This article caught my eye since many of us have been discussing the benefits of applying inquiry-based chemistry labs in the past week. It is a case study conducted in Isreal looking at open-ended inquiry labs versus straightforward “recipe” type experiments.The researchers already knew that students benefited from labs, but they wanted to really find out what metacognitive skills were taught in the labs versus technical skills. They also mentioned that doing well in the lab involves good questions and often students do not know how to ask the right questions and test their hypotheses.
After about 15 similar experiments were performed by each class, the control group being step-by-step labs with room for data and questions relating to the results, and the experimental group being open-ended inquiry-based labs where students had more time to design experiments, all students were given a practical test – a simple experiment involving mixing two unknown powders with water, and placin thm in a bag, and recording observations. They were allowed at this point to choose a question for further investigation, and propose an experiment to support their hypothesis. Another evaluation was to read a scientific article and write down questions they would ask after reading this article, and pick one to investigate. The results from the practical test were that the experimental group students asked more questions in general, with many of them being higher-level questions than the control group. There was an equal amount of lower-level questions between the two groups. Results were similar in low-level questions after reading the article as well, but the number of higher-level questions asked in the experimental group was ten times the control group! These results indicate that if students have the chance to go through inquiry-based chemistry experiments over time and develop their critical thinking skills, they are able to ask higher-level thinking questions and learn more from their experiments.
Once again, we all know that doing labs is fun for the students, they get to work with others, actively-learn, and change up the routine. Many teachers (including myself) are still hesitant to implement many inquiry-based labs due to fear of student reaction, time constraints, lack of resources, and lack of where to start. Even if we can implement one per semester, or one per unit, all the planning time will definitely pay off for our students, and ultimately, ourselves for their accomplishments.
Hofstein, A., Navon, O., Kipnis, M., Mamlok-Naaman, R. (2005). Developing students’ ability to ask more and better questions resulting from inquiry-type chemistry laboratories. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(7), 791-806. doi: 10.1002/tea.20072
*Note that the journal includes the practical test question and references the article they used for the scientific reading – perhaps we can look to see what types of questions are students are asking as well?