Inquiry Projects in Science Teacher Education: What Can Investigative Experiences Reveal About Teacher Thinking and Eventual Classroom Practice?
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SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATION Deborah Trumbull, Section Editor Inquiry Projects in Science Teacher Education: What Can Investigative Experiences Reveal About Teacher Thinking and Eventual Classroom Practice? MARK WINDSCHITL Curriculum & Instruction, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA Received 10 September 2000; revised 23 October 2001; accepted 17 December 2001 ABSTRACT: Science education reform documents emphasize the importance of inquiry experiences for young learners. This means that teachers must be prepared with the knowl- edge, skills, and habits of thinking to mentor their students through authentic investigations. This study examines how preservice teachers’ inquiry experiences, in a science methods course, influenced and were influenced by their conceptions of inquiry. The study also assesses how these experiences were associated with eventual classroom practice. Six preservice secondary teachers were observed during a 2-month inquiry project and then followed into the classroom as they began a 9-week teaching practicum. Data revealed that participants’ preproject conceptions of the inquiry process were related to the conduct and interpretation of their own inquiry project, and that the project experience modified the inquiry conceptions of those participants who already had sophisticated understandings of scientific investigations. Perhaps most importantly, the participants who eventually used guided and open inquiry during their student teaching were not those who had more authen- tic views of inquiry or reflected most deeply about their own inquiry projects, but rather they were individuals who had significant undergraduate or professional experiences with authentic science research. Finally, this article advocates that independent science investi- gations be part of preservice education and that these experiences should be scaffolded to prompt reflection specifically about the nature of inquiry and conceptually linked to ways in which inquiry can be brought into the K-12 classroom. C 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed 87:112 – 143, 2003; Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI 10.1002/sce.10044 Correspondence to: Mark Windschitl; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org C 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
INQUIRY PROJECTS IN SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATION 113 INTRODUCTION Inquiry is the quintessential experience of science, yet the vast majority of preservice science teachers enter their preparation programs without having conducted a single inquiry in which they have developed a question of interest and designed the investigation to answer that question (Cummins, 1993; Shapiro, 1996; Windschitl, 2000). It is unreasonable to assume that, as teachers, these individuals will spontaneously embrace the idea of using open inquiry with their own students or feel capable of managing such complex instruction. Despite this lamentable cycle of inexperience with open inquiry, there are some promising intervention strategies to help future teachers. Science methods instructors, for example, can provide opportunities for preservice teachers to conduct their own open inquiries, and to link their experiences with strategies for using inquiry in their own classrooms (see for example, Roth, 1999; van Zee, Lay, & Roberts, 2000). The impact of such interventions, however, may depend on several factors including students’ past academic and professional experiences with research, the kind of inquiry project they select for themselves, and perhaps most importantly, their conceptions and beliefs about the nature of inquiry. These conceptions may influence the ways in which preservice teachers interpret their own experiences with independent investigations, how they establish links between their inquiry experiences and pedagogical approaches for inquiry, and ultimately, how they teach in classrooms. In this article, I describe a multicase study in which six preservice secondary science teachers developed their own investigations—from formulating questions to defending re- sults in front of peers. Throughout the inquiry process these preservice teachers maintained a “dual journal,” one part of which chronicled their plans, puzzlements, joys, and frustra- tions about the inquiry, and the other part of which was a reflection about how their inquiry experience compelled them to think about inquiry instruction with their future students. Data from these journals, together with interviews and other class artifacts, strongly sug- gest that participants interpreted their inquiry experiences in vastly different ways from one another and that beliefs about the nature of inquiry had a significant impact on these interpretations as well as on participants’ plans to use inquiry in their own classrooms. The subsequent classroom practice of these preservice teachers is then described in light of these differences. Before describing the study, the term “inquiry” as used in this article requires clarifi- cation. “Inquiry” has been a broadly defined construct in science education. It has been associated with a wide range of intellectual activities, including hypothesis testing, prac- tical problem-solving, modeling, and engaging in Socratic dialogue to name just a few examples. Although inquiry has many connotations and can arguably involve any of these activities, this article refers to inquiries in which questions about the natural world are posed, hypotheses are generated, investigations are designed, and data are collected and analyzed in order to resolve the question. This “hypothesis testing” model of inquiry is commonly portrayed by textbooks as a linear process and is often referred to as the “Sci- entific Method.” These are both misrepresentations. First, the process of hypothesis testing in science is not a linear one in which each step is a discrete event whose parameters are considered only after the previous step is complete. In authentic scientific practice, mul- tiple steps or phases are often considered in relation to one another at the outset of the investigation. The particulars of hypothesis generation, data collection, and analysis are mutually interdependent considerations. Second, with regard to “The Scientific Method,” analyses of practice in various scientific communities have shown that there is no universal method, and that science inquiry can take different forms (Alters, 1997; Knorr-Cetina, 1999; McGinn & Roth, 1999). Procedurally, some scientists do formulate and then test hypotheses; other scientists, however, construct their hypotheses only after data analysis, and still other
