K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

Learn more about discovery learning

Math for multiple intelligences
How a middle-school math teacher realized she was boring and jump-started her career — and her students — by using thematic planning, emphasizing problem solving, and teaching to multiple intelligences.
Format: series (multiple pages)
Problem centered math
Why students must build their own understanding of mathematics if they are to be able to use it in the real world, and how teachers can guide them in doing so.
Format: series (multiple pages)
Discovery learning
This reference article explains the theory of discovery learning and discusses its history and its use in the classroom.
Format: article
By Heather Coffey.
Why inquiry?
The rationale for using discovery learning methods in teaching science.
Discovery Place KIDS—Huntersville
This innovative children’s museum in the Lake Norman area of North Carolina sparks imagination and learning through play for children from birth—age seven.
Format: article/field trip opportunity

Find all 145 resources in our collection.

Learning that takes place, not through instruction, but through examination, analysis, or experimentation.

See also inquiry.

Additional information

The idea behind discovery learning is that people understand and remember concepts better when they have discovered them on their own. Discovery learning includes activities such as experimentation, data interpretation, interviews, and dissection. See the following examples:

  • Experimentation: Students may learn through experimentation how the position of the fulcrum affects the force necessary to raise a given object using a lever.
  • Data interpretation: Examining family trees showing which members have a disease will allow students to determine whether the allele causing the disease is recessive, dominant, or sex-linked.
  • Interviews: Students can learn about integration by interviewing people in their community who remember when the schools were segregated.
  • Dissection: Dissecting small branches will show students that only the green cambium layer of a tree is living and active in water and nutrient transport.

Discovery learning can overlap with inquiry learning. However, inquiry should include students generating questions they want to answer, whereas discovery need only involve answering questions. Direct instruction is usually used with discovery learning to introduce knowledge necessary for a discovery or reinforce ideas uncovered through discovery.

Examples and resources

Find a wide variety of articles about discovery learning in our article collection.

Numerous websites listing scientific experiments for students are compiled at the dmoz Open Directory Project.