scientific inquiry

Scientific Inquiry
The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS)


The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) was organized in 1958 by the Education Committee of American Institute of the Biological Sciences to find methods to improve biological education in the United States.

A well-known and widely adopted curriculum and many teaching materials for high school biology were developed by Joseph Schwab and his team of the BSCS in the 1960s then.

Actually, the BSSC is a strong inquiry-oriented laboratory approach which allows students to test hypothesis, collect and organize data, and make inferences.

“The essence, then, of a teaching of science as inquiry, would be to show some of the conclusions of science in the framework of the way they arise and are tested”. (Schwab, 1963, P.40).

2 emphases of the BSCS:
1. Human behavior in the ecology of earth.
2. Scientific investigation.
* where students are always “invited” (encouraged) to participate in the process.

Techniques of the BSCS to teach science as inquiry:

1. Use statements that express the tentative nature of science.
e.g.. “we do not know,”
“it is not certain how this happens,”
pointing out that theories may be replaced by others as tine goes by.

2. Use “narrative of inquiry”.
history of major ideas in biology and the course of the inquiry in that area are described and followed step by step.
it is used to replace “a rhetoric of conclusions”, the phrase used by Joseph Schwab to describe what the conventional high school text does - just listing out a series of unqualified, positive statements about science without mentioning the process of obtaining them, which gives a false and misleading picture of the nature of science to the students.

3. Arrange laboratory work to induce students to investigate problems.
not just to illustrate the text, but let the students participate in the inquiry process.
laboratory programs have been designed in blocks that students can be involved in the investigation of a real biological problem.

4. Use “Invitations to Enquiry”.
it “poses example after example of the process itself (and) engages the participation of the student in the process”. (Schwab, 1963, P.47).
there is a blank, or an omission in each invitation, which the students are invited to find out and fill by themselves.
its aim is to “invite the students to use his information and intelligence in an effort to find the answer”. (Schwab, 1963, P.51).
the sets of invitations are specially sequenced in terms of difficulty so as to lead the students to more sophisticated concepts gradually.

* Please refer to the Invitation shown in the Appendix.

Syntax of Teaching

Phase 1: Pose area of investigation to students.

Phase 2: Student structure the problem.

Phase 3: Students identify the problem in the investigation, such as data interpretation, data generation, the control of experiments, and the making of inferences.

Phase 4: Students speculate on ways to clear up the difficulty, by redesigning the experiment, organizing data in different ways, generating data, developing constructs, etc..


Hall, D. A. & McCurdy, D. W. (1990). A Comparison of a Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) Labatoratoy and a Traditional Laboratory on Student Achievement at Two Private Liberal Arts College. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, October 1990, Volume 27, Number 7, P.625-36.

Schwab, J. J. (1963). Biology Teachers’ Handbook. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Schwab, J. J. & Brandwein P. F. (1962). The Teaching of Science. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Thurber, W. A. & Collette, A. T. (1968). Teaching Science in Today’s Secondary Schools (3rd Edition). US: Allyn & Bacon Inc.