Create Your Own Inquiry Activity, page 3

The end product: The activities for the inquiry topic should guide the student toward the end product. An end product motivates students to explore and provides a way for the teacher to asses learning. Here is a list of possible assignments that use data. 

  1. Worksheet
  2. Class presentation
  3. Lab report
  4. Poster
  5. Science paper

The worksheet, with step by step instructions, is probably the least inquiry oriented (depending on how it is constructed), but can be effective in getting the students started on a problem. A lab report is usually more specific than a science paper, and some are simply "fill in the blank" worksheets. Avoid this. Posters can be effective as group projects and can allow students to interact with each other in a "poster session."

The science paper is more challenging for both students and teachers, because it must be read and graded. However, it challenges the student's ability to use data to construct a scientific argument, which is important in developing critical thinking and writing skills. The "calibrated peer review" method is particularly useful at an undergraduate college level <link>. Some sample writing assignments are listed here <link>.

Plate tectonics inquiry: Plate tectonics is an ideal inquiry subject for learners at many grade levels. It is mostly visual and requires little math, except for computing plate velocity, a simple distance/time formula. The datasets are extensive and easily displayed <see link for example> and it allows the student to use multiple data types to study plate boundaries. Click here for more information and resource for writing assignments used in UCSB oceanography. The "Learning With Data Workshop" CD also contains resources support inquiry activities. The SERC web site also has information with examples of peer review in the context of writing assignments.

Assessing the success of the inquiry activity: a robust assessment that shows how the activity improves student learning when compared to other activities requires expertise and time that most teachers do not have. However, it is not too difficult to qualitatively assess whether student learning meets your goals. For overall course learning assessment purposes, well researched geoscience concept test questions are available at: and These can be extremely useful for finding student misconceptions and how informed they are at the start of the course.

For a specific activity, you can gather the following information:

  1. The student's product: Did it meet your goals? Did students demonstrate expertise in the subject of the inquiry?
  2. Student feedback: Students can identify the most difficult and the easiest aspect of the activity. Did they get the information they needed to be successful? What suggestions do they have to improve it? Did they learn anything? What did they learn?
  3. Direct observation: student questions during the inquiry activity can identify difficulties that may not be obvious by the other measures.

Many thanks for Prof. Sabina Thomas, of Baldwin-Wallace College, for her helpful suggestions.

Do you have a comment or suggestion? Please visit the LWD Forum to make a comment and view others' comments.

Other resources:  
A comprehensive resource for making an online learning activity <Link to resource>

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