The impact of enquiry-based science teaching on students' attitudes and achievement

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This resource is licenced under an Open Government Licence (OGL).


This text originally appeared on the DCSF website, now archived by the national archives, as part of a research briefing. It is reproduced in part below.

What is enquiry-based teaching and how it was used?

In the model of enquiry-based learning used by the researchers, students used exploration, reflection and questioning techniques, shared ideas and engaged in dialogue. The role of the teacher during the process was to act as a guide who challenged the students to think beyond their current processes by asking divergent questions. The model drew on research into enquiry-based learning that shows that often students experience difficulties in formulating appropriate questions which focus on the intended content. In this context the teacher needs to help them by drawing their attention to the experimental data and facts relevant to their enquiry and by generally facilitating the discussion.

One of the key issues associated with the use of the enquiry methods in the classroom is time. Most enquiry exercises span several class sessions and can continue for weeks, which makes it difficult for a teacher to use them. This prompted the researchers to try small-scale (taking a maximum of two days to complete) enquiry activities in teaching physics.

Despite being small in scale, the laboratory activities in this project involved all the major characteristics of enquiry, for example:

  • developing and planning the investigations;
  • collecting and interpreting data;
  • working collectively towards a common goal and
  • sharing individual findings, etc.

The activities undertaken by the students as a part of enquiry-based learning in this study are similar to those recommended by a recent Ofsted report (Ofsted (2008) Success in science - please see the references for more detail). The report suggests that the most stimulating teaching and the most enthusiastic learning in science occur when teachers encourage their pupils to come up with their own ideas and, supported by their teacher, to plan, conduct, record and evaluate their investigations.