Inquiry, Discovery, and Problem Solving

Inquiry, Discovery, and Problem Solving


  • Social science research and inquiry are based on inductive reasoning.
  • Induction is a process which involves gathering information, data, and evidence and putting these together to make reasonable conclusions.
  • The conclusions are used in making inferences about a time, place, or event.


  • Inquiry is a process that involves gathering data and hypothesis testing.
  • It is the primary method historians use.
  • Inquiry leads to conclusions which are hesitantly accepted and open to further investigation.

Discovery Learning and Problem Solving

    • Discovery learning involves a search for something and is based on the idea that new information of some kind will be found.
    • Problem solving involves the process of getting answers and is closely related with inquiry and discovery in the sense that it aims to enable students to know more.


The Tradition of Inquiry

  • Ancient philosophers like Aristotle are credited with doing inquiry.
  • Aristotle, for example, emphasized that we use the five senses in learning and wrote, “It is in doing that we learn best.”
  • Ellis (2007) mentions that teachers need to provide students with sensory experiences and should help children develop skills of systematic inquiry.
  • Ellis (2007) recommends the use of parables, stories, and fables to help children think about problems, right actions, and moral issues.

Real and Contrived Problems

  • Real problems happen in school and in student’s lives.
  • Contrived problems are beneficial to the development of students but are not directly part of student’s lives.

Proponents of Real and Contrived Problem Solving

  • Proponents of real problem solving argue that the learning process has more meaning when it deals with an issue that is part of their every day lives.
  • Proponents of contrived problem solving point out that many historical, economic, and anthropological topics requiring inquiry are important and students may not learn about these topics without a knowledgeable teacher.

Descriptive Research

  • When researchers use descriptive research, they observe human behavior and describe it through observation.
  • When anthropologists live with groups of people, they use participant observation because they take part in the activities of a group and also observe the group.
  • When direct observation is used, researchers observe without becoming involved in a situation.

Descriptive Research

  • When researchers use photographs, artifacts, books, and maps, they are using indirect observation.
  • Another for descriptive research is interviewing informants. This involves asking people questions about their culture, customs, and so forth.

Activities for Students

  • Elementary students can do various activities to enhance their observation and interviewing skills.
  • Teachers can take their students out to the playground and ask the students to sketch a map of what they see.
  • An alternative is to have them make a drawing of an object they see.

Survey Research

  • Sometimes it is difficult or even impossible to observe large numbers of people.
  • In addition, it can be difficult to observe people’s attitudes.
  • In this case, surveys can be used to gather information about people’s attitudes and opinions.

Important Considerations for Survey Research

  • When conducting surveys student researchers need to consider what to measure, how to measure, and whom to measure.
  • When students decide what to measure, it is important for students to avoid writing vague questions.

Important Considerations for Survey Research

  • When deciding how to measure, students need explore the idea of sampling.
  • Not everyone in an institution needs to participate in a survey in order to make valid inferences about the feelings of the institution’s employees.
  • An effective alternative that leads to valid results is to sample employee responses.

Three Different Sampling Techniques

  • 1. Simple random selection is when participants in a survey are selected by pure chance.
  • 2. Stratified random selection occurs when random selection is used on two or more groups in order to get equal representation from each group.
  • 3. Stratified selection occurs when researchers, for example, take every tenth name from a list.

Important Considerations for Survey Research

  • When deciding whom to measure, it is important that samples represent various groups in the population.
  • For example, if elementary student attitudes are going to be investigated, it is important to include students who represent various groups in the elementary grades and to exclude all children and adults who do not fit in this category.

Benefits of Surveys

  • In addition to gathering information, surveys often lead students to take positive action.
  • If students are exploring their school environment, for example, to find problems, they can late take action to help solve some of the serious concerns that members of the school community feel are most serious after data has been gathered.

Experimental Research

  • Experimentation in the social sciences often manipulates variables to determine whether a treatment has an effect.
  • This process generally requires an experimental and a control group.
  • The experimental group typically receives an “experimental” treatment, and the control group receives traditional treatment.

Assessment and Inquiry

  • Students need the ability to analyze research.
  • Assessments are beginning to evaluate students’ ability to analyze and apply survey results more often.
  • Standardized tests can require that students comprehend results and understand the process of inquiry.

Metacognition and Inquiry

  • Metacognition is the process of thinking about one’s own learning, and students need to explore this process.
  • Ellis (2007) uses an example involving observation in which students compare the difference between observing something alone and the difference in observing the same object with a partner.


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