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Inquiry-Based Chemistry Lab Exercises

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  • What is Inquiry Based Learning/Teaching?
  • How I got involved in Inquiry Based Chemistry Labs?
  • Examples of Open-ended Inquiry Based Labs
  • What is Inquiry Based Learning/Teaching?

    Inquiry Based Learning is a student-centered instructional method that is based on substantially increased student involvement in the learning process. It incorporates interdisciplinary study, critical thinking skills, and structured research considering the studentâs individual learning style to produce a student-generated model of a given concept, process, or knowledge base.

    Inquiry-based learning/teaching:

  • focuses students' inquiry on questions that are challenging, debatable, and difficult to solve
  • teaches students specific procedures, strategies, or processes that are essential to problem solving
  • teaches thinking and problem solving skills
  • expects students to apply concepts to new situations
  • structures lessons to include opportunities for students to access information that is crucial to the inquiry
  • structures lessons so that students have opportunities to work with peers
  • sequences a series of activities and lessons so that they work together in moving students toward a general goal
  • builds into lessons the opportunities for performance
  • involves students in the process of deriving standards for performance
  • expects students to figure out patterns
  • expects students to take responsibility for personal learning
  • relies on authentic assessment of learning (Modified from discussion at http://www.district94.dupage.k12.il.us/english/inquiry.htm)

    How I got involved in Inquiry Based Chemistry Labs?

    After using "Cookbook" labs for many years I came to the conclusion that they were not very effective in developing a lasting interest in science. Students hurried through their lab exercises without much enthusiasm, produced mediocre lab reports and didn't remember much about individual labs or lab methods. A few years ago, an announcement for a potentially interesting workshop came across my desk. It was called "Developing Industrial Problem Solving Materials for the Classroom" or "How to create inquiry-based lab experiments drawn from case studies of the chemical industry." The workshop was offered by PACT (Partnership for the Advancement of Chemical Technology) at Miani University, Oxford, Ohio.

    I participated in the workshop, found it most interesting and started switching many of my "cookbook" labs to inquiry based labs. Many of my new lab exercises are scenario based, with scenarios drawn from consumer issues, environmental problems, or from forensic science.

    Although it took me quite a bit of time to change my labs, the student reactions were worth it. They show greater enthusiasm and many are often staying in lab longer trying to answer some related question that they want to check out. The quality of lab reports has improved considerably. I believe that initially this approach was more difficult for my students. From questionnaires, I can conclude that most students find inquiry-based labs more challenging (i.e. more difficult) but more interesting and more fun. A very small number of students don't like these labs and would prefer to go back to the "cookbook" labs.

    Examples of Open-Ended Inquiry Based Chemistry Labs

  • Popcorn Quality Control Lab
  • The Case of the Drowned Businessman: Analysis of Phosphate in Water


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    This page was created by Peter Jeschofnig and was last updated: March 7, 2003