Inquiry is the process scientists use to build an understanding of the natural world based on evidence. Students can learn about the world using inquiry. Although learners rarely discover knowledge that is new to humankind, current research indicates that when engaged in inquiry learners build knowledge new to themselves.
Learner inquiry is a multifaceted activity that involves making observations; posing questions; examining multiple sources of information to see what is already known; planning investigations; reviewing what is already known in light of the learner's experimental evidence; using tools to gather, analyze and interpret data; proposing answers, explanations, and predictions; and communicating the results. Inquiry requires identification of assumptions, use of critical and logical thinking, and consideration of alternative explanations.
As a result of participating in inquiries, learners will increase their understanding of the science subject matter investigated, gain an understanding of how scientists study the natural world, develop the ability to conduct investigations, and develop the habits of mind associated with science.
(Council of State Science Supervisors, 2001)
The Everyday Classroom Tools website includes "The Threads of Inquiry" and "The Keys to Inquiry," both containing excellent, research-based strategies for understanding and implementing inquiry in the classroom.