Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Building a Scientist-Science Educator Collaboration: Establishing the Inquiry Institute

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Building a Scientist-Science Educator Collaboration: Establishing the Inquiry Institute

Article excerpt

This article describes the development of the Inquiry Institute, a collaboration of scientists from a science department and science educators from a school of education. The history of the institute and the benefits to students, faculty, and the institution are presented. The institute is responsible for the creation, maintenance, and ongoing assessment of the revised and required curriculum for science education for preservice elementary teachers. Challenges facing the program and plans to address these challenges are also noted.

At many campuses, there is a disjuncture between scientists and science educators. Lack of communication is common because universities often house the sciences and education in separate academic units. Attempts to bridge the resulting gap have placed science education faculties in the science unit or in a separate center. In many universities, this administrative division is a barrier to the interchange of common interests and ideas. However, there are more barriers than the physical housing of the disciplines. Another barrier is the difference in types of research pursued. Scientists are generally focused on analyses of natural phenomena, whereas science educators are focused on the teaching and learning of science content and pedagogy. In this article, we share, from the perspectives of scientists and science educators, the development, benefits, and challenges of our collaboration known as the Inquiry Institute ([I.sup.2]).

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On our campus, the challenges of educating elementary preservice teachers are great. Prior to the creation of [I.sup.2], students who planned to become elementary school teachers took traditional, science survey courses for nonmajors. Such courses are large, lecture-based classes and included students from a variety of majors, such as liberal arts and business. Courses designed to satisfy general education requirements do not focus on the science content preservice teachers need in order to teach the state science content standards for K-8. This situation pressured science methods course instructors in the School of Education to allocate time to teach science content in addition to pedagogy.

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Another challenge was that our science faculty who taught the survey courses had little or no training in pedagogy. They relied on their own learning to "teach as they were taught" using a standard lecture format. Their approach was a logical assumption because they were highly successful in traditional lecture-based science courses. For this reason, most science faculty did not model, nor did they usually know about, reforms recommended by the National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996): Preservice teachers should learn science in the same manner that they are expected to teach it, namely, through inquiry. A third challenge was that our scientists who might be interested in learning about teaching did not have easy access to pedagogical knowledge nor were their efforts to explore alternative pedagogies recognized by their department. Several senior faculty in science and science education had collaborated on previous projects and grants; the group eventually evolved into [I.sup.2] and addressed these challenges by reforming our curriculum for preservice elementary teachers.

Inquiry Institute history

Our informal collaboration of scientists and science educators began many years ago in part because our institution was a small commuter campus that stressed faculty governance. Active governance required representatives from each of our four academic units to serve on various committees and work together on numerous projects. One result was that faculty from different units met frequently and became friends. Several workshops (one was Science Teaching and the Development of Reasoning, created by Robert Karplus) in the 1970s initiated the collaboration. Scientists and science educators also collaborated in the Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum Alignment grant supported by Eisenhower funds to assist local school districts in the vertical alignment of curriculum. …

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