The Institute for Inquiry (IFI) is a highly regarded professional development program that addresses the theory and practice of inquiry-based science education. Inquiry is an approach to learning that involves exploring the natural or material world in a way that leads to asking questions, making observations, planning investigations to develop explanations, rigorously testing those explanations, and discussing and debating results with others—all in the service of coming to a deeper understanding of scientific phenomena and scientific practices. IFI workshops and seminars are tailored to a variety of participants: professional developers, administrators, lead teachers, national education reform leaders, out-of-school educators, and the museum and university communities.
IFI has worked with more than 6,500 lead teachers and professional developers from districts, universities, and museums from over 1,000 districts and projects in 46 states and 12 countries. IFI participants have influenced at least 190,000 teachers, and those teachers in turn have influenced 5.7 million students internationally.
In addition, IFI has created an online curriculum for professional developers (funded by the National Science Foundation), including the series Fundamentals of Inquiry and Formative Assessment in Inquiry. These guides are used by professional developers to give workshops that introduce elementary school teachers to inquiry-based approaches to science teaching. To date, more than six thousand educators worldwide have downloaded the curriculum.
In an exciting current program, IFI is collaborating with the Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) in California to integrate English language development with science at elementary schools throughout the district. Research points to powerful connections between the processes of language acquisition and science, so instructional strategies that integrate the two have the potential to greatly reinforce both, improving the achievement of English Language Learners as well as that of native English speakers. During this multiyear project, IFI is providing professional development to SVUSD teachers along with a series of instructional units and kits of science materials. The results of this program will be made available to educators nationwide.
IFI's work in Sonoma is funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Investing in Innovation Fund, the Vadasz Foundation, the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, and the Mary A. Crocker Trust.