Reviewed by David Brock
AP Biology Teacher
If there is a single keystone of the National Science Education Standards, it's the idea that students should be primary, active participants in the learning process, not passive recipients. Many who teach, however, either do not quite know how to create and nurture environments in which this process actually happens, or they don't truly believe it's possible. This book is for them.
Beginning with an overview of her entire curriculum, author Joan Gallagher-Bolos takes readers on a stepwise journey through her school year, demonstrating how she incorporates authentic inquiry learning into her chemistry class and how she makes genuinely self-directed learners out of her “whole class.” Through both words and actual video footage from her classroom, she shows how any educator can build a learning environment in which students can be given a problem to which they do not know the answer (e.g., how to determine the percent mass of a mixture of chemicals using the principles of solubility and stoichiometry) and be turned loose as self-directed learners to find the solution completely on their own; and they can learn all the critical subject-matter content in the process. Co-author Dennis Smithenry demonstrates explicitly how this constructivist environment is effective at helping students master the material at at least the same level of depth and complexity as with more traditional teaching methods (with all the additional benefits of not using such an approach). One look at the first video clip alone should have even the most truculent skeptic saying “I want a classroom that looks like that!”
While I highly recommend Whole-Class Inquiry because its message needs so badly to be heard, the actual writing may challenge casual readers. Rambling expositions that simply restate what the video segments already show do not aid this book’s cause, nor do the unnecessary “Researcher’s Analysis” sections that read like PhD dissertations. Because the value of inquiry learning has already been well documented, experienced teachers may find those sections easy to skip. Whole-Class Inquiry had the potential to be an utterly amazing book and should still be read by anyone who teaches science at just about any level despite its flaws.
Review posted on 6/8/2009