What Exactly is Meant by Inquiry-Based Lab Activities 

(from How Many Scientific Methods Exist?by Anton E. LawsonThe American Biology Teacher Vol. 72, No. 6 (August 2010), pp. 334-336)

Strong inference consists of applying the following steps to every problem in science, formally and explicitly and regularly:

1. Devising alternative hypotheses;

2. Devising a crucial experiment (or several of them), with alternative possible outcomes. Each of which will, as nearly as possible exclude one or more of the hypotheses;

3. Carrying out the experiment so as to get a clean result;

4. Recycling the procedure, making sub-hypotheses to refine the possibilities that remain; and so on. (p. 347)


The following questions become the central focus of inquiry instruction:

• What did you observe during exploration?

• What is puzzling about your observations?

• What questions are raised?

• What is the central causal question?

• What are some possible explanations (hypotheses)?

• How might these explanations be tested?

• What are the expected/predicted results of each explanation and planned test?

• Following your test, what are your observed results?

• How do your observed and expected results compare?

• If observed and expected results do not match, is the mismatch attributable to a faulty hypothesis, a faulty test, a faulty deduction, or some combination? Can you tell? Why or why not?

• If observed and expected results match, what conclusion should you draw? Have your results eliminated the alternatives? If not, what additional tests are needed?

• Can you be sure that the match or mismatch of observed and expected results is not attributable to chance? If not, what can you do to reduce the likelihood of drawing an incorrect conclusion?