Imagine a classroom where the elementary teacher says to the students, "Investigate factors that affect the size of shadows". She then steps back and watches the young scientists at work. They quickly form groups of two to three, make a table with the headings, "manipulated variable, responding variable and control variables". Students enthusiastically begin brainstorming possible testable questions. Phrases such as, "how should we change the manipulated variable?", or "no, that isn't a measurable variable. Maybe we should pick length in centimeters" or, "should time of day be controlled?" Over the course of the next few days, the students work through their investigations testing their questions and analyzing their data.
Students are very capable of designing their own testable questions in science. Given a chance and enough practice students can learn more about real science and creative solutions than the current textbook publications can offer.
It is a real disservice to the children when we stifle their scientific creativity because of what we lack. I have noticed that a significant number of teachers tend to shy away from investigative science. They lack the background and confidence necessary to facilitate true investigations. What they don't know is that the method is quite simple and after a few practices, the students will really begin to understand the process.
When I taught junior high science, I used this method and the students would come to class excited and always asking, "what investigation are we doing today?" I was able to dangle the investigation carrot and use the process successfully about once every two weeks. It takes a significant amount of time but is well worth the effort. The students take real ownership of the learning, are truly engaged and become life long learners of science.
If you are interested in facilitating investigation in your classroom, I have posted the process under the tab, "Promoting Inquiry". If you have suggestions that will also improve science teaching, please leave a comment.