The effect of writing through inquiry on understanding science concepts in eighth grade laboratories

This study investigated the effectiveness of using an inquiry-based, reflective lab writing strategy in an eighth grade science unit on density. Two eighth grade groups were compared: the inquiry writing group and the traditional writing group. Both groups consisted of eighth grade classes of approximately 30 students each. Groups were mixed ability, heterogeneous classes that included students of low, average, and high academic levels. Success of the inquiry-based writing strategy was determined by collecting quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data was based on comparisons on pretest-posttest gains between the inquiry and the traditional groups. Qualitative data was based on responses to an open-ended survey showing student attitudes and learning perceptions in the laboratory environment and writing tasks assigned. In analyzing the quantitative data, an effect size was calculated to determine if there was a significant difference between the two groups. This resulted in an effect size slightly lower than the recommended value to show significance. However, when at-test for independent means was conducted, a significant difference between the means existed. Survey results showed that students in the inquiry group had positive attitudes toward the lab environment. Inquiry students recalled more detailed information from the lab and reflected on higher order thinking processes more than students in the traditional group. However, attitudes toward writing were the same in both groups. Both groups also made a distinct connection between the density concepts learned and the lab activities. KEYWORDS: inquiry, laboratory report, middle school science, reflective writing