Operationally Defining Scientific Inquiry

(Under development: Last updated August 23, 2005)

What is scientific inquiry, really? Some of the definitions bandied about are vague and not entirely helpful. Consider for instance the definition of inquiry provided by the National Science Education Standards:

"Inquiry is a set of interrelated processes by which scientists and students pose questions about the natural world and investigate phenomena; in doing so, students acquire knowledge and develop a rich understanding of concepts, principles, models, and theories."

Is this an adequate description of scientific inquiry?

Probably not, but consider the complexity of defining scientific inquiry more adequately. The following terms can be used to describe various aspects of inquiry practice - the way that scientists come to know, the epistemology of science:

The list is long and probably incomplete. Nonetheless, how would you define this maze of operation? How would you describe what it is you want your students to do in class if you are a strong proponent of inquiry?

Characteristics of Inquiry (from Postman and Weingartner)