Active Investigation


Collage of students working on experiments or recording observations

Watch FOSS in Action!

FOSS has evolved from a philosophy of teaching and learning at the Lawrence Hall of Science that guided the development of successful active learning science curricula for more than 40 years. The FOSS program bridges research and practice by providing tools and strategies to engage students and teachers in enduring experiences that lead to deeper understanding of the natural and designed worlds.

What is "Active Investigation"?

Active investigation is a master pedagogy. Embedded within active learning are a number of pedagogical elements and practices that keep active investigation vigorous and productive.

Context: questioning and planning

Active investigation requires focus. The context of an inquiry can be established with a focus question or challenge from you or, in some cases, from students. At other times, students are asked to plan a method for investigation. This might start with a teacher demonstration or presentation. Then you challenge students to plan an investigation. In either case, the field available for thought and interaction is constrained. This clarification of context and purpose results in a more productive investigation.

Activity: doing and observing

The active investigations in FOSS are cohesive and build on each other and the readings to lead students to a comprehensive understanding of concepts. Through the investigations, students gather meaningful data.In the practice of science, scientists put things together and take things apart, observe systems and interactions, and conduct experiments. This is the core of science—active, firsthand experience with objects, organisms, materials, and systems in the natural and designed world. In FOSS, students engage in the same processes. Students often conduct investigations in collaborative groups of four, with each student taking a role to contribute to the effort.

Data management: recording and organizing

Data accrue from observation, both direct (through the senses) and indirect (mediated by instrumentation). Data are the raw material from which scientific knowledge and meaning are synthesized. During and after work with materials, students record data in their notebooks. Data recording is the first of several kinds of student writing.

Students then organize data so that the data will be easier to think about. Tables allow efficient comparison. Organizing data in a sequence (time) or series (size) can reveal patterns. Students process some data into graphs, providing visual display of numerical data. Students also organize data and process them in the science notebook.

Analysis: discussing and writing explanations

The most important part of an active investigation is extracting its meaning. This constructive process involves logic, discourse, and existing knowledge. Students share their explanations for phenomena, using evidence generated during the investigation to support their ideas. They conclude the active investigation by writing a summary of their learning in their science notebooks as well as questions raised during the activity.