IBL in science

This part of the toolkit considers how the processes of inquiry based learning may be integrated into the teaching of science content. Arguments for inquiry based learning in science have been made on the basis of:

  • IBL being a more effective pedagogical approach to teaching science content;
  • IBL being important in terms of teaching about aspects of the Nature of Science and how scientists work;
  • IBL supporting the teaching of processes and skills, with the further potential to support transferability of skills through positioning inquiries within authentic contexts.

The arguments are often linked to the need to produce future scientists who will go on to use some aspects of science within their workplaces; to a more general demand for the kinds of transferable skills that can be taught well within the discipline of science; and to the need to develop a public with sufficient understanding of science to take responsible positions as citizens.


The emphasis on particular aspects of these arguments varies across countries and schools. However, the position in many schools remains one where the teaching of science content is kept separate from the teaching of processes, skills and the nature of science. Content is taught as a collection of facts and ideas to be learnt and understood, while manipulative and process skills are taught separately through practical activities. Some schools include practical activities with strong elements of investigation in them but many do not and it is more common for the focus to be on either an illustration of science content or learning a particular practical skill.

The integration of content and processes within IBL raises many pedagogical challenges. The processes include those of observing and visualising; classifying and creating definitions; making representation; finding connections and relationships; estimating, measuring and quantifying; evaluating, experimenting and controlling variables. As some have pointed out, these are developments of natural human powers that we employ from birth (Millar, 1994). To some extent we use them unconsciously all the time. When these powers are harnessed and developed by teachers to help students understand the concepts of mathematics and science, students become much more engaged and involved in learning.

For this issue there are three professional questions to consider: