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How Can Parents Encourage Inquiry in Their Child?

The Haverford School offers some ways to keep your child engaged in scientific thought, no matter their age.

As schools work to prepare students for the “innovation era,” classrooms and board rooms are placing an increased emphasis on skills like collaboration, problem-solving, and ingenuity. What we know is becoming less important than how we apply what we know. These skills aren’t typically built through textbooks and PowerPoint slides, but through deep inquiry and project-based learning.

There are ways to encourage inquiry in your child that will support their learning across disciplines and well into their future. Dr. Daniel Goduti, head of the science department at The Haverford School, shares ways to keep your child engaged in scientific thought:

Elementary School Students

At young ages, students are naturally curious about the world around them and spend much of their time making sense of new experiences. They are remarkably adept at using observation to create hypotheses and develop explanations.

Parents can support this by creating opportunities for playful exploration and gently encouraging inquiry by posing questions rather than providing answers directly. For example, when observing ants, ask questions such as “What do you think they are doing?,” “Why are they different sizes?,” and “Where do you think they live?”

Middle School Students

Middle school students are experiencing profound physical, emotional, and cognitive growth, making it a pivotal time to encourage and maintain an interest in science. Students are also expanding their perspectives beyond their home or local community, so it is important to make connections between scientific concepts and the real world.

Parents can support this by engaging their children in conversations about scientific developments, careers, and discoveries, especially focusing on items relevant to their lives and interests. For example, pose questions such as “Why do you think this discovery is important?,” “What skills and knowledge do you think a [scientists/engineer/inventor] needs?,” and “What else does this make you wonder about?”

High School Students

In high school, students begin to interact with more complex content and may, for the first time, study discrete scientific disciplines (e.g. physics, chemistry, and biology). For many students, this is also the first time that science may feel like a “challenge,” making it important to encourage a growth mindset. Even students who have an exceptional interest in science, perhaps by engaging in independent research, will experience setback and failure, and it is important that they know this is to be expected.

Parents can support students by asking scientific questions to model lifelong learning and by encouraging them to reflect on what helps them to perform best. For example, ask questions such as “I’ve always wondered about atoms. Can you tell me more about them?,” and “Your project was successful! How did you approach the work?” Above all, continuously remind them that mastery of any discipline takes time and effort and support them in their growth as a scientifically minded citizen.

These methods of inquiry are part of the Haverford School learning experience. Pre-kindergarten students applied their knowledge of Ben Franklin by experimenting with kite flying; they found that running with limited wind resistance created the most height for their kite. As students progress through Lower School, they make snow, build Viking ships, and participate in community projects. As part of the National Geographic GeoChallenge, Tackling Plastic, fifth grade students created maps, developed models, and produced videos as part of their investigation into the issue of plastic in our world’s waterways. The GeoChallenge formula aligns with the Lower School’s design thinking framework, in which students observe, ask questions, gain an understanding of a problem or situation, navigate ideas, create a prototype, refine their prototype, and launch their prototype.

Middle School students design their own experiments in science class using argument-driven inquiry, or ADI. The ADI method leads students through the process of answering a guiding question by designing and executing an investigation of a scientific phenomenon. In small groups, students decide what data they need to collect to answer the guiding question; design and run their own experiment to collect that data; and develop a written argument justifying their conclusion. They then share and critique their arguments with other groups and write individual investigative reports. Eighth graders completed a lab about potential energy with the guiding question: “How can you make an action figure jump higher?” Sixth graders completed an ADI lab on magnetic force, answering the question: “How is the strength of an electromagnetic affected by the number of turns of wire in a coil?”

At the highest levels, several seniors at The Haverford School are conducting college-level research in science labs as part of the Advanced Research Laboratory Cooperative elective. The students gain experience in a professional laboratory, working closely with lab directors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania. One student is designing and programming a user interface for a soft robotic control board that will allow researchers to control implantable and wearable soft robotics with variable pressure and frequency. According to Dr. Ellen Roche, a lab instructor at MIT, it is highly beneficial for high school students to work in laboratory settings so they can appreciate and value the amount of work that goes into proving a research hypothesis or demonstrating an application for a new technology. She goes on to say that learning practical laboratory skills, working with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and following rigorous analytical scientific approaches will stand to benefit students in their future careers.

Parents can help prepare their children for the innovation era by fostering inquiry in young children, infusing scientific concepts into everyday situations at home, and encouraging experimentation and failure. By engaging with the world around us, questioning what we believe to be true, and pursuing discovery, we can be more effective and productive citizens.

The Haverford School is a nonsectarian college preparatory day school for boys, pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Daniel J. Goduti, Ph.D. joined the Science Department at The Haverford School in 2015 and became chair of the department in 2019. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry (specialization Biochemistry) and Biology from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Dartmouth College. His doctoral work focused on the regulation of flagellar motility in the unicellular green algae Chlamydomonas and provided experience in molecular biology, cell biology, genetics, and microscopy techniques.

Dr. Goduti has taught courses in chemistry, multiple levels of biology, physiology, infectious diseases, and scientific research methods. He was a Fellow of the Columbia University Teachers College Klingenstein Summer Institute for Early Career Teachers in 2014 and completed a University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education Certificate in Project-Based Learning in 2019.

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