Designing Your Own Inquiry Laboratories

Presented by: Dr. Janet Lanza and Dr. Jimmy D. Winter
During the March 20, 2008 Teaching Demonstration Luncheon, Drs. Janet Lanza and Jimmy Winter, Professors of Biology, clarified their unique ways of challenging their students.

Challenge Your Students’ Creativity

A variety of commissions evaluating science and math education have concluded that our educational system relies too heavily on memorization and exercises in regurgitation. They recommend instead that we use “inquiry” and “problem-solving” approaches to teaching. Although we are going to describe inquiry and problem solving in science, we think you will see many similarities with approaches in other fields These recommendations are over 10 years old, but many science courses still provide mainly “cookbook” exercises—in these, all students do the same exercises and prescribed steps determined by the instructor or the lab-book author. We define full or pure inquiry lessons as ones in which students develop their own questions and methods in order to answer their questions. In problem-based lessons, the teacher presents a complex, open-ended problem and the students develop their own approaches and solutions. Our experience shows that students benefit from such lessons, in part because the demands on their creativity gives them ownership of their projects.

In this teaching discussion, we first describe our inquiry lab, entitled “Temperature and Heat Transfer,” a lesson that provides a rich opportunity for students to develop their own questions and experiments in a variety of contexts. We will then give you our tips for designing inquiry and problem-based lessons, and provide time for you to brainstorm and develop your own student-directed exercise. We will finish with a discussion of the projects planned by workshop participants.


Here are the handouts provided at the seminar:


Dr. Janet Lanza, Professor of Biology at UALR, is author of New Designs for Bio-Explorations, an inquiry lab book published by Benjamin Cummings. She teaches Evolutionary and Environmental Biology and Principles of Ecology that use an inquiry approach in the laboratory.

Dr. Jimmy D. Winter directs Arkansas STRIVE, a professional development program for secondary teachers that promotes the use of inquiry and problem-solving teaching in science, math, and technology courses. He is active in the Education Section of the American Fisheries Society and is a frequent speaker on the use of inquiry in high school and college classes.


Dr. Janet Lanza’s Webpage


Dr. Janet Lanza

Dr. Jimmy Winter

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