Improvement Study (SCIS) at the Lawrence Hall of Science on the University of California-Berkeley campus.  His first education paper with J. M. Atkin in 1962 was entitled “Discovery or Invention?” He also created a film for SCIC in 1969 titled “Don’t tell me, I’ll find out.”

The following is a quote from his article “Science Teaching and the Development of Reasoning” in Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Vol. 14, No. 2, page 367:

“the formation of formal reasoning patterns should be made an important course objective (at least as important as the covering of a certain body of subject matter”

Roger Bybee
Roger Bybee

Another pioneer in Inquiry Science Education is Rodger W. Bybee, director emeritus of Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS). He was executive director of the National Research Council’s Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education (CSMEE) in Washington, D.C. Between 1986 and 1995, he was associate director of BSCS. He participated in the development of the National Science Education Standards, and from 1993 to 1995 he chaired the content working group of that National Research Council project.

BSCS’s instructional model expanded on Karplus’ three phases of learning.  The model, developed in the late 1980’s, has five phases: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.

The BSCS model used a backward design process described by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in Understanding by Design (2005). The educator starts with a clear statement about what students should learn, based on the content standards. Next, the educator needs to determine what will serve as acceptable evidence of student achievement (evaluation stage).  Then, a decision is made about what learning experiences (engage and explore) would most effectively develop students’ knowledge and understanding of the targeted content. Further refinement and activities may result (elaborate).

Dave Jones

Dave JonesDave Jonesteaches Chemistry 1 and Chemistry 2 at Big Sky High School in Missoula, Montana. Dave has been teaching for 20 years after earning a Bachelor's of Science degree in Zoology from Idaho State University in Pocatello, ID, his Montana State Teaching Certificate from the University of Montana in Missoula, MT, and his Master's of Science in Chemistry from the University of Montana in Missoula, MT.

Dave’s education awards include the following:

  • 2009 Gustav Ohaus Award for Excellence in Science Teaching
  • 2009 Big Sky High School Outstanding Faculty Award (selected by colleagues)
  • 2007 Toshiba Foundation of America Science Education Grant ($18K) for Air Quality Project
  • 2006 National Science Teacher Association Vernier Technology Award
  • 2005 Best Buy TEACH Award
  • 2005 American Chemical Society Division of Chem. Ed. Northwest Region Teaching Excellence Award
  • 2004 NSTA/Toyota TAPESTRY Grant ($10K)
  • 2004 Toshiba Foundation of America Science Education Grant ($20K) for Asthma and Air Quality project


Brett Taylor

Brett TaylorBrett Taylor teaches Chemistry and Advanced Science Research at Sentinel High School in Missoula, Montana. He has 30 years of teaching experience. Brett has a BS in Biology and a chemistry minor, and a Master's in Education, both from the University of California-Davis.



Maureen Driscoll

Maureen DriscollMaureen Driscoll teaches Chemistry and Advanced Placement Chemistry at Butte High School in Butte, Montana. She has been teaching for 26 years after getting her Bachelor's degree in Botany from the University of Montana. She earned her Master's of Science in Science Education from Montana State University in 1999. She was awarded the Butte Education Foundation’s Distinguished Educator Award in 2011.



Mark Cracolice

Mark CracoliceMark Cracolice, Ph. D., The University of Montana in Missoula, Montana.

Mark is the Chemistry Department chair and instructs General chemistry and graduate courses in chemical education. He has 17 years of experience.



Tony Favero

Tony FaveroTony Favero teaches Chemistry, Physics, and Advanced Placement Chemistry at Hamilton High School in Hamilton, MT.  Tony has 39 years of teaching experience.  He got a Bachelor's degree in Chemistry from Lewis University in Illinois and his Master's degree in Chemistry from the University of Notre Dame. Tony was the 2006 Montana Recipient of the Siemens Award for Excellence in Advanced Placement Teaching in Science and Math.  He was also awarded the 2008 Northwest Region American Chemical Society Award for Excellence in Teaching High School Chemistry



Karen Spencer

Karen SpencerKaren Spencer earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from Montana State University. She earned a Master of Arts in Chemistry from Washington State University. She has been teaching General Chemistry, Honors Chemistry, Advanced Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry at C. M. Russell High School in Great Falls, Montana for the last 33 years. Karen has received the following awards:

  • American Chemical Society Northwest/Rocky Mountain Regional Award in High School Chemistry Teaching- 2000
  • Montana Science Teacher Association Chemistry Teacher of the Year - 1997
  • DuFresne Outstanding Educator Award- 2000
  • National Honor Society Doctor of Service Award- 2003
  • CMR High School Teacher of the Year- 1998



Paul Phillips

Paul PhillipsPaul Phillips teaches Chemistry I & II, and Physics at Capital High School in Helena, Montana.  Paul has 22 years of teaching experience after receiving his Bachelor’s degree from Montana State University in Science. Paul has received the following teaching awards:

  • American Chemical Society Northwest Region Chemistry Teacher of the Year- 2009
  • Helena Education Foundation’s Distinguished Educator Award (twice)
  • Helena Education Foundation’s Great Conversations about Great Teachers Award
  • Capital High School National Honor Society’s Most Inspirational Teacher Award (three times)
  • Who's Who of America's Teachers (three times)





What do the project data and results tell us about the effectiveness of inquiry teaching?

