An Inquiry-Based Scientific Research Unit Plan

EDT 520 Weeks 8-9

As I begin to design professional development opportunities for Colgate faculty members this summer I am excited, yet challenged by how to help them use technology to change their courses to a more inquiry-based model. I truly believe students learn best this way. In his book, A More Beautiful Question, The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Warren Berger shows that the way to effect change whether it be education or Silicon Valley is to ask questions. Berger says one of the primary drivers of questioning is an awareness of what we don’t know (2014, p.16).” He says that children are natural questioners but it’s only as we grow older we squelch our ability to ask questions in order to understand the world around us. I enjoyed examples of the companies that dared to ask the hard questions and are now finding success in the answers. Reading more about inquiry-based learning has given me ideas on how to re-design my workshops to emphasize a more student centered, inquiry based approach.

My “students” are faculty who need to know a specific technology tool in order to integrate it into their curriculum. I wonder what it would be like if I let them drive their professional development by asking the questions about what they don’t know? Berger mentions author, Stuart Firestein from his book Ignorance: How it Drives Science, and how he argues that one of the keys to scientific discovery is the willingness of scientists to embrace ignorance – to use questions as a means of navigating through it to new discoveries (2014, p.16). By questioning their integration of a new technology and how it impacts student learning, a professor may find more motivation to adopt a more technology-enhanced pedagogy.

Just as inquiry based learning is important to ensure that students become curious, engaged learners, the same can be said for their teachers! It teaches them to ask questions about their teaching, and then find answers. The Bergmann and Sams article (2014) relates to flipped learning, which I totally agree with and wish I had experienced as a student. I disagree, however, that content plays too big a role in education. (2014, pg. 22). Perhaps this is true in K-12 but in a college setting, especially in the STEM subjects, content is king! I do agree that there needs to be a balance between content, curiosity, and relationships. Another good point is that at all levels the relationship between students and teacher is critical to a healthy learning environment.

Since I am not a classroom teacher, planning an inquiry-based unit is a challenge for me. My goal is to understand how an inquiry-based unit is designed so I can help faculty redesign their syllabus to make it more so.

My hypothetical course: Biology 101. The “meat” of the course is an independent research project that students, working in small groups, complete during the second half of the semester. Students develop their own research question and hypothesis, design the experiment, collect and analyze the data, and report their findings to the rest of the class as a presentation. To help with their research, students are taken through a series of guided-inquiry laboratory activities during the first half of the semester to develop their lab skills and understand the scientific process. I expect a higher level of enthusiasm and engagement in the lab activities. Surveys, journal entries, and interviews will hopefully indicate that students feel empowered by having ownership in their projects, which will be the key reason for success of this model.

Lab Allows Students to Explore Science [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2017 from
Challenge: Make a Bio 101 research project an engaging and authentic research experience for students. After considering some “How Might We” questions for this research project using the Stanford resources, I came up with two that seemed to fit well:

POV: Students lack the experience doing authentic scientific research, how to conduct appropriate lab activities and how to use the scientific method to perform a study. I will ask the following “How Might We” questions:

  • Amp up the good: HMW write a good scientific question that will launch your scientific research?
  • Remove the bad: HMW design a scientific  research project that is testable and students are really interested in?

I think these two “HMW” questions accomplish the learning goals for the research project but I am looking for resources (books, articles, websites, videos) to help students understand the steps of the scientific process. I’m also looking for rubrics to grade a scientific research project.


Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2014). Flipped learning: Gateway to student engagement. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Bergmann, J. (2013, March 14). Let’s not forget: Teaching is an art–The intersection between relationship, curiosity, and content. [Video File]. Retrieved from

Method: How might we questions. Retrieved from

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