114 WINDSCHITL scientists, such as field biologists, astronomers, or anatomists, conduct descriptive research in which hypotheses may not be explicitly tested (Latour, 1987).1 It is not the purpose of this study to evaluate the various conceptions of inquiry, but rather, to better understand how preservice teachers make sense of the process of developing ques- tions and testing hypotheses. Despite the diversity of connotations for “inquiry,” hypothesis testing is one of the valid representatives of the inquiry process. In many scientific fields, the testing of hypotheses represents a canonical process that characterizes much of how disciplinary knowledge is generated and validated. For science learners at any level, posing questions and testing hypotheses is an authentic activity by which they can generate their own knowledge and develop an understanding of the processes by which scientists make claims about the natural world. It is important then, that teachers be able to help students understand the historical/epistemological role of inquiry in scientific thought and to help students become participants in the practices that characterize the discipline today. BACKGROUND Inquiry Instruction in K-12 Classrooms The science education community has made “authentic science” activities for K-12 stu- dents a priority of the American schooling agenda (see Science for All Americans (AAAS, 1990), Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 2000), and Scope, Se- quence, and Coordination of Secondary School Science (NSTA, 1995)). The National Com- mittee on Science Education Standards and Assessment (1996) has asserted that “[i]nquiry into authentic questions generated from students’ experiences is a central strategy of teach- ing science” (p. 21), and, that students should “engage in aspects of inquiry as they learn the scientific way of knowing the natural world, but they should also develop the capacity to conduct complete inquiries” (p. 23, emphasis added). For a science student, developing one’s own question and the means to resolve the question suggests an inquiry experience that is profoundly different from the far more common tasks of science schooling which consist of answering questions prescribed in the curriculum using methods also preordained in the curriculum or by the classroom teacher. To distinguish among various forms of inquiry practiced in classrooms, science educa- tion researchers have developed inquiry “continua,” indexed by the degree of independence students have in asking and answering questions. The lowest levels of “inquiry” are confir- mation experiences, often referred to as “cookbook labs,” in which students verify known scientific principles by following a given procedure. The next level is referred to as struc- tured inquiry in which the teacher presents a question for which the students do not know the answer, and students are given a procedure to follow in order to complete the inquiry. In guided inquiry, teachers provide students with a problem to investigate but the methods for resolving the problem are left to the student. In open or independent inquiry teachers allow students to develop their own questions and design their own investigations (see Germann, Haskins, & Auls, 1996; Herron, 1971; Schwab, 1962; Tafoya, Sunal, & Knecht, 1980 for various ways of classifying classroom inquiry). The deceptively minor differences between structured, guided, and open inquiry have, in fact, monumental implications for students’ practice. For example, guided inquiry in the classroom is far more intellectually challenging for learners and more pedagogically complex for teachers to manage than is structured inquiry. As opposed to having investigative 1 Ontological and epistemological differences exist among the sciences as well (Knorr-Cetina, 1999), but these issues are beyond the scope of this study.
INQUIRY PROJECTS IN SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATION 115 procedures laid out for them (as in structured inquiry), students who engage in guided inquiry must take the teacher’s question, design their own ways to collect data (a process that often involves creativity, domain-specific content knowledge, and familiarity with domain- specific data collection methods), and coordinate the data collection with analysis. Because learners must “create” data that they believe will answer the question, guided inquiry can be a valuable experience in which learners come to understand, through first-hand experience, how evidence and argument are marshaled to support knowledge claims. In open inquiry experiences, the teacher may circumscribe a subject matter area for investigation, but otherwise the learner has a universe of possibilities from which to fashion a question. Crafting a question that is meaningful, consistent with existing theory, and testable is a complex, ill-structured problem in itself. For this reason, independent inquiry is yet a more challenging endeavor than guided inquiry for learners to participate in and for teachers to facilitate. Unfortunately, inquiry in any form has not yet become a characteristic of science class- room practice (Wells, 1995). In classrooms where it does take place, confirmatory exercises and structured inquiries are far more common than guided or open inquiries (Tobin, Tippins, & Gallard, 1994). In a recent U.S. Department of Education report on student work and teacher practices in American schools, 69% of 12th graders surveyed indicated that they had “never” or “hardly ever” designed and carried out their own investigation. Thirty-seven and 32% of students surveyed in grades 8 and 12 respectively reported that they did not “conduct science projects or investigations that took a week or more” (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). There may be several reasons for the lack of extended inquiry experiences: most sci- ence teachers view inquiry as difficult to manage, many teachers believe inquiry instruction is possible only with above average students, and science teachers may be confused about what constitutes inquiry (Blumenfeld et al., 1994; Hodson, 1988; Welch et al., 1981). Another important influence on students’ lack of opportunity for authentic investigations is teachers’ conceptions of the nature of inquiry. Often, teachers hold positivistic views of science (Pomeroy, 1993) and many believe in a universal stepwise procedure, “The Scientific Method,” for doing science, thus dismissing the creative and imaginative nature of the scientific endeavor (Abd-El-Khalick & BouJaoude, 1997; Lederman, 1992). Classroom case studies indicate that teachers form individualized conceptions of inquiry and employ these for science teaching in ways that may not match the conceptions of researchers (Carnes, 1997; Crawford, 1998; Flick, 1995; Fradd & Lee, 1999). It is likely that there are multiple causes for these conceptions, many originating in previous science learning situations. The following section explores some of the experiences that contribute to conceptions of inquiry science for preservice teachers. Inquiry Experiences and Preservice Teachers Of all the professions, educators have the longest apprenticeship of learning by being students and by observing teachers for many years (Lortie, 1975). Teachers themselves are products of traditional K-12 schooling; as learners, they are often exposed to teacher- centered instruction, fact-based subject matter, and drill and practice (Russell, 1993). These experiences furnish prospective teachers with mental models of instruction which they use to imagine lessons in their own classrooms, develop innovations, and anticipate learning outcomes (Kennison, 1990). Teachers are less likely to be guided by instructional theories than by familiar images of what is “proper and possible” in classroom settings (Russell, 1993; Zeichner & Tabachnick, 1981). Research on teacher thinking tells us that teachers make instructional decisions based on a complex system of knowledge and beliefs (Bryan & Abell, 1999; Clandinin & Connelley,
