How to Increase the Level of Inquiry in your Lab Activities

Wednesday 1:30pm-4:00pm Gordon: Concerto Meeting Room
Afternoon Mini Workshop


Katherine Ryker, University of South Carolina-Columbia

Inquiry: easy to say we use in teaching, harder to prove! Inquiry learning parallels the process of scientific inquiry, and focuses on the students' role in asking and investigating scientific questions. Inquiry-based labs are one way to promote student-centered teaching and a strong conceptual understanding of the geosciences, including when labs are taught by Teaching Assistants. However, it is easy to default to cookbook labs in which students follow rote procedures to get a pre-determined result, especially when time is a factor. Participants will work in teams to measure the level of inquiry in several geoscience labs, including one of their own. By the end of the workshop, participants will have identified specific strategies to increase the inquiry level of their own lab activities, and created a plan for revising others.

Note: This workshop will include teaching tools and activities you can use in your class this semester.


Goals of the program:

  1. Characterize the levels of inquiry present in sample geoscience lab activities, including at least one of your own
  2. Identify specific strategies for increasing the inquiry level of lab activities that you plan to use in your own classroom.
  3. Discuss the training necessary for Teaching Assistants to teach inquiry-based labs appropriately.


PowerPoint: How to Increase the Level of Inquiry in Your Lab Activities, Ryker 2016 (Acrobat (PDF) 3.1MB Jul21 16)

Kahoot!: Kahoot! quizzing program

  • Kahoot results from our workshop: Kahoot results (Excel 168kB Jul21 16)

Further Reading/Viewing:

Can Graduate Teaching Assistants Teach Inquiry-Based Geology Labs Effectively? (p. 56-63) Ryker and McConnell, 2014

(Re)Designing introductory geoscience labs to promote inquiry: February 20, 2013 webinar (Check out the discussion board for a link to another home-grown lab manual, courtesy of Dr. Jerry Harris)

  • Buck, L. B., Bretz, S. L., & Towns, M. H. (2008). Characterizing the level of inquiry in the undergraduate laboratory.Journal of College Science Teaching, 38(1), 52.

North Carolina State Lab Manual (courtesy of David McConnell's lab)']

Sample Lab Suggestion Sheets (Note: These are two years older than the labs linked above, so you may find that some labs have changed (especially the rocks and geologic time labs, re-done by April Grissom and Doug Czajka). They should give you plenty of ideas for a) how the labs are designed, and b) how you might write your own for your institution.)

1:30-1:45 Welcome and introductions, dissonance activity

This activity will allow participants to identify the features of a 'good' lab by first envisioning its opposite.

1:45-2:05 What is inquiry-based teaching, why should we use it, and how do we characterize it?

This presentation will provide some background in defining and characterize the (sometimes nebulous) construct of inquiry.

2:05-2:45pm Examining sample lab activities in small groups. Participants will apply what they've learned to characterize the inquiry level of lab activities from several geoscience disciplines.


2:45-3:00pm Break.

3:00-3:45pm Presentation and discussion.

This presentation will share what levels of inquiry are present in physical geology lab manuals, as well as a "home grown" lab manual. We will discuss strategies to increase the level of inquiry in geoscience lab activities, as well as ideas for preparing others to teach inquiry-based labs. Based on who teaches labs at different institutions, what are some of the considerations we need to make when increasing the level of inquiry in our labs?

3:45-3:55 Reporting out: What are the ideas you want to share with others when you leave this room?

3:55 Workshop evaluation

4:00 Adjourn