A carefully designed set of lessons helps students construct their own understanding of scientific concepts. Lesson design begins with planning. Teachers set goals for both short-term and long-term achievement, guided by the national and/or local content standards. As they translate these goals into science units and activities, teachers consider the needs of their students and adapt lessons to meet the interests, knowledge, understanding, abilities, experiences, and cultural backgrounds of the class.
Content (what the students will learn) and process (how they will acquire and interpret information) are interwoven into the design of learning experiences. Teachers often choose content and activities based on knowledge of how their students learn, the classroom context, and their own interests and capabilities.
Activities that encourage inquiry into real scientific phenomena might include observing, collecting, and analyzing data; gathering information from books and the Web; and explaining and justifying results.
Instructional strategies are the ways in which teachers implement their lesson designs. The strategies are driven by teacher decisions about matters such as when to ask a question, make a suggestion, shift hands-on work to full-group discussion, model a strategy, involve a particular student, or reconfigure student groups. Teachers may also consider strategies that recognize different learning styles. In successful inquiry-based science classes, teachers are constantly monitoring, focusing, and facilitating student learning. They are balancing the time it takes for students to explore a concept and construct knowledge with the pressure of completing a unit. Teachers also make decisions about developing safe, open environments for asking questions, taking risks, and building a community of scientific learners.
What happens in a science classroom is directly influenced by the availability of time, space, and materials. Students need long enough blocks of time to set up and work with science materials, to explore concepts, and to make sense of their experiences. Teachers need time to organize the materials students will use and to facilitate and assess student learning. Allowing sufficient blocks of time for science is critical to developing students' scientific literacy.
In effective investigative science classrooms, students work at desks or at lab tables; alone, in pairs, or in groups; or moving about freely depending on the work at hand. The science resources -- materials, equipment, media, and technology -- are visible and available to use as needed. Through instruction and modeling, teachers can demonstrate the safe and efficient use of materials.