116 WINDSCHITL 1992). There is a strong literature base for applying the construct of teacher beliefs to research on inquiry. Pajares (1992) asserts that beliefs are the “best indicators of the decisions that individuals make throughout their lives” (p. 307); they play a major role in teacher decision making about curriculum and instructional tasks (Nespor, 1987; Pajares, 1992). However, we have little knowledge of teachers’ beliefs about the goals and purposes of inquiry, of their knowledge of inquiry processes, or of their motivations for undertaking more complex and often more difficult-to-manage forms of instruction. Keys and Bryan (2000) argue that conceptions of inquiry are tied to beliefs about what science “is” and about what kinds of knowledge and skills are worth teaching in science classrooms. They contend that (p. 2) . . . there is a fundamental need for research on teacher beliefs and understandings of inquiry in the local context to provide a grounded theory of science teaching as inquiry. We will assert that if inquiry-based instruction is to succeed, it will be essential not only to characterize teachers’ inquiry beliefs, but also to collaborate with teachers to develop forms of pedagogy in accordance with their current understandings of teaching and learning. Much of what prospective teachers learn about inquiry and about teaching also comes from their experiences as undergraduates. As with precollege schooling, instructors in higher education not only teach the content of their courses, but they also model teaching practices and strategies for prospective teachers in their classes (Grossman, Wilson, & Shulman, 1989). What then, is the model of inquiry that preservice science teachers are exposed to in undergraduate science classes? Generally, they are not unlike the confirmatory laboratory experiences found in high school. Trumbull and Kerr (1993), for example, found that much of what went on in a typical undergraduate biology laboratory class was highly scripted and tightly controlled—students were given the questions to answer and the methods to answer them. Lab assistants in this study reported that because of this approach, students lacked the focus necessary to carry out the inquiry or even understand the reasons for collecting data. In addition to the problem of being subjected to models of highly structured inquiry, preservice teachers are rarely exposed to discussions about science as a discipline at the college level and do not participate in discussions of how new knowledge is brought into the field (Bowen & Roth, 1998). Schwab (1978) defined these areas of understanding as knowl- edge of syntactic structures. The syntactic structures of a discipline are the canons of evi- dence used by members of the disciplinary community to guide inquiry in the field. They are the principles by which new knowledge is introduced and validated by that community. For teachers familiar with the syntactic structures of science, biology class, for example, is not just about memorizing phyla, it includes discussions and activities aimed at devel- oping an understanding of the methods of biological inquiry. However, teachers who lack knowledge of the syntactic structure of their discipline are less able to incorporate that aspect of science into their curriculum (Grossman, Wilson, & Shulman, 1989). A lack of syntactic knowledge may also limit prospective teachers’ abilities to learn new information in their fields. They may be unable to determine the validity of claims within a field and find themselves unable to articulate the grounds to counter a specious argument, even if they are aware of its dubious nature. There have been calls to integrate more authentic inquiry experiences into not only un- dergraduate science courses but into teacher education courses as well (Bencze & Bowen, 2001; Tamir, 1983; van Zee, Lay, & Roberts, 2000; Welch et al., 1981). The studies that have been done on inquiry in teacher education programs indicate that preservice teachers desperately need such experiences. In a study of 25 preservice teachers with science degrees who were asked to conduct independent inquiry on an ecology topic, Roth (1999) found that they had considerable trouble creating research questions. Many developed questions
INQUIRY PROJECTS IN SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATION 117 that were correlational in nature, but believed that they could use the results as proof of cause-and-effect relationships. Several of the students were unable to operationalize vari- ables in a way that would allow unambiguous measurements. Almost half of the final reports contained claims that either did not relate to the original question or did not logically extend from the data collected. In a study conducted with an elementary science methods class, Shapiro (1996) found that 90% of her students had never experienced science as an investigation, and most of those who had, did so in school science fairs. She asked students to work with partners to answer questions of their own design. Over a 7-week period, students kept journals describing their efforts at posing questions, developing approaches to problem-solving, and interpreting their findings. Most of the participants struggled, however these same individuals later testified to the intellectual satisfaction of successfully creating their own questions and testing them. Students appreciated the need to make changes in the design of the investigation in order to solve the problem and stressed the importance of perseverance as well as skills in communicating results with others. Students with the least extensive backgrounds in science made the greatest changes in their conceptions about the nature of science and scientific thinking. Clearly there are a number of experiences that can influence preservice teachers’ concep- tions of and beliefs about inquiry. They range from their own experiences as K-12 students, to work in laboratory settings at the college level, to coursework in teacher education. Many of these experiences are as likely to distort their image of inquiry as they are to enhance it, and more must be done in teacher education programs to help preservice teachers develop robust understandings of authentic scientific practice. PURPOSE OF STUDY This is the first in a series of studies designed to investigate experiences at the preservice level that could potentially encourage future science teachers to use inquiry-based instruc- tion in their own classrooms and cultivate in these teachers the skills, understandings, and disposition necessary to implement such instruction. The purpose of this initial phase of re- search was to investigate how preservice science teachers’ conceptions of inquiry influence and are influenced by their own independent inquiry experiences. This study also examined how these experiences related to their actual classroom practice. The specific questions addressed are as follows: 1) How are preservice teachers’ conceptions of inquiry related to the way they conduct and interpret their own independent inquiry? 2) What patterns emerge across participants in the ways in which they interpret their inquiry experiences? 3) What conceptions and investigative experiences are linked with preservice teachers’ use of inquiry in their own classrooms? 4) How effective are independent inquiry experiences in changing individuals’ concep- tions of inquiry? CONTEXT Participants The six participants in this study were students in a teacher education program at a public university in the northwest United States, all enrolled in a secondary science methods course. The teacher education program at this institution is relatively small and dedicated
