Inquiry based science education (IBSE)

Posted by Natasa Brouwer, on Oct. 5, 2021, 3:04 p.m.


The practice of inquiry requires the inquirer to pose questions, search for answers, probe counterintuitive phenomena and act inquisitively; in scientific inquiry, the student is involved in thinking critically, reasoning, generating evidence, critiquing evidence, while conducting a scientific investigation.  Inquiry is not only about carrying out practical work; it is the pedagogy around this work that allows students to be:

  • engaged in observation and, where possible, handling and manipulating real objects;
  • pursuing questions which they have identified as their own or  introduced by the lecturer;
  • taking part in planning investigations with appropriate controls to answer specific questions;
  • using and developing skills of gathering data directly by observation or measurement and by using secondary sources;
  • using and developing skills of organising and interpreting data, reasoning, proposing explanations, making predictions based on what they think or find out;
  • working collaboratively with others, communicating their own ideas and considering others’ ideas;
  • expressing themselves using appropriate scientific terms and representations in writing and talk;
  • engaging in lively public discussions in defence of their work and explanations;
  • applying their learning in real-life contexts;
  • reflecting self-critically about the processes and outcomes of their inquiries.” 

(adapted from Harlen & Allende, 2006)

Inquiry has also been called ‘behaving as a scientist’, where students can determine questions to be addressed and find ways of investigating these questions in a scientific way.  Key elements of inquiry in practice involves giving the student some flexibility in terms of generating evidence to support their claims and to argue and present that evidence to their peers or others.  

Generally students must be introduced to inquiry and scaffolded to be able to tackle more open inquiry questions.  Therefore initially students may be presented with guided inquiry tasks where they must be encouraged to explain phenomena that they see and present arguments supporting their claims.  As they develop their own questioning skills and evidence collection, they can then be given more open ended tasks to carry out.  Within chemistry, there is frequently a ‘recipe’ given to carry out a particular experiment (e.g. technique notes, reagents and quantities to use) – however in an inquiry laboratory, students can still be given this information, but additional investigations added e.g. the effect of changing a concentration or temperature, how to provide evidence that a particular product is formed, possibility of other products and students asked to provide evidence for their statements.

Harlen, W. & Allende, J. (2006) IAP Report of the Working Group on the International Collaboration in the Evaluation of IBSE programs ( )

Original author: Odilla Finlayson
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