Inquiry and the Modern Classroom: WISE and SKI

Piaget said, “Our real problem is – what is the goal of education? Are we forming children who are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try to develop creative and innovative minds, capable of discovery from the preschool age on, throughout life?” (Davidson Films, time stamp: 0:41).

WISE was specifically developed “to create sustainable classroom inquiry instruction across the varied contexts where learning takes place” (Linn, et al., 2003, p. 518). While “inquiry is at the heart of the National Science Education Standards” and “the Standards seek to promote curriculum, instruction, and assessment models that enable teachers to build on children’s natural, human inquisitiveness” (National Research Council, 2000, p. 6), studies have found that few science classes actually incorporate inquiry practices (Linn, et al., 2003). Instead it has been found that “…students may often regurgitate isolated “facts” memorized from science instruction, or learn to solve specific kinds of problems, but fail to understand the concepts behind these facts and strategies” (Slotta & Linn, in press, p. 52).

Slotta and Linn (in press) acknowledge that “knowledge integration starts with the view that students bring a repertoire of rich, confusing, and intriguing ideas to science class” (p. 51). The four tenets of Scaffolded Knowledge Integration (SKI), “(1) making thinking visible, (2) making science accessible, (3) helping students learn from each other, and (4) promoting lifelong learning,” (Linn, et al., 2003, p. 524) ensure that students who learn in a variety of ways are able to access information and learn collaboratively with peers. Visual representations are created by asking students to make predictions, write reflections, or draw representations of their investigations and learning (Slotta & Linn, in press). Inquisitiveness and lifelong learning are promoted through the integration of school-based science and ‘real life’ environments across the curriculum (Gobert, Snyder, & Houghton, 2002). Slotta and Linn (in press) build on this idea with their findings that in making connections between science taught in schools and children’s everyday experiences, science will become more relevant and accessible for students outside science classrooms.

While I tend to have some concerns about limitations placed on students when they engage in a digital technology-based assignment, in the case of WISE, an effort has been made to ensure communication and collaboration, as well as the development of new and shared ideas. Slotta and Linn (in press) point out that through students’ investigations and discussions, “they can expand their repertoire of ideas by considering those ideas held by their peers,” and discussions and disagreements about their own hypotheses “…can be valuable, because students are considering alternative explanations, adding evidence from their experience, and negotiating to reach consensus” (p. 64). As students discuss, peer modeling is incorporated and ideas are expressed in a variety of ways, as new ideas are added to the conversation that may not have been identified or included otherwise (Slotta & Linn, in press). In doing this, students access information far beyond what they would have accessed individually, or even with the support of only the teacher. Engeström, (1994) points out that “when thinking is defined as a private, individual phenomenon only indirect data is accessible” (as cited by John-Steiner & Mahn, 1996, p. 201). By promoting collaborative inquiry and challenging others’ hypotheses, students are given the opportunity to access the collective memory storage system of the group (so transactive memory) rather than being limited to their own knowledge and experiences, allowing access to significantly more knowledge and information than each student would have had access to as an individual learner (Sparrow, Liu, & Wegner, 2011).

While I was impressed with the concepts behind the “The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury” series, I must admit that I found myself drawn more to the WISE projects than I was to the videos or activities within the Jasper series. Both provide students with a more student-centered, constructivist approach to learning, in that they provide an opportunity for students to explore concepts through their own observations and experiences. However, I feel that the more varied interactivities of the WISE projects would support differentiated learning and inclusion to a greater degree as they targeted a wider scope of learning styles through the wide range of activities provided. I also felt that the WISE projects made individual students more accountable, as students were expected to answer questions or submit a response at regular intervals between steps. Peer collaboration is promoted through both the Jasper series and WISE projects, but as each student or partnership is also expected to create regular responses in WISE, ownership of ideas and responsibility for learning increases making individual assessment and understanding of learning clearer for educators.
I feel that the WISE projects were applicable to various areas within the curriculum. While they were based in a science-related concept, they provided opportunities for the integration of experiments, written responses, and artistic representation, allowing these projects to incorporate cross-curricular content in a project-based learning style. I believe that a WISE project could be used to create an inquiry project into any science or social studies-based curricular content, which could then extend to incorporate mathematics, language arts and fine arts. Even P.E. could be incorporated by embedding nature-based field trips, or physical-based challenges.

I found the WISE projects engaging, and interactive, and I was thankful to see that they contained manageable amounts of text to read according to grade level posting. The main aspect of WISE that I would customize would be introducing more compelling “hooks” to increase students’ interest going into a project, and to add prompts/images to access prior knowledge and to identify misconceptions prior to beginning a project. Generally, I found these two areas were lacking in the projects I viewed. By accessing interest and prior knowledge, I believe students have a greater chance of becoming active participants in their own learning. I also believe that identifying misconceptions that students often have about scientific concepts is incredibly important prior to beginning a new project.
I enjoyed reviewing the WISE/SKI theories and projects, and I was impressed by the fact that students were guided through the learning process with a clear outline of learning expectations, and applicable, appropriate learning resources throughout a well-defined framework. Due to the numerous structures already in place, educators are given more time to circulate amongst groups, and students are able to work more independently as there is more scaffolding built in. Students are still provided with all of the information they are required to learn, but from a variety of sources and with the opportunity for more independent performance regardless of ability, increasing critical-thinking and inquiry within the classroom.


Davidson Films, Inc. (uploaded 2010). Piaget’s developmental theory: an overview [online video]. Retrieved from:

Gobert, J., Snyder, J., & Houghton, C. (2002, April). The influence of students’ understanding of models on model-based reasoning. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), New Orleans, Louisiana. Retrieved from:

John-Steiner, V. & Mahn, H. (1996). Sociocultural approaches to learning and development: A Vygotskian framework. Educational Psychologist, 31(3/4), 191-206.

Linn, M., Clark, D., & Slotta, J. (2003). Wise design for knowledge integration. Science Education, 87(4), 517-538.

National Research Council. (2000). Chapter 1: Inquiry in Science and in Classrooms. Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9596.

Slotta, J. D. & Linn, M. C. (in press). WISE science: Inquiry and the internet in the science classroom. Teachers College Press.

Sparrow, B., Liu, J., Wegner, D.M. (2011). Google effects on memory: Cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips. Science, 333(6043), 776-778.

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