Creative Education, 2010, 1, 1-6
doi:10.4236/ce.2010.11001 Published Online June 2010 (
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
Encouraging Creativity with Scientific Inquiry
Lloyd H. Barrow
University Missouri Science Education Center, University of Missouri, Columbia, USA.
Received March 10th, 2010; revised April 25th, 2010; accepted June 2nd, 2010.
Creativity facilitates scientists in their investigations of new problems or with a new orientation. However, K-12 science
education typically does not acknowledge this aspect of creativity. Science/Technology/Society provides an avenue for
creativity when addressing inquiry. The use of Cothron et al.’s [1] four question strategy allows for a planning ap-
proach for inquiry.
Keywords: Science, Inquiry, K-12
The majority of the use of creativity today is in the arts
and humanities. Kind and Kind [2] consider creativity
has greater identity with art rather than science. However,
numerous famous scientists such as Charles Darwin,
Charles Lyle, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Watson and Crick,
Albert Einstein, and many others are recognized for their
creativity associated with ways of scientific discovery.
According to Root-Berstein and Root-Bernstein [3], it
was originally assumed that artists and scientists had
approached things in different ways, concluding that
scientists use similar processes as artists in their creative
endeavors because both types of individuals have broad
interests, similar psychological profiles, similar creative
habits, and art can influence scientific discovery and vice
versa. The influence of Snow’s “The Two Cultures” [4]
fosters this assumption. Others consider the arts to be
evaluated by intrinsic aesthetic criteria while science is
evaluated by the contributions to systems of truth (i.e.
scientific laws, scientific theories, etc.) [5]. Creative
thinking is the production of novel or aesthetic ideas or
products which would include both art and science [6];
however, it is considered that science has an indirect
connection with creativity [7].
1. What is Creativity?
Just as there are different views of careers associated
with creativity, there are multiple definitions. Gardner [8]
defined creativity where products developed are viewed
as novel within the discipline/specialty and are ultimately
accepted within the community. Gardner’s definition
separates experts and creativity with creative individuals
being superior. Gardner considers creativity in physics
different from creativity in the non-sciences. A creative
individual takes risks, is not afraid of failing, seeks the
unknown, or questions the status quo. Gardner also con-
curs with Czikszentmihalyi [9] that creativity comes
from the interaction of special talented individuals, disci-
pline and others in the field who will make judgments
about the quality and originality. Creativity also involves
the discipline of being ready and willing to accept the
creative contribution [10]. For example, Gregory Men-
del’s work on the genetics of peas in 1863 was not ac-
knowledged until the 1900’s. This creative link was
originally missed for close to 40 years. Mendel had sent
his paper to Darwin but it was never opened until his
papers were recently put on the web.
Plucker et al. [11] identified three aspects in defining
1) Frequently involved more than one individual,
2) Happens when applied in a supportive environment,
3) Results in new and useful identifiable product for
Plucker [12] summarized 100 years of research on
creativity. Throughout this paper, creativity involves
novel products/approaches formulated by teams that re-
sult in a possible solution to part of a problem or benefit
to society. Students have novel approaches to problems
they encounter in K-12 and frequently demonstrate as-
pects of creativity that is appropriate for their level—
their personal inquiry.
What makes science unique and where does creativity
fit? Just like many careers, future scientists follow a for-
mal and structured apprenticeship—doctorate where re-
search occurs under close supervision by an expert men-
tor, post-doctoral study where an individual hones their
skills and insight. Their minds are challenged to extend
Encouraging Creativity with Scientific Inquiry
knowledge as new experts. Their interaction with peers at
conferences and professional reading facilitates their
creative approach. This occurs in a laboratory or field
site with controlled variables where data are collected to
resolve a testable question. Other times the sequence is to
collect and analyze data, hypothesis and conclusion/ next
question because the discipline is unable to control vari-
The greatest scientists think of new questions that have
not been previously considered [13]. Scientists utilize
both deductive reasoning (implications formed from
general assumptions) and inductive reasoning (general
principles from individual phenomena). Gardner [13]
acknowledges that science is a social invention and is
dependent upon society accepting the consequences (e.g.
current debate over global warming).
The goal of science is the mastery of one of the disci-
plines conceptual schemes [14]. As new scientists refine
their skills, previous research reports provide clues of
possible new approach and things to avoid. Science is
built upon previous results. Koestler’s book on creativity
and science [15] noted the process of combining previ-
ously unrelated knowledge which results in new rela-
tionships. Scientists also use visualization to help form a
solution (e.g. Watson’s description of DNA spiral),
analogy and logic to help resolve their question by
bringing realization to their idea—either acceptance or
rejection. John-Steiner [14] summarized:
“… scientist’s training allows him or her to test the
value of an insight….for its general concepts. And in the
process of testings, other, more complex analogies or
disturbing patterns emerge… At times the struggle with
an idea is incredibly lengthy”.
However, this image of science is not accurately por-
trayed in K-12 science classrooms of the United States.
