A Model of Inquiry for Teaching Earth Science

Eric J. Pyle


Teachers and administrators have heard recent calls for more inquiry-oriented science
instruction at roughly the same time more emphasis has been placed on high-stakes
testing in science. While these two factors justify an examination on assessment
practices, they also justify a refinement in teaching approaches to science inquiry. At
their core, models of inquiry-science teaching attempt to engage student in active
processes of science knowledge construction, emulating the process of science itself. But
each domain in science has unique, if overlapping, histories, traditions, and conventions
that have directed inquiry within those sciences. This paper outlines a model of inquiry
science teaching that more accurately reflects the nature of the Earth sciences than do
generic or physical science-based models do. This model incorporates elements
recognizable for any science domain (question posing, methods definition and
application, and solution determination), but also provides specific mechanisms within
each element that reflect the nature of the Earth sciences, in current, historical, and
classroom contexts. These mechanisms include descriptions of materials, space, and
time; observations and modeling; and interpretations and historical representations.
Possible pathways for short- and long-term instructional planning are also discussed.
Teaching Earth science in the K-12 classroom presents a challenge compared to other
sciences in the curriculum. Earth science is an interdisciplinary science, encompassing
ideas from physics, chemistry, and biology, but applied through geology, meteorology,
oceanography, and in K-12 curricula, space science and astronomy. Earth science is not a
narrow set of ideas, but a synthesis of many concepts, traditions, and disciplines in


Model; Teaching; Earth; Science; Education

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