Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction

Science and engineering education are being redefined in ways that encourage all students to actively experience "science as inquiry" and "engineering as design under constraint." And, for the first time, it is possible for advanced high school and undergraduate students to work with some of the same data and tools as practicing scientists and engineers. How can science and engineering education capitalize on these new and unprecedented opportunities?

One approach is through the Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction, a prize established to encourage innovation and excellence in education by recognizing outstanding, inquiry-based science and design-based engineering education modules. This type of education is a form of active learning wherein the instructor provides a question, or a challenge, and a general set of procedures that can be used to answer it. The students then produce an explanation or answer that is based on the evidence that they collect from appropriate resource materials or experimental processes that are, at least in part, of the students own proposal.

The contest will recognize any inquiry-based or design based module associated with either an advanced high school level or an introductory-level college course in science or engineering. Only one entry per academic department will be accepted.

Winning applicants must provide complete instructions on how to implement their module. The resource must contain no copyright restrictions. And, to make the module easily portable, it should require only standard resources (supplies, equipment, or specialized expertise) that are normally available for such courses.

Winners will be selected by the editors of Science with the assistance of a judging panel composed of teachers and researchers in relevant science and engineering fields. The individuals responsible for the development of each winning resource will be invited to write a short essay describing the material for publication in Science. The complete instructions for implementation will be published as Supplementary Online Material.

Rules of Eligibility for the Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction:

  • The module must be associated with an advanced high school or introductory college science or engineering course without unusual prerequisites; the module can either be associated with a lecture course or a laboratory course or one that combines lecture and laboratory. The course can be targeted to science or engineering majors, non-majors, or both.
  • We define a module as a coherent unit that requires between 8 and 50 hours of student work, including in-class activities and work done outside of class. It must be free-standing requiring only the background that is normally provided in such a course.
  • The material must be in English or include an English translation.
  • The cost of running the module must be relatively low, with the cost of expendables being not more than $100/student, not including permanent equipment. Priority will be given to modules requiring only modest resources.
  • The module must have been used with groups of at least 10 students, and must have been in place for at least two cycles so as to provide evidence for feasibility and effectiveness.
  • Scalability is an important criterion. Applicants must explain how the module can be scaled to a large number of students.
  • If you are nominating your own module, please use the application form. Applications are due by April 30, 2012.
  • If you are nominating someone else's module, please use the external nomination form. Science will then send the application form to the person you nominate. External nominations are due by 29 February, 2012.
  • Applications and external nominations should be submitted by e-mail to the address ScienceEducation{at} This is a non-reply e-mail to be used solely for the purpose of submitting nominations. Questions concerning whether a module is eligible for a Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction can be sent to Dr. Melissa McCartney at mmccartn{at}
  • If you are interested in serving as a judge for this competition please send a CV to Dr. Melissa McCartney at mmccartn{at}

Essays from IBI Winners