118 WINDSCHITL to producing graduates who will assume leadership roles in their schools as well as become exemplary classroom teachers. All candidates enter with a bachelors degree in an area of science and they graduate with a masters in teaching degree. Many of these preservice teachers have prior work experience in science or technology areas. The 6 science methods students in the current study were part of a larger secondary cohort of approximately 50 students who took most courses together but attended methods classes in their subject- specific groups. The 6 participants were chosen from a larger class of 12 science methods students, based on their availability for a postcourse interview and for in-the-field classroom observations. The methods course included explorations of the nature of science, goals and objectives in teaching, lesson planning, unit planning, laboratory work, inquiry, project-based instruc- tion, conceptual change teaching, constructivist classroom culture, technology in science teaching, curriculum, and safety. The course was two quarters in length and was taught by the author. The author was a secondary science teacher for 12 years and has had varied experiences with science inquiry, working extensively over the past 3 years with oceanog- raphers, documenting their research practices as background for a study on how scientific models are developed. The author has also worked with wildlife biologists, adapting their inquiry practices to a field-based science curriculum for eighth graders. The Inquiry Project The first 2 weeks of the course were designed to help students understand science as a way of knowing the world and finding out what scientists actually do. During the second week of the fall quarter, the instructor initiated a discussion about inquiry and about the role of various kinds of investigations in generating new knowledge. There was no “authoritative defining” of inquiry by the instructor during this discussion, rather, the objective was to elicit their understandings of scientific inquiry and to allow them to hear others’ conceptions of inquiry. This conversation laid the groundwork for discussions around science literacy and how the methods students could coordinate the ideas of inquiry and science literacy to develop goals for instruction. During these discussions a number of different perspectives emerged from students about the “scientific method.” Most students supported the notion that the scientific method is not a linear process by which researchers unproblematically move from observations to questions to hypotheses, and so on. Most students, however, were unable to articulate a coherent model of inquiry, having few relevant experiences to draw on. The lack of inquiry experiences has been a consistent problem in this particular course. For the past 3 years, methods students in this course have been asked whether they have, in any science class (K-16), generated their own question for investigation and means to resolve the question. Only about 20% of these preservice teachers had ever conducted open inquiry—at any level of science education. And of this 20%, all reported that they engaged in only one such inquiry experience. In response to this perennial lack of experience and understanding, methods students in this class were asked to engage in an open inquiry as a class project. Students were encour- aged to spend a week simply observing their local environment and considering questions that came to mind. The questions could be about animal behavior, weather phenomena, technology, or other suitable science topic. Students were then asked to design an inves- tigation, collect and analyze their own data, and defend the results of their inquiry to the class in a formal presentation. Students were given 6 weeks to complete their inquiry. The students’ research projects encompassed a wide range of interests. They investigated bird-feeding behaviors, sunsets,
INQUIRY PROJECTS IN SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATION 119 diapers, the electrical conductivity of fruits, the insulation qualities of fabrics, and a variety of other topics. The Reflective Journal In order to capture ideas that were generated throughout the inquiry and make these ideas explicit objects of reflection, students were asked to maintain a journal in which they recorded the details of their inquiry “journey.” The journals eventually contained a range of written reflections, including not only the straightforward reporting of investigative pro- cedures, but also the frustrations, triumphs, second thoughts, and false starts associated with open inquiry. In addition to recording these thoughts, there was also a parallel record maintained. Each time they made journal entries about their inquiry project they also de- scribed how these experiences were informing their thinking about inquiry experiences for their future students. In this sense, it was a dual journal, intended to stimulate “pedagog- ical thinking” (Fieman-Nemser & Buchmann, 1985) by connecting episodes of personal inquiry experiences with a developing framework for working with future students. The journals were a rich source of information about an understudied phenomena—the process of writing to “communicate authentic problems and observations during more open-ended inquiries” (Keys et al., 1999). The journals, then, were more than records of events—they were tools for aiding reflec- tion. Definitions of reflective thinking range from a focus on specific aspects of teaching, learning, and subject matter (Cruickshank, 1985) to the macro aspects of the sociopoliti- cal and moral principles of teaching (Liston & Zeichner, 1987; Tom, 1985). The working definitions for this study fell toward the former end of this continuum. Reflective thought involves an examination of one’s beliefs and the assumptions/aims that construct them in relation to ideas and practices in one’s world (Johnston, 1994). Schon (1983) describes a specific type of reflection called a “conversation with the situation” in which the individual uses various tools and strategies to solve problems. In the act of using these resources, these tools and strategies “speak back” to the inquirer, prompting a transaction with the situation—a metaphorical conversation that is both a product of a person’s thinking and that which shapes thinking. Being conscious of this conversation is important if one wants to understand how one is learning in a given situation as well as how to solve the problem at hand. The