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Anchored Inquiry Learning

Updated: Oct 26, 2023


BSCS Science Learning (formerly known as Biological Sciences Curriculum Study), the educational center that created the popular BSCS 5E Instructional Model in the 1980s, has developed a new instructional model called Anchored Inquiry Learning (AIL). AIL builds on the strengths of the 5E Model while utilizing the newest research about the learning process. Anchoring refers to the connection between the story and the real-life situation. Inquiry is about activating a student’s curiosity, which is far more impactful than merely delivering information to them. By anchoring learning in real-life situations, students find themselves naturally motivated to delve deep into the subject matter. Whether it’s solving environmental issues, understanding historical events, or exploring scientific phenomena, AIL is a powerful tool to ignite a passion for learning that goes beyond the classroom’s confines.


Paul Andersen at Bozeman Science does a great job of explaining how scientific phenomena can be used to anchor scientific learning and drive sensemaking:






At its core, AIL is curiosity-driven exploration. The scenario becomes the focal point of the learning journey, guiding students through a process of investigation, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Science Outside designs its case studies and hands-on scientific investigations to serve as vehicles for bringing AIL into your science classroom. Our two most recent case studies, Sea Otters (AP Environmental Science Unit 1 - Ecosystems) and Rinehart Brook (AP Environmental Science Unit 2 - Biodiversity) were specifically designed with the principles of AIL in mind.


According to BSCS Science Learning website, the AIL model has three key goals:


Motivate students to learn Student learning is anchored in a relevant problem they’ll solve or in interesting phenomena they’ll explain.

Engage students in productive learning activities Students conduct investigations and generate the majority of the information that they need to construct their own understanding of science. This represents inquiry learning.

Prepare students to organize and reinforce their learning beyond the classroom Students apply their understanding by using science ideas to explain new and related phenomena. Source: https://bscs.org/our-work/anchored-inquiry-learning/



AIL sequences lessons so they lead to richer and deeper learning over multiple inquiry cycles. Use the hyperlink or click on the QR code below if you are interested in exploring how AIL lessons are sequenced in more depth.


Students’ questions drive much of their learning experience, and they spend significant time investigating phenomena deeply. Units of instruction target larger and more complex bundles of learning objectives and take longer to complete than traditional instructional techniques. Students collaborate to engage in sense-making activities as they gain an understanding of scientific concepts. Their discussions make their thinking visible as they explain phenomena in their own words, design solutions to problems and defend them with evidence and reasoning. They continuously reflect and revise their understanding and build consensus.

AIL nurtures a growth mindset among students. As they grapple with real-world problems, they learn that failure is not a roadblock but a stepping stone to eventual success. This attitude of perseverance not only prepares students for their academic pursuits but also for the workforce.


Embracing AIL in your classroom not only transforms the way you teach but also cultivates a generation of inquisitive, passionate, adaptable, and confident individuals ready to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.


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