Models of Inquiry: The "I Wonder" Circle

Since Apple released its first iPod in 2001 the company’s success has been linked with their products simplicity and elegance. Along this similar thread of thinking, I see Science Companion’s, “I Wonder Circle” as the most appropriate model of inquiry for me and my elementary science colleagues to reference while both planning and executing science lessons. Its strength is in its simplicity for both teacher and student to comprehend. From afar, the message is clear: There is no one starting point for individuals who practice science. The circle emphasizes that the process of “doing science” is continuous, with no start and no end, the completion of one process leading to another. The process is also non-linear, with all forms of doing science connected to one another, highlighting the importance of all processes having value and users unable to put one process over another.

As “I Wonder Circle” users inspect the model more closely, the processes that doing science entails emerge. No surprise, the processes emphasized in the circle are also those emphasized in the NRC’s “Framework for K-12 Science Education” and incorporated into the NGSS. Action verbs such as “observe” and “record” are used verbatim while verbs like “wonder” and “discover” refer to the practice of “asking questions” and “interpreting data.” With a little imagination, one can easily make connections to the practice of “engaging in argument from evidence” as “concluding” which is performed after all arguments have been hashed out and the argument most capable of standing on its own is embraced. Perhaps most importantly, the pattern of preceding each verb with an “I” emphasizes the fact that scientific knowledge and literacy is not accomplished by being fed content either by lecture, print, or video. Rather, scientific literacy is accomplished by physically doing the action verbs stated by oneself and not another.

While other models such as UC:Berkeley’s “Understanding Science” and Visionearning’s “Process of Science” have their own strengths, they have limited value at the primary grade level because of the vocabulary used and complexity of the diagrams presented. For example, the Process of Science diagram uses a valve at the head of the diagram, illustrating how scientific questions are vetted by the scientific community based on whether they are technologically capable of being answered and whether society and its codes of ethics permit answers to such questions to be pursued. While these limiting factors are certainly important for individuals pursuing higher knowledge at collegiate and professional levels, they detract from the primary message that should be delivered by such a graphic organizer for the minds of our budding scientists of the future. Even the presence of different style and size fonts make the diagram less wieldable for the K-5 mind. While “Understanding Science” uses clear looping graphics like the I Wonder Circle, the vocabulary within the graphic is more suitable for middle and high school aged science students. While I will keep an open mind to future models of scientific process and inquiry presented to me in the future, for now I will endorse the I Wonder Circle and share it with my fellow K-5 science colleagues.


About MrMusselman

K-5 Science Specialist for the Burlington Public Schools of Burlington, MA.
This entry was posted in Professional Development. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Models of Inquiry: The "I Wonder" Circle

  1. Sharon Bird says:

    I'm trying to obtain the “I Wonder Circle” as a poster for my classroom. The link in this page is not found. Any suggestions?

  2. I just realized from your comment that ScienceCompanion has taken their “I Wonder Circle” offline. If you use google images you can still find a few images online on other websites but no concrete files to print and download. My only solutions are to create your own or do a screen capture of an existing image elsewhere online. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

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