The Necessity of Students & Teachers as Science Researchers

By Mackenzie, Ann Haley | The American Biology Teacher, November-December 2008 | Go to article overview

The Necessity of Students & Teachers as Science Researchers


Mackenzie, Ann Haley, The American Biology Teacher


   I don't think I understood how
   science is done until I was a
   researcher in an ecology lab.

   From doing research, I realize
   now that science is not a linear
   process. Questions drive the
   process more than I ever knew.

   Now [that] I can actually do
   inquiry with my students, science
   has come alive for me
   through the research I've done
   in an actual lab.

Teachers as researchers. Students as researchers. For inquiry to actually become the bedrock of biology classrooms, more teachers need to be engaged in actual scientific research. By doing science, these teachers gain a stronger understanding of the process, the methods, and the struggles, as well as the successes, of this enterprise we call science.

In 1990, the American Physiological Society began the Frontiers in Physiology Research Teacher Program. This summer program is designed for middle and high school science teachers. Each teacher is paired with a physiologist/biomedical researcher in his/her local community and conducts seven to eight weeks of actual research in the labs of these scientists. A week-long pedagogical workshop is also part of the experience, introducing teachers to effective in-class and online strategies in science teaching. The teachers also create inquiry experiences for their classrooms based on their research experience. As one teacher says:

   APS's Frontiers in Physiology
   program has had an enormous
   impact on the way that
   I view the nature of science
   and therefore has dramatically
   changed the way that I teach
   science. Through the summer
   research program, I was able
   to participate in true scientific
   research which led me to a better
   understanding of the work
   of scientists. I learned how the
   continual search for answers
   leads them to investigations
   that are meaningful and challenging.
   My new understanding
   of science was then passed
   on to my students by providing
   them with the opportunity to
   conduct meaningful investigations
   of their own.

   APS has also taught me the
   true nature of inquiry based
   learning and how to utilize
   sound pedagogy in my classroom
   as well as how to write
   curriculum that reflects my new
   understanding of science and
   the principles put forth in the
   National Science Education
   Standards. APS's Frontiers in
   Physiology program has truly
   had a positive impact on my
   teaching and therefore on students
   as well!

--Cathy Box, Tahoka High School, Tahoka, Texas

By having research experiences, teachers better understand basic research techniques (Pasley, 1998) and procure an increased understanding of science as a research endeavor (Dotterer & Pasley, 2000). Teachers come away from research experiences with an increased awareness of the creativity, resourcefulness, diligence, and stress that research involves (Pasley, 1998). Dean and Wood (2004) state how research helps teachers have a greater sense of authority when describing the research process with students. Since these teachers experience physiological concepts in action, their understanding of these concepts is deeper and more thorough than without the experience (Pasley, 1998). As a result, these teachers become more proficient in using open-ended inquiry with their students. The idea of students doing actual scientific research becomes more of a priority for these teachers. Science is no longer a passive pursuit but one of wonder and curiosity with questions posed by students. For these teachers, the research experience:

* increased their understanding of what inquiry is and how it can be done in the classroom.

* increased their understanding of the important role inquiry plays in the science classroom.

* increased their understanding of the implementation of inquiry as well as an increased preparedness to using inquiry-based strategies. …

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