Experimental comparison of inquiry and direct instruction in science

William W. Cobern, David Schuster, Betty Adams, Brooks Applegate, Brandy Skjold, Adriana Undreiu, Cathleen C. Loving, Janice D. Gobert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


There are continuing educational and political debates about 'inquiry' versus 'direct' teaching of science. Traditional science instruction has been largely direct but in the US, recent national and state science education standards advocate inquiry throughout K-12 education. While inquiry-based instruction has the advantage of modelling aspects of the nature of real scientific inquiry, there is little unconfounded comparative research into the effectiveness and efficiency of the two instructional modes for developing science conceptual understanding. This research undertook a controlled experimental study comparing the efficacy of carefully designed inquiry instruction and equally carefully designed direct instruction in realistic science classroom situations at the middle school grades. The research design addressed common threats to validity. We report on the nature of the instructional units in each mode, research design, methods, classroom implementations, monitoring, assessments, analysis and project findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-96
Number of pages16
JournalResearch in Science and Technological Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


  • Direct instruction
  • Inquiry instruction
  • Inquiry-based science education
  • Learning cycle
  • Randomized control trial comparison
  • Science conceptual understanding
  • Science teaching


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