An Inquiry-Based Biology Laboratory Improves Preservice Elementary Teachers' Attitudes about Science

Article excerpt

Inquiry-based instruction is gaining favor in college classrooms because it improves scientific skills as well as critical thinking. As we seek ways to improve science education, elementary school is increasingly becoming an embattled component because of decreased time spent on science during those years. The approach that elementary educators take to science will be critical in making the most of time spent on science in their classrooms. This research examines the influence of an inquiry-based introductory biology laboratory on preservice elementary teachers' perspectives on science and how to teach it. The implementation of the inquiry-based biology laboratory improved preservice elementary teachers' opinions about science and affected their opinions about how science is best taught. These preservice elementary teachers appreciated the flexible and self-directed structure of the inquiry-based format and expected to use exercises from the inquiry-based lab in their future classrooms. These results suggest that the use of inquiry-based laboratories in teacher education programs will encourage preservice elementary teachers to use inquiry in their future classrooms.

Inquiry-based instruction encompasses a range of student directedness and choice in the classroom (Chiappetta 1997; Brown et al. 2006), but all forms give students the opportunity to personalize content by practicing investigation skills within the context of the course's discipline. As such, inquiry is in line with improving cognitive development (Svinicki 1998), as it requires students to confront their preconceived notions with their own investigation and data. Inquiry-based instruction has many benefits for the students. These benefits include improved interpretive skills (Ghedotti, Fielitz, and Leonard 2004), problem-solving skills (DiPasquale, Mason, and Kolkhorst 2003), scientific writing and reasoning skills (Gerber, Cavallo, and Marek 2001; Jerde and Taper 2004; Daempfle 2006), questioning skills (Udovic et al. 2002), critical-thinking skills (Gurwick and Krasny 2001; Udovic et al. 2002; DiPasquale, Mason, and Kolkhorst 2003), and deep understanding (Johnson 1998; Leonard 2000; Mullen, Rutledge, and Swain 2003; Colburn 2004).

Collectively, these improvements lead to a better lab experience (McComas 2005) and improved student enthusiasm (DiPasquale, Mason, and Kolkhorst 2003; Tretter and Jones 2003; Ghedotti, Fielitz, and Leonard 2004; Lord and Orkwiszewski 2006) relative to standard cookbook-style labs. Because of these benefits, inquiry has been promoted as a standard for science education (Barr and Tagg 1995; NRC 1996, 2000) and is practiced worldwide (Abd-El-Khalick et al. 2004; Carber and Reis 2004; Zion et al. 2004).

There is a developing challenge in science teaching at the elementary level because the No Child Left Behind Act has reduced the amount of time spent on science at the elementary level (Center on Education Policy 2008). The decrease in time spent teaching science at the elementary level makes the time spent on science that much more important to the perceptions that young students have about science, making preparation of teachers a critical aspect in improving the quality and quantity of students who are interested in science as a career (Pratt 2007). College experiences can be important in the scientific understanding of preservice teachers (Kumar and Morris 2005), and inquiry-based instruction has been offered as a means to improve the college-level experience of preservice teachers (Smith 2007).

Inquiry-based and problem-based instruction helps preservice teachers to value the process of science (Haefner, Friedrichsen, and Zembal-Saul 2006) and improve their own attitudes about science (Taylor and Corrigan 2005). Inquiry-based instruction also improves preservice teachers' confidence to teach chemistry (Sanger 2007), and a reduction in anxiety about a subject may be critical to this improvement in confidence (Bursal and Paznokas 2006). …