Early learning teachers can use the process of scientific inquiry to support intentionality in planning and programming. Take the example of Richard and Honey, as they thought about ways to extend and expand on the experiences that the children had with sticks, stones and pinecones. Using scientific inquiry as their strategy to build on the children’s learning, they were able to collect more data to interpret and analyze. They assumed the role of teacher as researcher and supporting the children to be researchers as well. This is the scientific method. It begins with observation. Learn about the possibilities of this strategy and move through the stages by clicking on the words below.
Observation is an important feature in the scientific method. Observation is the foundation of the inquiry process. When making observations, children are learning to gather evidence, organize ideas, and propose explanations (Anderson, Martin, & Faszewski, 2006). Observations trigger children to see different viewpoints and perspectives. According to Neill (2009), early learning teachers remind children to take the time to use all of their senses to interpret the world. The world is rich with sensory experiences: sounds such as thunder, smells like roses, textures such as the rough sidewalk or the prickly pine cone and tastes aplenty—sweet peaches from the tree and mint from the garden (Dietze & Kashin, 2012).
Classification is the process of grouping similar things together. In the scientific method, children identify the relationships between things, and the categories that they do, and do not, belong to. For example, a child may discover during an outdoor play experience that some of the balls provide bounce and some do not (Dietze & Kashin, 2012).
Wonder, predict, and hypothesize
This is the process of questioning and speculating. At this point, a child might wonder why a vegetable is not a fruit or what makes a ball bounce? To predict is to describe what you expect will happen. Predictions are based on knowledge, observations, experience, and experimentation. For example, if I drop the pinecone in the water, it will close up. The child is predicting what will happen based on experience (Dietze & Kashin, 2012).
Experiment, test and explore
The child at this point tries out ideas and tests predictions. Every time a child encounters a problem and seeks to find the answer, he is experimenting. Children may find that it is difficult to balance stones on top of each other. They can predict that it is because the stones are not flat. The child can experiment by trying different, flatter stones to balance to see if it makes a difference. Early learning teachers use documentation to support the research process and encourage children if they are able to record their own findings. This experiment is an example of testing the hypothesis, which is the prediction (Dietze & Kashin, 2012).
Concrete evidence confirming a prediction leads to one type of conclusion; contradictory evidence requires the child to change her thoughts and ideas, and possibly gather additional information before reaching a different conclusion. Children can make generalizations and form theories about how the world works based on their observations and experiments (Dietze & Kashin, 2012). Early learning teachers encourage children to draw conclusions and record these conclusions, remembering to date the data so that it can be revisited again and compared to new conclusions that might be drawn.
At this point, children can share their questions, observations, predictions, and conclusions with others. Communication takes place through spoken language, drawings, written words and symbols, demonstrations, gestures, or documentation panels (Dietze & Kashin, 2012). Early learning teachers recognize that by using the scientific method they are supporting children’s learning and development, validating their experiences and challenging them to extend and expand on their learning.