Written by Jen Gilbert, Special Populations Liaison
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” –Benjamin Franklin
When I sat down to think about why I am so passionate about inquiry-based education I tried to come up with an example that sums up the experience for both teachers and students. I remembered a colleague sharing a story about a conversation she had with a student. She was working in a small group with special education students and she asked one of the students, “What do you think?” The student’s response was, “I don’t know.” She made it a teachable moment by telling the student that she was asking what they think about the topic, not what they know in terms of looking for any particular correct answer. To me that was a powerful lesson for both of them. How often do we ask our students what they think, and truly consider the response? The reason I love inquiry-based science is that it allows students to think about ideas, explore ways to solve a problem, and make sense of it all in the context of the particular lesson. In other words, the inquiry approach allows students to do science.
Working with special education students has allowed me a unique perspective on lesson design. Establishing lessons that are suited to meet the needs of special education students in the classroom will benefit ALL students in the classroom. My first exposure to an inquiry-based curriculum in the classroom
was BSCS Biology: A Human Approach. I remember opening up the textbook and seeing the first engage activity called “Cooperating like a Scientist” in the Being a Scientist opening section. I saw the way the section was introduced and could not believe how much it was aligned to material I normally had to adapt for students. Here was a program already designed with the learner in mind! I often see students struggle with biology lessons when they cannot connect the material to their everyday life. If you watch a group of students play the “radar game,” you will see firsthand what it means to be immersed in a lesson! Students become the investigators in these lessons; they are doing science rather than reading/writing about it.
Have you ever had an experience where you can say to a student “Remember when we...,” where you refer back to a previous activity, and you can see the student recalling the activity? Or perhaps they reply with details and a story about that particular day in class. How often do we get the chance to hear from students about the impact a lesson has had, or see the connections they make? I worked with a dozen high schools implementing BSCS Biology and feel so fortunate to have been in a position to see it on a regular basis. From self-contained special education to general education classrooms without a cooperative team teacher, I have seen the impact of inquiry-based science on our students. The students have to be actively engaged to participate in an activity. When we use the inquiry model in our lessons, we ask our students to do science: to think and become problem-solvers. I feel like I am empowering students to become lifelong learners, and I cannot imagine being in the classroom without using inquiry practices.