students’ journals were intended to generate an on-going conversation with the inquiry situation. The journal was a way to externalize self-dialogue about the inquiry, which would normally be internal and poorly articulated, and to make this dialogue explicit to the student. Complementary Course Experiences A program of activities during the methods course (Table 1) was designed to complement the inquiry experiences. The course began (Week 1) with a panel discussion involving a geologist from a NASA laboratory, an oceanographer, and a teacher who engaged in summer research with the oceanographer. The scientists related how questions and hypotheses were constantly generated during their work and each described how creativity played an essential role in research. All three panelists refuted the idea of a universal scientific method and agreed that their investigations were not linear in any sense. Although all the panelists expressed excitement about their work, the teacher-researcher was particularly enthusiastic about her opportunities to do “real science” on an ocean research vessel. In Week 2 students were asked to consider what the scientifically literate citizen should know and be able to do. In pairs, they constructed operational definitions of scientific literacy
120 WINDSCHITL TABLE 1 Timeline of Selected Instructional Activities Complementing the Open Inquiry Project During Methods Course Week of the Quarter Selected Activities Complementing the Inquiry Project 1 • Panel discussion with 2 scientists and 1 teacher/researcher • Discussion “What does it mean to ‘do’ science?” 2 • Students define scientific literacy, connect idea with goals for year-long science class • Students learn to write objectives congruent with state and national standards • Students introduced to inquiry project 3 • Instructor models lesson planning and teaching using different instructional strategies • Small group discussions about students’ inquiry projects—challenges of developing inquiry questions, assembling necessary materials, and collecting data 4 • Students observe in field (no class) 5 • Students observe in field (no class) 6 • Students develop own lessons and microteach • Small group discussions about challenges in assembling necessary materials, collecting data, and analyzing data 7 • “Inquiry as a way of teaching” introduced as class topic • Exercises in scaffolding learners’ understandings of observation vs. inference and the development of questions by learners • Whole-class guided inquiry on earthworm behavior (operationalizing variables, standardizing measurements, controlling variables) 8 • Discussions about using guided inquiry as springboard for open inquiry • Using technology to analyze and represent data 9 • Show video on teachers coaching students for public presentation of findings • Exploring how to prepare learners to present inquiry and supporting arguments to peers 10 • Methods students present inquiry to their peers and then compared their definitions to those found in the major reform documents. This led to readings and activities focusing on the construction of major goals for a year-long science class. Later in Week 2 students learned to write objectives that were congruent with state and national standards for content and for inquiry skills. Also during the second week of the quarter, students were introduced to the requirements of the inquiry project and began work on the project. From Week 2 to 7 of the course, students were given 30 min per class period to discuss their ongoing inquiries in small groups. These discussions often centered on the difficulties they were experiencing in generating researchable questions, problems in acquiring and using special equipment for their studies, and challenges they confronted in collecting usable data. These discussions were not structured by the instructor, but were intended to expose students to a range of inquiry topics addressed by their peers and to the variety of challenges that arise during different types of investigations. During Week 3 students explored different small-scale activity structures that science teachers use to achieve certain learning objectives (discussion, eliciting current concep- tions from students, concept-building activities, laboratory activities, etc.). Each student
INQUIRY PROJECTS IN SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATION 121 developed three lessons featuring different activity structures and in Week 6 they were videotaped during microteaching of all three lessons (in Weeks 4 and 5 students were observing in schools). In Week 7, students were introduced to inquiry as a larger-scale activity structure. The methods students took on the roles of secondary school students as the class explored earthworm behavior. In small groups they observed earthworms and generated a number of questions. The instructor then demonstrated how a teacher could (1) scaffold learners’ understandings of the difference between observations and inferences, (2) categorize ques- tions that learners might have about earthworms, and (3) help learners transform some of these “everyday” questions into researchable questions. During the next class session, stu- dents agreed on one question upon which the entire class could conduct a brief study, and they brainstormed about the links between the question and the kinds of data one would need to gather. The class also explored how a teacher could scaffold learners’ efforts to op- erationalize variables, design experiments, and standardize measurements. The class then conducted a whole-class guided inquiry on earthworm behavior. Part of Week 8 was devoted to discussions about how the guided inquiry with earthworms could act as a “springboard” for young learners to develop their own independent inquiries. Part of Week 8 was also de- voted to explorations in the computer lab of how learners could organize and analyze data using various types of software and how one could generate meaningful representations of analyzed data. During Week 9, the class explored together how a teacher could help students prepare for presentations to their peers, construct scientifically valid arguments based on data, and negotiate the kinds of questions students could ask their peers during presentations that would probe the quality of the investigations without promoting confrontations. During Week 10, students presented their inquiry results to their peers. METHOD A multiple-case study approach was employed to make sense of the relationships be- tween individuals’ conceptions, plans, and actions regarding inquiry and to determine how applicable these developing hypotheses were across cases (Miles & Huberman, 1994). During the first week of the methods course, participants were asked to submit a written description of how they viewed the relationship between the phases of inquiry (observing, developing questions, designing the study, collecting data, etc.) and to describe, in terms of metaphor, the inquiry process. Metaphors have been used to study how teachers see themselves in a particular context and how they understand processes or structures in their environment (Carter, 1990; Clandinin, 1986; Clandinin & Connelly, 1986; Marshall, 1990; Russell & Johnston, 1988). These metaphors were used as a data source and also were highlighted during the following class period to generate class discussion about the nature of inquiry. During the second week of the course, participants were asked to begin thinking about an open inquiry that could be completed in 6 weeks. Participants were told that their inquiry would culminate in a final presentation to the class in which they would defend the quality of their question, their data collection procedures, analyses, and conclusions. During the inquiry, participants kept a journal in which they recorded their procedures, thoughts, and feelings about the inquiry process, and the implications of these experiences for the design of inquiry activities with their future students. In a set of instructions to students about how to provide an account of their inquiry experiences, they were asked to consider (1) if and how their ideas of question generation, investigative design, data analysis, and conclusion drawing were changing, (2) what relationships they perceived among the different phases of
