Inquiry in Action: Investigating Matter through Inquiry is a free physical science course that can either be downloaded as a PDF book or accessed online. It is an inquiry-based course rather than a traditional course that simply presents information to students. Students learn through investigations, increasing their understanding and knowledge of science based upon what they discover in the investigations and teacher-directed discussion.
The publisher says lessons are appropriate for students in grades 3 through 8, although I think fourth grade more likely the youngest level. Junior high students should complete the “What’s going on here?” sections (that I describe elsewhere) to raise their learning to a more challenging level. This course does not require math calculations since it emphasizes conceptual understanding rather than scientific rigor with data.
The course is divided into seven “investigations” that teach basic properties of physical science. The seven investigations are:
- Scientific questions and their investigation
- Physical properties and physical changes in solids
- Physical properties and physical changes in liquids
- Dissolving solids, liquids, and gases
- Chemical change
- States of Matter
Each “investigation” is actually a unit with a number of related investigations. Each unit includes a list of key concepts, objectives, and the National Science Education Standards (NSES) addressed. A chart shows materials needed for the unit’s activities. While investigations use many resources, almost all of them are household items or else items that can easily be procured such as plastic cups, M&Ms, a bucket, eye dropper, food coloring, kosher salt, Epsom salt, sugar, cotton swabs, clay, rubbing alcohol, vinegar, squirt bottle, coffee filters, popsicle sticks, and calcium chloride. Calcium chloride is probably the only unusual item, and it is sold as DampRid® at hardware stores.
As with the Middle School Chemistry course (also from the American Chemical Society), Inquiry in Action is a thoroughly developed, detailed course, complete with teaching information, student worksheets, review questions, assessment rubrics, and answer keys. Student activity sheets for experiments and answering questions are all provided as are assessment rubric forms for the instructor.
The book itself is for the instructor. Students are given the activity sheets as needed. Step-by-step instructions include brief explanations that teachers should either read or share with students in their own words. Lessons include other brief information points for the teacher to convey during an investigation as well as leading questions to get students to analyze what they have observed or to make predictions. Both student and teacher have instruction pages for each investigation; this feature allows capable students to assume more responsibility.
Near the beginning of each unit is a section titled, “Science background information for teachers.” This is generally a fairly extensive section of four or five pages with more sophisticated scientific information about the topics being covered so that teachers have a fuller understanding on the molecular level of what students will be learning on a more basic level. Optional “What’s going on here?” student pages are included that explain concepts at a mid-level between the simple explanations given within the lesson plans and the more sophisticated information for teachers. These pages have explanatory text with illustrations followed by a worksheet with short-essay questions. As I mentioned earlier, these should be used with junior high students, but they provide too much information for most younger students.
“Think about it” sections are appropriate for almost all students. Like the “What’s going on here?” sections, they include text with illustrations, but they also include some vocabulary words and both multiple-choice and short-essay questions.
The entire course is designed to teach students how to think scientifically. They learn the scientific method, and they learn to ask questions as scientists do.
The course is easy for homeschooling parents to use although it requires more preparation and direct teaching time than other courses. Because of this, it would be ideal for a group class.
Inquiry in Action is an outstanding science course, and it’s amazing that it’s free.