Plenary Speaker Profile (2008)
David Hammer
Professor of Physics and Curriculum & Instruction
University of Maryland, College Park
The Goal of Student Inquiry

The word "inquiry" has become pervasive in science education, but it's not always clear exactly what it means. People speak of "guided inquiry" and "inquiry-based science instruction," where the guidance or instruction is toward some ideas in the canon, and inquiry is the instructional approach toward the goal of students understanding those ideas. The question that comes up is whether inquiry-based approaches are more or less effective than other options at getting students to understand those ideas.

I'm going to argue that inquiry is better understood as the central substance of what we should be teaching; inquiry is scientific sense-making. In other words, science is inquiry (and the products of inquiry), and so we shouldn't see inquiry as tied to instructional method; we should see it as inherent in what we are teaching students to do. That makes for different questions: What does inquiry look like, when students are doing it? What constitutes "better" inquiry, and what will help them do it better?

This presentation will focus on instructional diagnoses and decisions with respect to student inquiry. I'll discuss examples from elementary school and college, to talk about the beginnings of scientific inquiry in children and what becomes of them later.

David Hammer studied physics in college (Princeton), took a "break" to teach high school mathematics and physics, and then went on to graduate school (Berkeley), first in Physics and then for his doctorate in Science and Mathematics Education. After six years in Education at Tufts University, he moved to the University of Maryland, where for ten years he's had a joint position in Physics and Curriculum & Instruction. His research focuses on students' intuitive "epistemologies" (knowledge about knowing and learning), how instructors interpret and respond to student thinking, and on resource-based models of knowledge and reasoning. He is currently pursuing these interests with students and colleagues in both departments at levels from elementary school through college physics majors. Most of his work appears in research journals and book chapters; last year he and Emily van Zee published a book and DVD for elementary teacher education: Seeing the Science in Children's Thinking: Case studies of elementary student inquiry in physical science. (Heinemann, 2006).