122 WINDSCHITL inquiry, and, (3) how their inquiries seemed similar to or different from accounts of actual scientific practice. In addition, they were asked to record emerging ideas about how they might scaffold the efforts of their own students in doing inquiry. After final presentations of the inquiry projects, students were interviewed about their personal history with inquiry in science classes and previous professional careers, how they made sense of their own inquiry project, and how they translated their experiences into plans for using inquiry with their future students. Ideas about inquiry that participants had expressed in their journals were further probed during the interviews. Finally, the researcher worked with two field supervisors who documented the use of inquiry-based teaching methods by the participants while they were in the field. The field supervisors were former secondary science teachers with at least 10 years of experience each. They were both familiar with inquiry teaching and had conducted workshops on this topic during the past 3 years. One of the two supervisors observed each of the students each week for 9 weeks at the beginning of the following school year. During this time, each participant had almost complete responsibility for designing and implementing the curriculum. DATA SOURCES/ANALYSIS Primary data sources included participants’ written descriptions of the relationship be- tween the phases of inquiry, their metaphors for inquiry, entries from their reflective jour- nals, postinquiry interviews, and observations from two field supervisors who observed the participants for 9 weeks in classrooms. The reflective journals and interviews were analyzed for thematic content. After an initial reading of the journals, the following codes were developed and applied to text units at the level of propositions (statements of meaningful assertion) or questions: (1) references to their inquiry (subdivided into questions relating to inquiry situation, factual statements relating relatively unambiguous assertions or accepted scientific knowledge, statements about method, describing procedures, observations relating to data from study, inferences generated from data, and affective responses to inquiry situation), (2) reflec- tive statements about inquiry, (3) metacognitive statements indicating reflection on one’s thinking, (4) projections about future instruction stating disposition towards or plans for future instruction, and, (5) statements about students associated with projections about instruction. Using these codes, several themes began to emerge from the data. The first of these was “connectedness among the phases of inquiry” (exemplified by passages such as “certain questions are impossible to address with quantitative analysis” and “this research showed me many different ways in which certain questions are answered based on the methods for gathering data”). The second theme was “situations considered to be problematic during inquiry” (exemplified by passages such as “I’m not sure if the motion detector will be sensitive enough to detect a stretch in the rope” and “the spreadsheet program converted my data into a bar graph, but the bar graph didn’t produce a telling picture, it didn’t simplify the data into a meaningful representation”). The third theme was “degree of reflection about the inquiry process” (exemplified by the passages “I know it may sound strange for me to be considering what equipment I’m going to use even before I have something to investigate, but considering our circumstances, I don’t think it’s something that another scientist wouldn’t do” and “I’ve thought a lot about exactly how I would phrase my hypothesis—it could be an open-ended question but that doesn’t predict anything”). Tentative hypotheses were formed about the links between the preproject conceptions of inquiry held by participants and their interpretations of their inquiry experiences. Postproject
INQUIRY PROJECTS IN SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATION 123 interview protocols were then constructed to probe for additional evidence in support of these hypotheses. Interview questions for all participants included the following: 1. “Do you have any research background that helped you complete this project?” 2. “Were there any science investigations that you did in middle school, high school, or college that were particularly satisfying to you?” 3. “Any that helped you understand how science was done?” 4. “What aspects of inquiry would need scaffolding if you were to have your own students doing them?” 5. “Is there value in having middle or high school students participate in guided, or open inquiry? If so, what aspects are valuable?” 6. “What is the teacher’s role during inquiry activities?” Answers to each of these were elaborated upon by follow-up questions. The data from participants’ written descriptions of the relationship between the phases of inquiry, their metaphors for inquiry, entries from their reflective journals, and postinquiry interviews were incorporated into cross-case analyses to assess patterns of interaction be- tween their preproject conceptions and their open inquiry experiences (Glaser & Strauss, 1970; Miles & Huberman, 1994). Finally, data was collected in the field by two supervisors who observed the student- teachers in classrooms for 9 weeks. The supervisors were asked to describe each participants’ use of inquiry instruction in their classrooms. Specifically, the supervisors reported how often the student-teacher used confirmatory exercises, structured, guided, and open inquiry, and noninquiry strategies during instruction. The researcher and field supervisors defined confirmation experiences as situations in which students verify known scientific principles by following a given procedure; structured inquiry as situations in which the teacher presents a question for which the students do not know the answers and students are given a procedure to follow to complete the inquiry; guided inquiry as situations in which teachers provide students with a problem to investigate but the methods for resolving the problem are left to the student; and open inquiry as situations in which teachers allow students to develop their own questions and