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The Inquiry Cycle
© Stiftung Haus der kleinen Forscher

The process of inquiry is divided into different stages of thought and action that typically occur in a recurring cycle.

Inquiry Cycle Method

The Inquiry Cycle should be understood as a method that helps teachers and educators to accompany children in their processes of exploration and inquiry.

In science, answers to questions, and explanations for phenomena, are sought by conducting a systematic and targeted search. Children, too, explore their world in a systematic, inquiry-based way, taking as their starting point their own questions and puzzling observations. In a way, children’s inquiry processes are similar to those of adult researchers. However, children and adults differ in their level of awareness of their own actions and in how systematically they proceed.

What do you like best about experimenting?

"That you don’t know what’s going to happen," replied one of the "Little Scientists".

The Inquiry Cycle method should be understood as a model or tool that shows teachers and educators how they can conduct inquiry activities with the children and engage in dialogue with them about scientific phenomena. It provides orientation for open-ended inquiry. However, in everyday pedagogic practice, it must not always be meticulously adhered to.

Prerequisite: Prior basic experiences: In everyday life, children, like adults, are constantly making new discoveries and trying things out. When doing so, they have extensive basic experiences with phenomena and materials. In order to be able to develop concrete questions and assumptions, children must have had these prior basic experiences.

Ask questions: Encourage the children to question phenomena observed during their explorations that they find captivating, and specifically address the children’s questions of interest. Of course, the teacher or educator can also contribute phenomena or questions. Ideally, they should originate in the children’s own observations.

Collect ideas and assumptions: Discuss with the children what they already know about their question and what ideas and assumptions they have. On this basis, they can then reflect on how best to proceed in order to find an answer to the question (e.g., by means of a suitable experiment).

Try things out and conduct inquiry activites: Every child should have enough time to try out his or her own idea and to conduct inquiry activites, to work at his or her own pace, and to repeat things.

Observe and describe: Encourage the children to observe and describe their inquiry activities precisely. In this way, they become aware of what they are investigating and of how the things they are investigating behave.

Discuss and reflect: In the reflection phase, after their thirst for trying things out has been quenched, children can process and discuss what they have experienced and discovered. During this phase they practise formulating their own explanation attempts.

The Inquiry Cycle...

... is not always realised in its entirety, no do the phases always occur in the aforementioned order. A new observation often prompts an immediate new inquiry activity before the significance of the various results is reflected on in more detail. Just like in “grown-up” science, the process of questioning, hypothesising, experimenting, finding results, and further questioning is a continuously recurring cycle.

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