Inquiry Projects in Science Teacher Education: What Can Investigative Experiences Reveal About Teacher Thinking and Eventual Classroom Practice?

                                                               Deborah Trumbull, Section Editor

Inquiry Projects in Science
Teacher Education: What Can
Investigative Experiences Reveal
About Teacher Thinking and
Eventual Classroom Practice?

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 ( DOI

    Correspondence to: Mark Windschitl; e-mail:

C   2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

   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
   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

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.

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

     Ontological and epistemological differences exist among the sciences as well (Knorr-Cetina, 1999),
but these issues are beyond the scope of this study.

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,

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.

   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?

  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

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
   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

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
              • Students introduced to inquiry project
       3      • Instructor models lesson planning and teaching using different instructional
              • 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
              • 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.

   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

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

   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
   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

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.

   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

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

  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
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
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.”

                                                                                                                                                         INQUIRY PROJECTS IN SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATION

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)

                 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
  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.
    Significant research experience.
    Some experience.
    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

      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

   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

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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