conducted in a single linear sequence, which is
not true; second, contextual, relevant learning
experiences were largely absent in this approach.
The Next Generation Science Standards help
remedy this with performance expectations
that integrate specific practices with core concepts. For example, the high school expectation,
“Plan and conduct an investigation to promote
evidence that feedback mechanisms maintain
homeostasis” (HS-LS1-3) unites practices (plan
and conduct an investigation) with core concepts
(mechanisms that maintain homeostasis).
4 Strategies are aligned to performance
Although the new science standards provide the
foundation on which teaching and learning will
transpire, the curriculum is left up to the state,
district, or school. With the change in expectations and the significant increase in rigor and
in the need for higher-order thinking skills, it
makes sense to rethink which strategies will
promote success for all students.
Inquiry-based instruction provides an equitable strategy for achieving mastery. It’s been
shown to facilitate greater student achievement
relative to the learning of both core concepts
and scientific practices (Roth, Marshall, Taylor,
Wilson, & Hvidsten, 2014). A five-year study
that included more than 10,000 students has
shown that students of teachers who focus
heavily on inquiry-based instruction significantly outperform similar students in classrooms
where the teacher uses more traditional forms of
instruction (Marshall & Alston, in press). The
exciting part is that these findings hold true for
male, female, white, Hispanic, and black students
at all ability levels.
Inquiry-based instruction has additional
strengths. First, it provides opportunities to more
easily differentiate instruction. When students
are engaged in the design of an investigation
or are asked to model their understanding, creativity flourishes. Because learning is not prescriptive, individual students or small groups
of students can take more or less challenging
approaches in their investigations.
Second, inquiry-based instruction fosters
5 Assessments drive change.
mastery of more advanced, higher-order thinking
skills. With that greater emphasis, the need
for group interaction becomes paramount to
success. As learning becomes more complex,
there’s a greater need to gather input from mul-
tiple perspectives. Moreover, if the questions
are challenging enough, students need ideas and
assistance from others to complete the task at
hand, which could involve carrying out an inves-
tigation, analyzing and interpreting data, and
Finally, inquiry-based instruction addresses
student (and teacher) apathy. Around 3rd grade,
students frequently begin to disengage from
learning (Fried, 2001). They often realize that
school is a game to master—and that mastering
the game is more important than learning.
Thus, learning becomes different from school. By
seeking answers to real-world problems, inquiry-
based instruction provides a strategy to reengage
those who previously failed to see purpose and
meaning in school.
Undoubtedly, high-stakes tests will drive the
change. Just as with the Common Core State
Standards, the assessments for the Next Generation Science Standards will lag behind
implementation. This is beneficial because it
gives us time to assemble appropriate professional development opportunities that seek to
transform instructional practice, but it’s also limiting because we can only approximate the final
Nevertheless, the new standards provide
assessment boundaries in many of the performance expectations to help guide the depth of
By sandwiching change between slices
of the familiar, teachers can enact
incremental changes that can dissipate
the anxiety typically associated with change.