Tool IB-2: Exploring evidence

For this tool you will need the following resources:

  • IB-2 PowerPoint
  • Handout 1: Inquiry learning – evidence of ‘what works’
  • Paper: Inquiry-orientated instruction in science?

The aim of this tool is to stimulate thinking about the effectiveness of an inquiry approach. It is essentiallydownload_powerpoint a discussion activity which draws on research findings to help the group think about what claims teachers can make about the effectiveness of an inquiry approach. It is suitable for teachers of mathematics and science.


Begin by discussing with the teachers how they would know if these approaches work. They might suggest, for example, greater student engagement or better student learning. Use the Handout: Inquiry learning – evidence of ‘what works’ to promote further discussion.

Provide the group with copies of the paper by Smith et al, and show them the following extract taken from the paper Inquiry-Oriented Instruction in Science: Who Teaches That Way? (Smith et al, 2007). Ask them to discuss Anderson’s hesitant conclusion reported by Smith et al.

Although some research suggests that students exposed to inquiry-oriented instruction obtain a deeper understanding of science …. and exhibit higher achievement, much of the evidence is based on small scale qualitative or correlational studies. In summarizing the results … Anderson (2002) concluded that inquiry-oriented teaching “can work” (p. 4).

As a group, the teachers should now begin to formulate a research question related to how effective inquiry approaches are and why. For example, they might want to explore the differences in their students’ responses, both in terms of engagement and achievement, in the context of inquiry tasks and more traditional tasks. On the other hand, they may want to look at something more specific, such as the language students use when engaged with an inquiry task.

In particular, ask them to think about their own classrooms, and about the sorts of evidence they might be able to provide to support claims that the inquiry approach is effective. Encourage them to think critically about ‘evidence’ such as better student engagement, which may not actually translate into better learning.

nextstepsAsk them to investigate their question in their classrooms and be prepared to report back to the group in a subsequent meeting. When they do report back, encourage them to reflect on what they have learned about the effectiveness (or otherwise) of inquiry approaches.


Anderson, R. D. (2002). Reforming science teaching: What research says about inquiry. Journal of science teacher education, 13(1), 1-12.

Smith, T. M., Desimone, L. M., Zeidner, T. L., Dunn, A. C., Bhatt, M., & Rumyantseva, N. L. (2007). Inquiry-oriented instruction in science: Who teaches that way?. Educational evaluation and policy analysis, 29(3), 169-199.