Investigations are short duration, typically verify what
has been studied, cookbook orientation, and purpose is
not understood by students [16]. According to Cschszen-
tonhalyi, Rothende, and Whalen [5], K-12 science has a
focus on discipline work where lessons are sequenced
with logical steps. Scientists and secondary science
teachers agree it is important to include critical thinking
skills and lessons should inspire students’ creativity [17].
2. Creativity and STS
So how can we get K-12 students involved in the creative
approach in science? Hodson and Reid [18] consider
creativity to be integral to science and the scientific
process. Creativity is one of the five components of the
Science/Technology/Society (STS) movement [19]. Yager
and Roy [20] conclude that STS facilitates students’
creativity by encouraging K-12 students to ask more
questions in their development of science concepts, en-
courages the development of unique questions of per-
sonal interest, investigates causes and effects of their
personal observations, and generate more high quality
questions associated with their personal lives. The key
focus of STS instructional model is the selection of a
long term problem where students take an action to at-
tempt to resolve part of the problem. The problem is mo-
tivational to the students and tends to be a local problem.
Creativity occurs as students investigate various aspects
of the problem. Science/technology/society is an interna-
tional movement.
Students’ views of science are shaped by their school
experiences; therefore, it is imperative to engage K-12
students to promote more positive attitudes toward sci-
ence and improve their creativity skills [20]. STS is not a
prescriptive approach of science teaching, but involves
problem driven activities which begins with a problem or
situation that is appropriate and relevant to the students
[21]. Cschszentonhalyi [5], and Penick [22] consider
question-posing and problem-finding are at the heart of
originality; thereby, strongly associated with creativity.
Creative approaches are not by chance [22]. To promote
creativity, Penick recommends thought provoking ques-
tions where students can explore, take risks, experiment
and speculate in a safe environment. Lee and Erdogan
[23] studied 591 Korean students of STS trained science
teachers and found they had a significantly higher crea-
tivity score over a control group. The creativity test fo-
cused upon three areas—questioning, reasoning, and
predicting consequences. Lee and Erdogan described an
STS learning environment where students are active par-
ticipants in dealing with real-world problems. In addition,
STS students had a more positive attitude toward science.
3. Inquiry
In the United States, the focus of K-12 science education
of the 1990’s was shaped by the publication of two pol-
icy documents—Science for All Americans [24] and Na-
tional Science Education Standards, NSES [16]. Both of
these documents stressed the importance of inquiry.
However, inquiry today is approached differently than
from previous generations [25]. NSES identified three
aspects of inquiry—abilities, understanding and teaching.
The first domain-abilities of inquiry require K-12 teach-
ers of science to provide multiple investigations for stu-
dents that are not verification or “cookbook” laboratory
experiences. The second domain is understandings about
inquiry so students will develop meaning about science
and how scientists work. The final domain is teaching
where various strategies (e.g. wait time, assessing prior
knowledge, effective questioning strategies, long term
investigations, etc.) would facilitate students’ under-
standing of science [25].
The National Research Council [26] clarified inquiry
by identifying five attributes for learners:
1) Engages in scientifically oriented questions,
2) Gives priority to evidence in responding to ques-
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Encouraging Creativity with Scientific Inquiry
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
3) Formulates explanation from evidence,
4) Connects explanations to scientific knowledge, and
5) Communicates and justifies explanations.
These five attributes are on a continuum from teacher
directed on one end to student directed on the other end.
Therefore, a K-12 teacher of science can rate their teach-
ing approach, curriculum, and assessment for level of
inquiry. Table 1 from National Research Council [26],
illustrates variations that a teacher of science can utilize
in their use of inquiry. The degree of teacher-student
centeredness can vary for each attribute.
Several researchers have developed categories of in-
quiry based upon the responsibilities of the student and
teacher. Earlier, Swaab’s [27] classified inquiry into four
levels for source of question, data collection methods and
interpretation of results. For level O, the teacher provides
students with the testable question to be investigated,
methods for collecting data, and guides them toward the
expected conclusion. This would represent a “cookbook”
type investigation. A Level 3 would involve students
framing the question, devising the procedures to gather
the data, and formulating conclusions based upon the
data. Coburn [28] considers this to be an open inquiry
similar to what a student would do for a science fair pro-
ject. Coburn considers Schwab’s Level 1 and 2 to be
guided inquiry. Settlage [29] has argued that it is illogical
for K-12 science to have an open inquiry focus. Johnston
[30] has recently challenged this view. The science edu-
cation community has not resolved the emphasis of in-
quiry because of confusion about what is inquiry [25]. It
must be noted that the NSES [16] did not recommend that
all science concepts be taught by inquiry. For a different
investigation, teachers of science could have different
The use of all three domains of inquiry will facilitate
students’ creativity. What are some inquiry strategies
teachers of science can utilize to facilitate creativity?
First, students need to have opportunities to design scien-
tific oriented investigations through their testable ques-
tion. Second, students would work in small groups as
they design their procedures to address the question.
Third, students will share their findings with peers. Some
students will create a formal presentation, poster, and/or
technology report. Kind and Kind [2] considers inquiry
as described mimics scientists use of creativity.