design their own investigations. In addition to categorizing the inquiry strategies employed by the student teachers, the field supervisors contextualized the data by making extensive field notes of interactions between the preservice teachers and their students. In a meeting of the researcher and both field supervisors, these detailed notes were compared against the categorizations selected by the field supervisors. Based on these field notes, approximately 10% of the observed class sessions were recategorized as a different form of inquiry or as a noninquiry instructional strategy. FINDINGS Because the aim of this research is to understand what conceptions and experiences with inquiry effectively “set up” new teachers to implement inquiry-based instruction in their classrooms, the cases will be described roughly in order of the degree to which the participants eventually used inquiry-based instruction in their classrooms. The first three participants, Craig, Kim, and Michael used guided inquiry as the staple of their class- room practice, with limited use of open inquiry. The next participant, Deanne, used guided inquiry once with her students and used no other forms of inquiry. The final two participants, Kevin and Jonathon, did not use inquiry in any form in their classrooms. Table 2 includes the research background of each of the participants as well as their characterizations of and metaphors for inquiry. Table 3 summarizes the types of situations
124 TABLE 2 Summary of Participants’ Projects, Previous Research Experiences, and Initial Conceptions About Various Aspects of Inquiry Participant & Inquiry Topic Previous Research Experience Metaphors for Inquiry Characterization of the Inquiry Process Craig: Comparing Significant academic and significant Detective entertaining A web of mutually interdependent WINDSCHITL thermal insulation of professional experience: Worked with US multiple hypotheses activities fabrics Dept of Energy to find alternatives to while looking for hazardous solvents, also apprenticed with evidence & eventually professor on laser research. building a case Kim: Testing efficacy of Significant academic experience: Did Building a pyramid layer A stepwise, linear process antibacterial products semiindependent research in immunology by layer lab as part of a larger team. Michael: Assessing Significant academic experience: Worked Constructing your own A web of mutually interdependent water quality of with class to design/conduct studies, and novel with multiple activities, like a “food chain restored and develop authentic impact statements about choices to make at every diagram” unrestored streams stream quality being affected by local land page use. Deanne: Investigating Some academic experience: Worked as Phases like spokes on a Stepwise, but steps are dependent cycles of cat behavior individual on class project about authentic wheel, all connected upon one another geology problem; also had sampling at the hub experiences with US geological survey, but “not related to research.” Kevin:Comparing No experience: No research experience as an Fixing a car using different A stepwise process that could electrical conductivity undergraduate or a professional. hypotheses until problem become cyclical if problems or new of fruits is solved questions emerge Jonathon: Testing soil No experience: Did some general Repairing a VCR A stepwise, linear process which models for erosion problem-solving in assessing stream debris, could become cyclical if new otherwise no research experience. questions emerge
TABLE 3 Summary of Participants’ Interpretations of Their Inquiry Experiences, Changing Conceptions of Inquiry, Projections About Using Inquiry with Future Students, and the Nature of Their Subsequent Teaching Practices What Participant Impact of their Inquiry on Most Frequent Modes Considered Problematic Designing Experiences Self-Report of How Conceptions of of Instruction During Subsequent Participant About Inquiry for Own Students Inquiry Changed After Inquiry Project 9-Week Teaching Assignments Craiga 1. Working within the Allow mistakes as No changes in conception of inquiry. • Used guided inquiry as confines of a yes/no learning experiences. What did change was how to staple of curriculum. hypothesis Do first inquiry as implement it in classroom. • Used Socratic questioning in 2. Collecting data that is whole-class activity and During project realized how valuable it conjunction with these relevant to question discuss the process. was and could see it through inquiries. students’ eyes. • No open inquiry Kima 1. Collecting accurate Teacher responsible for Change: Realized that it is not • Used open, guided, and data students’ questions and linear because you loop back to structured inquiries as methods via direct different phases. “Now I would not staples of the curriculum. instruction. say ‘building a pyramid’ as a • Any cookbook exercises were metaphor, but probably more followed up with a guided navigating a ‘web of information’.” inquiry using those lab skills. Michaela 1. Difficulties in acquiring Will try to develop some Change: Now see more of an • Used guided inquiry as equipment scaffolding strategies so organic process. Coupled his staple of curriculum 2. Hypotheses shaping students can generate environmental science background • Used open inquiry once what one “sees” in the their own questions. with the process of doing data. his inquiry project to go beyond the “scientific method.” Continued INQUIRY PROJECTS IN SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATION 125
126 TABLE 3 Summary of Participants’ Interpretations of Their Inquiry Experiences, Changing Conceptions of Inquiry, Projections About Using Inquiry with Future Students, and the Nature of Their Subsequent Teaching Practices (Continued) WINDSCHITL What Participant Impact of their Inquiry on Most Frequent Modes Considered Problematic Designing Experiences Self-Report of How Conceptions of of Instruction During Subsequent Participant About Inquiry for Own Students Inquiry Changed After Inquiry Project 9-Week Teaching Assignments Deanneb 1. Subjectivity of Students write Change: “You retrace your steps a • Used guided inquiry once classifying animal proposals before lot.” Didn’t see as straight line • No other forms of inquiry behaviors investigating, get before, but now that is even more teacher’s feedback. clear. Can learn unanticipated things. Kevinc 1. Hypothesis biases Do background No changes in metaphors. Inquiry • Used some confirmatory interpretation of data research on topic. “seemed natural, like we do it all laboratory exercises 2. Necessity of multiple Discuss inquiries in the time in our lives.” Saw that he • Used some Socratic questioning pilot studies to really groups and get “bounced back and forth between • No inquiry of any kind understand original regular feedback from phases of inquiry, it wasn’t circular.” question teacher. Jonathonc 1. Logistical problems Give students choices in No changes in his conception of • Used some confirmatory with data collection asking questions. inquiry. He came to understand laboratories Go from simple inquiries distinctions between • No inquiry of any kind to complex. problem-solving and inquiry. a Significant research experience. b Some experience. c No experience.
