A science coordinator from Virginia Beach City Public Schools gave a session about inquiry in science. It was an interesting session for a variety of reasons. She included student samples for us to look over and analyze - always a plus. In addition, I do not feel overly competent in science compared to other subject areas. Having always had the science kits from the county, I have not had to think as hard in science and do not feel like I have as deep an understanding about best practice and how students learn.
The main focus of the session was on the "Fowler Assessment". This is an assessment to determine how much students understand about scientific inquiry. It asks students to design an experiment around a specific question. The teacher then looks for understanding of a range of inquiry issues: safety, prediction (hypothesis), steps, materials, observation, data collection, conclusion, variables, and repeat tests. From this teachers can begin to plan around their students' needs.
The presenter recommended starting with structured inquiry in the younger grades (they begin in 2nd). I realized that structured inquiry is all that I really do with my students. She talked about a continuum similar to what we frequently see in language arts - I Do/You Watch, I Do/You Help, You Do/I Help, You Do/I Watch. I don't think I've ever gotten to You Do/I Watch with my students.
The one other piece I found very interesting was an extension on the idea of thinking like a scientist. Her school system looks specifically at the type of scientist for a unit of study (such as a meteorologist). They look into what that type of scientist does, the tools they use, the education necessary, how they work with other experts, what changes may happen in the field, and would it be a good career for me. This seems like a concrete way for some students to make sense of science.