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Flipping Class Makes Time for Inquiry

Katie Lanier
Physics Teacher, Allen High School
Allen, TX

One of the biggest challenges for science teachers is finding time for inquiry labs. To make the best of class time in a traditional learning environment, teachers often use labs with procedures that are spelled out step by step. In these labs, students do not have much time to really explore the concepts and gain a deeper understanding of the topic. Before implementing flipped learning, I stuck to cookbook labs where my students rushed through data collection and there was little time for quality post-lab discussion. Flipping my physics class has given me back class time to complete labs and has allowed me to implement student-driven inquiry labs.

Science labs often use inquiry. The inquiry process I use follows these steps:

  • Pose a starting question.
  • Collect data.
  • Explain data.
  • Make connections between science and the explanation.
  • Create a new conclusion or pose a new question.

Putting it into practice

I start most of my units with an inquiry activity. This is followed by teaching typical content in a flipped fashion. For instance, I start the circuit unit with an inquiry lab. For my students this is their first exposure to the concept of circuits. The inquiry lab gives students an opportunity to use what they already know about the world around them and discover how circuits work. By marrying flipped learning and inquiry, I have more time to find out what students understand and correct misconceptions before they progress through a unit, which avoids deepening their confusion.

To introduce circuits, I give students wires, light bulbs, and batteries and ask them to light up 1 bulb, then 2 bulbs, then 2 bulbs in a different way. They sketch and check the circuits to see if they are series or parallel by how they behave, all without having a lesson in circuit vocabulary or diagrams. It is amazing how many high school juniors have never used a battery and wires to light a light bulb. The struggle to build the circuit without direct instruction leads to real discussion and problem solving. Once the light bulbs come on, students are proud of their success and ready to learn more about circuits.

Prior to my introducing units with inquiry, students struggled through the entire unit, were bogged down in details of circuits and circuit calculations, and missed the important concepts they would be more likely to use in the future.

When I introduce a unit with an inquiry activity, students have the opportunity to do the physics and experience the phenomena without feeling overwhelmed with equations and new information. I then guide them through the process of discovery. Giving students the experience of the inquiry lab first, the vocabulary and equations do not seem as abstract as they would have been without the lab. This investment of 1 class period makes a difference in the learning experience for the rest of the unit. Students now expect the day after a test to be a fun day of discovery and are disappointed the few times there is not an introductory inquiry lab. By trading a 45-minute lecture for a flipped video, I now have class time to do inquiry well.