The use of the four question strategy [1] allows stu-
dents from elementary through graduate school to im-
plement a format that can be used to address their per-
sonal testable question. These four questions are:
1) Available materials?
2) Different forms of materials?
3) What will be modified in attempting to answer the
Table 1. Essential features of classroom inquiry and their variations
Essential Feature Variations
Learner engages in scien-
tifically oriented ques-
Learner poses a question
Learner selects
among questions,
poses new questions
Learner sharpens or clari-
fies question provided by
teacher, materials, or other
Learner engages in ques-
tion provided by teacher,
materials, or other source
Learner gives priority to
evidence in responding to
Learner determines what
constitutes evidence and
collects it
Learner directed to collect
certain data
Learner given data
and asked to analyze
Learner given data
and told how to analyze
Learner formulates ex-
planations from evidence
Learner formulates ex-
planations after summa-
rizing evidence
Learner guided in process
of formulating explana-
tions from evidence
Learner given possible
ways to use evidence to
formulate explanation
Learner provided with
Learner connects expla-
nations to scientific
Learner independently
examines other resources
and forms links to expla-
Learner directed toward
areas and sources of scien-
tific knowledge
Learner given possible
Learner communicates
and justifies explanations
Learner forms reasonable
and logical argument to
communicate explana-
Learner coached in devel-
opment of communication
Learner provided broad
guidelines to sharpen
Learner given steps and
procedures for commu-
More---------------------------Amount of Learner Self-Direction------------------------------Less
Less-------------------Amount of Direction from Teacher or Material---------------------More
Encouraging Creativity with Scientific Inquiry
4) How will its impact be measured?
This approach allows students a consistent approach
for planning their investigation including identifying and
controlling variables. Different groups of students could
use different creative ways to answer the same question.
The four question strategy provides a model for teachers
of science to assist their students in developing their con-
fidence to utilize scientific inquiry. The strategy begins
with a testable question which can be posed by the
teacher. When the class investigates the question, differ-
ent groups can approach the question by testing different
independent variables. As groups of students devise their
procedures, they will also be deciding what data is to be
collected and reported to answer the testable question.
Table 2 is the result of a four question strategy that ex-
amines how the number of ice cubes influences water
temperature. After formulating their responses, the stu-
dents can generalize their experimental design of the
question, independent and dependent variables, data table,
hypothesis, conclusion based upon constant conditions
that provided control (Table 3). This development is an
example of students utilizing creativity to resolve a test-
able question.
4. Summary
Creativity has a place in K-12 science education in the
United States. The use of the four question strategy al-
lows students to be creative in their designing a way to
solve a testable question and helps science teachers’ ad-
dress their frustrations about inquiry [17]. This guided
inquiry experience will help students to become more
comfortable in approaching science. It is also motiva-
tional because students can devise their approach, decide
the type of data to be collected, and formulate a conclu-
sion to the question. The STS movement includes crea-
tivity and can incorporate the four question plan to a lo-
cal problem.
Future research could compare STS classrooms where
the four question strategy has been consistently used with
non-use classrooms. A qualitative case study could also
investigate how groups decide which independent vari-
able was selected to answer the problem. A series of
semi-structural interviews of teachers and analysis of
videos of each group could provide insight about use of
the four question strategy. Students would rate their per-
ceived level of creativity in STS unit. Science teachers
Table 2. Completed four question strategy
National Research Council. (2000). Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. (p. 29).
Testable question: How does the number of ice cubes affect temperature of water?
1. Materials available:
Number of ice cubes, thermometer, shape of ice cube, amount of water, initial water temperature, type of water, stir, container,
graduated cylinder
2. Different forms of materials:
Number ice cubes Thermometer Shape of ice cube
0 °C Rectangle
1 °F Circle
2 Crushed
3 Half moon
4 Square
Amount of water Initital temperature water Time
50 ml 10° 1 minute
100 ml 15° 2 minutes
150 ml 20° 3 minutes
200 ml 25°
Type of water Stir Container Graduated cylinder
tap yes glass 10 ml
distilled no plastic 25 ml
bottled metal 50 ml
styrofoam 100 ml
3. What is to be modified?
Number of ice cubes
4. How will its impact be measured?
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Encouraging Creativity with Scientific Inquiry5
Table 3. Experimental design for testing how the number of ice cubes affects water temperature
Title: The Effect of the Number of Ice Cubes on the Temperature of Water
Hypothesis: If more rectangular ice cubes are used, then it will lower water temperature faster.
Independent Variable: Number of ice cubes
0 ice cubes 1 ice cube 2 ice cubes 3 ice cubes 4 ice cubes
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
Dependent Variable: Ice water temperature in
Constants: 100 ml Tap Water Room Temperature Water 2 Minutes Away from air vent and sunshine
Shape ice cubes Plastic Tumbler 0 No Stir
would note the level of creativity of individual students.
Correlations could be computed between teacher’s rating
with individual students. Science teachers would self-
categorize their teaching on each of the five aspects of
inquiry [19].
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