Fostering Elementary Teachers' Research on Their Science Teaching Practices

Article excerpt

Teachers As Researchers

The National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) emphasize the importance of engaging teachers in research. One professional development standard explicitly articulates the need for teaching teachers how to conduct research: Professional Development Standard C: Professional development for teachers of science requires building understanding and ability for lifelong learning. Professional development activities must... provide opportunities to learn and use the skills of research to generate new knowledge about school science and the teaching and learning of science (National Research Council, 1996, p. 68).

A summary of the professional development standards chapter recommends changing emphases from teacher as consumer of knowledge about teaching to teacher as producer of knowledge about teaching (National Research Council, 1996, p. 72). The chapter on school science program standards describes conditions under which such a shift in emphasis can occur: Program Standard F: Schools must work as communities that encourage, support, and sustain teachers as they implement an effective science program.... Schedules must be realigned, time provided, and human resources deployed such that teachers can come together regularly to discuss individual student learning needs and to reflect and conduct research on practice.... Time must be available for teachers to observe other classrooms, team teach, use external resources, attend conferences, and hold meetings during the school day.... For teachers to study their own teaching and their students' learning effectively and work constructively with their colleagues, they need tangible and moral support.... As communities of learners, schools should make available to teachers professional journals, books, and technologies that will help them advance their knowledge. These same materials support teachers as they use research and reflection to improve their teaching (pp. 222-223).

Pekarek, Krockover, and Shepardson (1996) recommend that the notion of teachers as researchers ought to be incorporated in science teacher preparation and professional development programs (p. 112). University researchers differ widely in their understandings of the concept of teacher as researcher. Duggan, Johnson, and Gott (1996), in a study apparently formulated, designed, analyzed, and communicated by the university researchers, suggest a very limited noncollaborative role for teachers as collectors of data. Feldman (1996), however, facilitated research that teachers formulated, designed, interpreted, and communicated. He analyzed the collaborative processes by which these teachers engaged in their research. My concept of teachers as researchers is close to Feldman's position.

Underlying Beliefs

Five beliefs underlie my practices as a university faculty member fostering teacher research:

Prospective teachers can and should learn how to do research as they learn how to teach. My commitment to engaging prospective teachers in research originated in my experiences teaching in an experimental science and mathematics teacher preparation program (Lowery, Schoenfeld, & White, 1990). A central component of this graduate program was prospective teachers' participation in research.

Many experiences commonly part of undergraduate courses and the field component (Posner, 1985) can incorporate a research emphasis. These experiences include reflecting upon beliefs about teaching and learning, writing journal entries describing and interpreting science learning events, using and critiquing science teaching materials, and developing and reflecting upon science lessons with classmates and children. Interpretive research methods also can be adapted for use in educating teachers (Cronin-Jones, 1991). Observing oneself learning science in open-ended inquiry contexts is also important. My approach, which makes explicit the teacher-as-researcher theme, is similar to many methods courses, particularly those of instructors who emphasize reflection (Abell & Bryan, 1997; Grimmett & Erickson, 1988). …