Further, research in the cognitive sciences, which helps explain how students acquire information and how cognitive growth comes about, is a final tradition that has supplied evidence that supports the use of inquiry teaching. Of late, much has been learned about inductive approaches to teaching by the research and the clinical observations made by early education teachers themselves. This research too, fairly consistently points out that it takes inquiry teaching and strategies associated with higher-level thinking to produce growth in the thought and inquiry processes of early education students.
Perspective and Rationale Getting students to think, solve problems, and discover things for themselves are not new goals for education. Similarly, teaching strategies labeled discovery method, inquiry training, or inductive teaching have long and prestigious heritages. The Socratic Method, dating back to the early Greeks, emphasized the importance of inductive reasoning and dialogue in the teaching process. John Dewey (1993) described in some detail the importance of what he labeled reflective thinking and the processes teachers should use to help students acquire productive thinking skills and processes.
Jerome Bruner (1996) emphasized the importance of discovery learning and how teachers could help learners become constructionists, or builders of their own knowledge. The overall goal of inquiry teaching has been, and continues to be, that of helping students learn how to ask questions, seek answers or solutions to satisfy their curiosity, and build their own theories and ideas about the world. During the curriculum reform movement of the 1950s and 1960s several specific approaches to inquiry teaching were developed in a number of subject areas specifically in science and mathematics.
When discovery teaching was applied in the sciences and mathematics it emphasized the inductive reasoning and inquiry processes characteristic of the scientific method. For instance, Richard Suchman (1992) developed an approach called inquiry training. Teachers present students with puzzling situations or discrepant events which spark curiosity and motivate inquiry. For example: The teacher holds up a pulse glass. The pulse consists of two small globes connected by a glass tube. It is partially filled with a red liquid. When the teacher holds one hand over the right bulb, the red liquid will begin to bubble and move to the other side.
If the teacher holds one hand over the left bulb, the red liquid will continue to bubble but move over to the other side. The teacher asks students: Why does the red liquid move? As students inquire and seek answers to this question, the teacher encourages them to ask for data about the pulse glass and the moving liquid, to generate hypotheses or theories that help explain the red liquids movement, and to think of ways they could test their theories. It is important to take note that Suchman worked mainly in the field of elementary science.
When discovery approaches are used in other fields such as mathematics, the processes of inquiry in those fields guide the lesson. For example, Edwin Fenton (1996) developed what he labeled an inductive approach to use in mathematics classrooms. Fenton emphasized the importance of getting students to ask the kinds of questions that mathematicians might ask. So regardless of specific applications, whether in science or mathematics, what is common among subject areas is that teachers are taking an inductive rather than a deductive orientation.
Instead of giving students ideas or theories about the world, which is what teachers are doing when they use the presentation or direct instruction strategies, teachers using inquiry or discovery approaches pose questions or problems to students and ask them to come up with their own ideas and theories. The teacher is not instructing students on important ideas, but instead of facilitating inquiry and discovery. To do the inquiry method of teaching effectively requires some knowledge of what thinking is and the nature of human discourse in the process of learning to think.