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In most local schools, structured inquiry, a very controlled approach, is the most prevalent type of inquiry teaching. Guided inquiry on the other hand is a modified structure in which the detailed steps on how to investigate are not provided. This helps students to formulate their own solutions when solving the problem. Students acquire critical thinking skills during this process. Open inquiry may not be suitable for secondary level because of its non-structured approach. Making use of discrepant events in physics inquiry, results in cognitive conflict that enhances students' conceptual understanding and their attitudes towards critical thinking activities (Fensham & Kass, 1988). Discrepant events are fun to use because it creates this cognitive conflict that motivates students to think critically, discuss and try to explain the discrepant event. There are many more ways of generating inquiry such as using demonstrations, engaging in hypothesis testing, involving students in doing science and weaving inquiry-based laboratory investigation into every lesson.
I feel that the onus lies on teachers to help students make progress from structured to guided inquiry by scaffolding the lesson initially. As students get better and confident at using inquiry, this help can gradually be removed, leading to guided inquiry. By equipping students to understand their surroundings, they will be able to apply the scientific process skills learned in the classroom to every area of their lives.
According to Gardner (1983), people express their learning in eight different ways. Every student has a preferred way of learning and expressing themselves. Classes are very diverse, thus differentiated instruction is required to cater to the multiple intelligences of students. Teachers must be uniquely aware of the students in their classrooms as well as the content they are delivering (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006). Since students think very differently and learn concepts with various degrees of success, it is imperative for teachers to find ways to facilitate learning for everyone. Effective instructional strategies meet the needs of multiple groups of learners at the same time. Teaching with variety can help alleviate boredom, provide more opportunities to learn and allow students to think and learn in their own ways. Concurrently, this allows opportunities for teachers to widen pupils' thinking and learning repertoire. Amongst there may be reluctant learners of physics who may have some ability but lack motivation. This is where differentiated instruction might attract their attention and focus on the subject.
I believe that the key to differentiated learning includes working collaboratively with students to plan learning approaches so that many different approaches are available, letting students select ways that fit them best (Kottler & Costa, 2009). Everyone gains not only new information but new ways of learning through different expression of ideas and opinions. When discussing difficult topics in physics, the class can be divided into mixed ability groups. A set of questions with different difficulty levels are given to each ability group and students are to discuss their solutions to the problem. I will call upon weaker students to present answers to simpler questions and better students to present answers to more challenging questions. By applying differentiated instruction as an education tool, everyone learns collaboratively, and confidence can be built when students are able to answer the questions. Overall, students will benefit through peer-mediated learning.
Learning can be thought as collecting information and understanding it. It is of course possible to store large amounts of information in your head and regurgitate as needed. However, understanding makes productive thinking possible (Moseley et al., 2005). In physics, there are many facts and formulae to remember. Schools have become good at cramming in and testing this kind of information (Kusukawa and Maclean, 2006). Students are often encouraged to memorize facts and formulae in order to save the hassle of understanding them fully. However, being able to recall facts and provide the right answer is nothing compared to the value of understanding.
Teaching for understanding is not easy. Understanding is the process of making mental connections to join bits of knowledge into larger units so they make sense to one (Newton, 2008). Even if a teacher explains physics well, students may not have grasped the concept because he/she might not understand in the way a teacher does. As a teacher, we provide them parts of a jigsaw and concurrently help join these bits to other jigsaws they already possess (Cerbin, 2000). In my opinion, developing understanding of physics knowledge can be satisfying and motivating to students as it can help them predict or explain new situations. Although some things have to be memorised, we as teachers should encourage students to build on their understanding before memorizing the concept. As beginning teachers, we have to bear in mind that the 21st century demands novel ways of problem solving and critical thinking. Above that, we need to have the ability to disassemble ideas and reassemble them. Our present teaching methods must be constantly re-evaluated and aligned to the complexities of our society by stressing "meaning over memorizing, quality over quantity and understanding over awareness" (Mintzes, Wandersee and Novak, 1998).
Teaching of physics requires both information and guidance from teachers in order to help students learn. I now realize that there is a profound difference between acquiring information and gaining true understanding. As a beginning teacher, I feel that instead of simply transmitting information through one-way communication, the teacher should create two-way or multi-way exchange, to help students progress on the path to greater understanding. To exemplify this, I believe that we can make use of end-of-unit projects to assess students' understanding of a particular topic by applying the relevant physics concepts to tackle real-world situations or problems posed to them.
According to Schon (1983), the first step in looking ahead requires one to look back and reflect upon your own learning. It is important to recognise what teaching methods or strategies did or did not work when I was a learner and translate this to the same level when I become a teacher in the current 21st century context.