Do students get the chemistry content when using the High School Chemistry: An Inquiry Approach curriculum?

Our data suggests that they do. The American Chemical Society (ACS) California Chemistry Diagnostic Exam is a 44 question multiple-choice test designed to assess students’ chemistry content knowledge.  Nine years of data have been collected. The first two years show data before the project began.  The next three years indicate years in which the curriculum was used in pieces. The last four years indicate data for which the course was taught in its entirety using the High School Chemistry: An Inquiry Approach curriculum. For all nine years the average score was above the national average of 22, which suggests that the students are learning as much chemistry content in the High School Chemistry: An Inquiry Approach curriculum course as they were previously learning.  The chart below displays these data.


Honors Chemistry students took the 2009 ACS High School Chemistry Exam, an 80 item comprehensive exam. Mean scores are compared to the national average below. Once again, student results parallel the national norms for content knowledge.

Honors Chemistry

Do students' thinking skills improve when their teachers use the High School Chemistry: An Inquiry Approach curriculum?

The data suggests they do. We pre- and post-tested our students using the Lawson Classroom Test of Science Reasoning (CTSR) and found significant gains in reasoning ability in groups that were exposed to the High School Chemistry: An Inquiry Approach curriculum. During the 2009-2010 school year we did a comparison study. Two teachers are long-term members of the Frameworks for Inquiry project.  Both exclusively use the High School Chemistry: An Inquiry Approach curriculum materials developed by the project for their first-year chemistry class and both teach in Missoula high schools. The third teacher (the control) taught first-year chemistry for 25 years and does not use the High School Chemistry: An Inquiry Approach curriculum materials.  All three groups of students in these classrooms took an online version of the CTSR in the fall of 2009 (pretest), and again in the spring 2010 (posttest).

Thinking Skills

The results of the Pre/Post testing are remarkable.  Students in the High School Chemistry: An Inquiry Approach curriculum groups (N=57), (N=47), made an average 1.92 and 1.20 point gains respectively. This represents 12.8% and 8.1% increases in their average CTSR scores.  In contrast the control (N=35) group made an average gain of 0.37 points representing a 2.5% increase.  The average normalized gain (ANG)–a ratio of the percent gain to the maximum possible percent gain–was remarkably different also.  The High School Chemistry: An Inquiry Approach curriculum groups ANG results were .519 and .298, respectively, indicating a medium effect on the students’ science reasoning skills.  The control group ANG of .0657 indicates the course had no effect on students’ science reasoning skills. The results are summarized in the chart below.

During the 2010-11 school year we did another study involving 3 teachers. Again two of the teachers are long term members of the Frameworks for Inquiry project, and the third is not.  All three teachers used the High School Chemistry: An Inquiry Approach curriculum exclusively for their first year chemistry classes. Again, all three groups of students took an online version of the CTSR in the fall of 2010 (pretest), and again in the spring of 2011 (posttest). Students in the three groups (N=79), (N=100), and (N=19) made an average 2.03, 1.11, and 1.80 point gains respectively. This represents a 22.9%, 12.4%, and 19.3% increases in their average CTSR scores. The ANG results were .330, .182, and .319 indicating that the curriculum had a medium affect on the students’ science reasoning skills. These results are significant because the N=19 group was taught by a non-project teacher who had very similar results in reasoning skills gains. The results are also summarized in the chart below.

The main point regarding this data is that curriculum materials developed as inquiry-based can have a profound effect on students’ science reasoning skills.

Thinking Skills Gains Measured using the Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning (CTSR)
Year 09-10 09-10 09-10 10-11 10-11 10-11
Teacher Project Teacher A Project Teacher B Non-project Teacher C Project Teacher A Project Teacher B Non-project Teacher D
Control vs Treatment Treatment Treatment Control Treatment Treatment Treatment
CTSR Pretest mean (15 items) 11.3 11.0 9.3 8.85 8.92 9.35
CTSR Posttest mean (15 items) 13.3 12.2 9.7 10.87 10.03 11.15
Average normalized gain 0.519 0.298 0.0656 0.330 0.182 0.319

Data from the first year of implementation of the project supports that even a small infusion of inquiry- based learning can impact student thinking skills. A preliminary study used Honors Chemistry students as the control group. Students in Honors Chemistry have stronger math skills than General Chemistry students. The treatment group, General Chemistry students, was given early versions of the first six units of High School Chemistry: An Inquiry Approach curriculum as part of their studies. The treatment group showed higher ANG than the control, despite their lower math abilities.

Thinking Skills Gain

Thinking Skills Gain

  Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning (CTSR)
Same School / Same Teacher
Control (Honors Chem) Treatment (Gen Chem)
Year 2004-5 2004-5
# Students 57 21
# Units None Six
CTSR Pretest mean (13 items) 7.56 5.86
CTSR Posttest mean (13 items) 8.02 7.14
Average Normalized Gain (ANG) 0.085 0.179