INQUIRY PROJECTS IN SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATION 127 participants felt were problematic during their inquiry, the impact the participants claimed that their inquiry experience had on their plans for working with future students, and how their conceptions of inquiry had changed as a result of their project. Finally, the final column of Table 3 describes the types of inquiry experiences the participants created for their own students during their 9-week teaching practicum. Drawing on a Variety of Previous Research Experiences: Craig’s Case Prior Research Experience and Conceptions of Inquiry. Craig was a physics ma- jor who intended to teach at the high school level. He was one of three participants who had authentic research experiences prior to entering the teacher education program. As a middle school student, Craig had conducted his own controlled experiment on factors ef- fecting plant growth. When he was a senior in college he had undertaken a semester-long study on laser spectroscopy as an apprentice to a professor, and was able to participate in a number of different ways in his mentor’s research program. He described that he had been “excited to be working on something that was going to be published.” After graduating from college, Craig worked for 2 years with the U.S. Energy Department on a team devel- oping nonhazardous cleaning solvents. He felt it was beneficial to be part of that project during its inception so he could participate in framing questions and developing ways to collect data. Overall, Craig had more experiences with inquiry (particularly with controlled experimentation) than any of the other preservice teachers. When asked to give a metaphor for inquiry, Craig suggested that acting as a detective was an apt description. He explained how detectives have to entertain multiple hypotheses while looking for evidence and need to be able to construct a plausible case, using evidence, that could support an explanation for events. Craig further described the inquiry process as a set of mutually interdependent phases in which a number of different aspects of the investigation (such as question development, data collection, analysis) had to be considered at the outset and in relation to one another. He suggested that methods of data collection in particular influenced the results of research and determined the kinds of conclusions that could be drawn from the study. Craig seemed to appreciate the complex nature of inquiry and he understood how different phases of inquiry were interconnected beyond the simple model of the “scientific method.” Craig’s Inquiry Project. For his inquiry project in the methods class, Craig compared the thermal insulating properties of different fabrics under wet and dry conditions. As he wrote in his journal about the study, Craig did more than reflect on the particular circumstances of his investigation, such as finding equipment and collecting data. He also connected his experi- ences with insights about scientific inquiry in general and with potential teaching situations. For example, before he made his final decision on testing fabrics, he considered a study on the strength of ropes, steel cables, etc. Craig realized he was trying to phrase his hypothesis to yield a “yes or no” answer, but thought that this approach was limiting his thinking: I’ve thought a lot about how exactly I would phrase my hypothesis . . . Because I’ve already determined how I will calculate the force and this is directly proportional to how much the rope stretches, I could also ask, “What rope stretches the most?” The rope that stretches the most will absorb the most force instead of transmitting it to the object over a short period of time. Some teachers stress the need of a “yes or no” answer to a hypothesis. For example, “Will a bungy cord absorb more force than a steel cable?” This may be helpful for students without experience developing hypotheses or designing experiments, because it simplifies things and automatically reduces the amount of variables in the experiment. But is not necessary and actually limits the possible questions to be investigated. Other
128 WINDSCHITL teachers say that a hypothesis is an educated guess. While this may be true in some cases, it is also limiting . . . science and experimentation is not about boosting our egos by proving our hypothesis to be either right or wrong. What we learn is more important than whether our educated guess was correct or not. With the first hypothesis, it is not an educated guess, nor a “yes or no” question, but more is learned from it because the experiment tells us more information. Craig also suggested that even though students are likely to have difficulty in creating testable hypotheses and designing controlled studies, that they cannot simply be told what a good hypothesis is. He emphasized the importance of doing inquiry-based science. You can’t just be told what a good hypothesis is and what the stages of the scientific method are and then be expected to go out and conduct great scientific experiments. You need to deeply engross yourself in the process, make mistakes, come up against walls, and run into dead ends in order to really understand and become an expert at doing science. During the postinquiry interview, Craig was asked if his independent inquiry project changed his conception of what inquiry was, he replied No, but what has changed is knowing how I can implement inquiry in a high school classroom now. During the course of this project, I realized that this would be a really great thing for my students to go through as well, and so, I was thinking from a student’s perspective, who didn’t have any experience in performing scientific experimentation, what struggles they might have and how they might get really frustrated, and how I could prevent some of that and yet—what would I want them to learn from the experience? Craig’s Use of Inquiry Instruction During the Practicum. In Craig’s eventual field placement, he was assigned to teach physics at a high school where traditional, teacher- centered instruction was the norm. The cooperating teacher, who used primarily confir- matory labs and teacher-centered discussion, was open to Craig’s adaptation of the exist- ing curriculum. And, because instruction became the responsibility of the student-teacher, Craig introduced guided inquiry and used it regularly. On a typical day, for example, he had students work in pairs with ripple tanks, first asking them to record observations of the waves in the tank under different conditions and then asking them to make predictions about “what-if” scenarios involving wave phenomena. Craig selected one or two promising questions from the groups’ discussions and asked everyone to consider how they might answer the question through data collection. He then allowed students to develop their own methods of data collection and to conduct an investigation. Craig further encour- aged student thinking by following their questions of him with other questions to prompt or redirect their focus—he rarely gave out direct answers. Although he did not use open inquiry with his class, he did use guided inquiry to explore every major concept in his curriculum. Apprenticing with Others in Authentic Science Investigations: Kim’s Case Prior Research Experience and Conceptions of Inquiry. Kim was a zoology major who was interested in teaching biology at the high school level. Similar to Craig, Kim had some history of participation in authentic research. As an undergraduate, Kim had worked for a year with a laboratory group studying the immune systems of mice. He reflected with
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