Welcome to Environmental Inquiry: authentic scientific research for high school students  
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EI's Two Levels of Inquiry
EI is organized into two levels of inquiry modeled after research activities conducted by professional scientists. Students first learn standard research methods, or protocols. Then they explore possibilities for using these protocols to address relevant research questions. After planning and carrying out one or more interactive research experiments, students present and discuss the results with their peers and possibly with interested community groups.

EI research represents a continuum, with progressively increasing levels of student responsibility for the design of the investigations. There also is a progression in interaction among students as they learn to critically analyze their results, argue among alternative interpretations, and communicate their findings to fellow student scientists.

EI protocols introduce students to standard laboratory and field methods. Experience with the protocols helps students to develop basic skills and understandings they will be able to use in designing and carrying out scientific investigations.

Protocols differ from traditional school laboratory exercises because they are research techniques rather than demonstrations, so the teacher does not necessarily know the outcome in advance. Data sheets, available in the downloadable forms section of the For Teachers page, guide students through the appropriate steps in data analysis and interpretation, including the final step of generating ideas for follow-up experiments.

Interactive Research
Having mastered one or more of the protocols, students use these techniques to carry out open-ended research projects. This level is called interactive research because it emphasizes collaborative knowledge building and information exchange. Students communicate their findings and build on each other's experiences as they:

  • Narrow down an interesting research question
  • Plan an appropriate experiment or series of experiments
  • Share observations and advice with other students who are conducting similar studies
  • Discuss various possible interpretations of research results
  • Present findings in oral or written form
  • Participate in peer review of research presentations
  • Recommend ideas and approaches for future experiments

 Inquiry Level


 Bioassay Example
 Protocol labs
Students learn standard laboratory and field methods. The whole class carries out a dose/response experiment using duckweed and various concentrations of copper sulfate.
 Interactive Research Students develop their own questions and work in groups to carry out investigations. They present their findings, discuss possible interpretations of their results, and get feedback from their peers, either face-to-face or electronically. Student groups brainstorm and carry out individualized projects to address questions such as: Is copper sulfate also toxic to Daphnia and/or lettuce seeds? Is some other herbicide less toxic to duckweed? Does duckweed grow better with higher nutrient concentrations? Students begin by searching classroom and web-based archives of previous student research for data from related experiments. After completing their experiment, they exchange peer review with students who have carried out other types of bioassay experiments.



Copyright 2009 Environmental Inquiry, Cornell University and Penn State University
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