AfterWords: August 2008
May 2008
U.S. Department of Education: Technical Assistance and Professional Development for
21st Century Community Learning Centers
a newsletter of the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning : Afterschool News

Learning by Asking: Investigating Science Through Inquiry

What do blowing bubbles from different soap solutions, dropping an apple into a tub of water, and examining a U.S. Department of Agriculture food pyramid all have in common? These activities are all examples of Investigating Science Through Inquiry, one of the promising practices in the science section of the Afterschool Training Toolkit.

Inquiry is grounded in asking questions, making predictions, and testing those predictions. For example, in the above situations, you may ask, “What brand of dish soap produces the biggest bubbles? What determines whether an object will sink or float? How nutritious is the food served in the school cafeteria?” Once you have posed a question, consider an experiment that will let students discover the answer by investigating, observing, collecting and analyzing data, and communicating results. As students begin the process of scientific inquiry in afterschool, many of the first investigations will be more instructor-directed. As students learn the process, they can be more self-directed. The Afterschool Training Toolkit can provide guidance on determining how self-directed your students are and what a scientific inquiry might look like based on their level of independence.

Investigating Science Through Inquiry works because students are directly involved in their own learning—questioning, observing, recording and analyzing data, reflecting on their findings, and sharing those findings with others. Students develop cognitive abilities—critical thinking and reasoning skills—as well as science understanding.

If you would like to see an example of scientific inquiry in action in an afterschool program, go to the Investigating Science Through Inquiry practice of the science section of the toolkit and click on the video. If you think your afterschool students might be interested in exploring questions related to bubbles, water, or food pyramids, click on the "Sample Lessons" tab to explore the lessons.

What is the National Partnership of Quality Afterschool Learning?

students in chemistry class Recommended Resource
Stories from the field

teacher with student and computer
"[Young people] enjoy the process
of making things because [it]
allows them to problem solve
and be in charge of their own
learning and creativity."

Adriana Pentz
director of operations

Vision Education & Media
New York, New York

Vision Education & Media (VEMNY) is a company that runs afterschool educational technology programs. The organization reinforces STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) standards through robotics, animation, game design, and Web design workshops. These workshops combine a variety activities, such as creating unique projects, conducting research, designing Web pages, and ultimately presenting the finished products to peers and parents.

Director of operations Adriana Pentz says that the hands-on, investigative nature of the projects keeps students interested, even after a full day of school work. “We have discovered that young people enjoy learning when it is hands-on, fun, interactive, and challenging. They enjoy the process of making things, whether it is a robotics animal, a 3-D representation of something, or a video game, because the process allows them to problem solve and be in charge of their own learning and creativity,” says Pentz.

After VEMNY finished a recent workshop with a group of New York middle school students, nearly half of the class went on to create animations and video games on their own. Some of the students posted their work on an online forum where kids can share their projects, and one of the more advanced students returned for the second afterschool program as a teaching assistant.

In Your Words Training tip Events Calendar

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Safety First
Safety is always a consideration for any science program. Students should have adequate adult supervision—a good rule of thumb is 1 adult for every 5–10 children. Remind students to wash their hands before their fingers end up in their mouths or eyes and to always use eye protection. Have a first-aid kit available and follow program guidelines for emergencies. For more information on safety, look for safety reference books from the National Science Teachers Association.

Sept. 15–16

Global Youth Enterprise Conference
Washington, DC

Sept. 17–19

National Conference on Science & Technology in Out-of-School Time
Chicago, IL

For more events, visit our calendar.

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