Inquiry-Based Instruction: Does School Environmental Context Matter?

By Pea, Celestine H. | Science Educator, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Inquiry-Based Instruction: Does School Environmental Context Matter?


Pea, Celestine H., Science Educator


Abstract

In a larger study on teachers' beliefs about science teaching, one component looks at how school environmental context factors influence inquiry-based science instruction. Research shows that three broad categories of school environmental factors (human, sociocultural, design) impact inquiry-based teaching in some way. A mixed-method, sequential, explanatory design uncovers how school environmental context factors impact middle school science teachers' use of inquiry-based science instruction in the county where the study takes place. Ninety-one middle school science teachers participate in the study. Results show that few school environmental context factors impact teachers' ability to teach science using inquiry-based methods.

Keywords: school environment, inquiry-based instruction, context

Background

Since the mid 1990s, there has been concern about whether or not school environmental context factors interfere with inquiry-based teaching. As part of a larger study, this article discusses an explanatory study that investigated the impact of school environmental context factors on middle school science teachers' (MSST) ability to teach science using inquiry-based instruction. Examining the impact of school environmental context factors using MSST provides an intriguing perspective about the teaching of science at the middle school level.

Research conducted by Ford (1992) and Bandura (1997) broadly classified context factors as aspects of the human environment (e.g. students, teachers, peers, principals, parents, and other stakeholders), sociocultural environment (e.g. culture, diversity, policy), or design environment (e.g. facilities, materials, and equipment). Of the three broad categories, this article focuses on the human and sociocultural environments. The following questions guided this component of the larger study:

* Do MSST enabling beliefs differ significantly from likelihood beliefs about science teaching?

* Are different patterns of context factors likely to enable MSST to effectively teach science?

* How do context factors influence MSST behavior in the classroom?

Research by Lumpe, Haney, and Czerniak (2000) on Assessing Teachers ' Beliefs about their Science Teaching Context was used to help frame this study. These researchers used 262, K-12 teachers with varying degrees of experience in science to examine how context beliefs influenced science teaching. Their study revealed significant differences between what context factors the teachers believed would help them teach better (termed enabling factors) and those that would likely be available over the next school year (termed likelihood factors). The survey instrument from Lumpe, Haney, and Czerniak's research was modified and piloted for use in this component of the larger study.

Methodology. A mixed-methods, sequential, explanatory design with a multi-case research approach was used to conduct this study (Creswell, 2003). A survey of MSST was followed by case studies of three teachers from the survey pool (two females and one male).

Study site. The research took place in a large urban/suburban public school district (in the northeastern part of the United States) with a population of approximately 170,000 students enrolled in 240 schools. The student population consists mostly of White, Hispanic, African- American, and Asian students.

Participant selection. The participants for this study included all of the seventh and eighth grade science teachers in the district. Of the 150 surveys disseminated, 98 were returned, resulting in a 65% response rate. Seven survey responses were eliminated due to missing data. A stratified random sampling technique was used to select three teachers for the case studies.

Data Collection and Analysis

Quantitative methods: Data collection and analysis. An open-ended Likert-style survey was used to collect quantitative data.

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