Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Transformative Professional Development: Inquiry-Based College Science Teaching Institutes

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Transformative Professional Development: Inquiry-Based College Science Teaching Institutes

Article excerpt

The inadequacy of undergraduate science education has been recognized as a national problem that leads to diminished student interest in and poor public understanding of science (National Science Board, 1996). College science teachers generally are not impressed by students' motivation and accomplishment, while their students complain about poor teaching--passive learning, excessive memorization, and limited application of theory (Seymour & Hewitt, 1994). This situation is exemplified by lab sessions that are usually designed for repetition and verification (Alberts, 2005; Lord & Orkwiszewski, 2006). STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) laboratories ought to be places where students improve their understanding of major concepts and enhance their skills in scientific inquiry. Traditional lab curricula, however, rarely give students a chance to design, practice, and discuss science as an inquiry process. Instead, they are similar to recipe books. Students passively repeat and report as the lab manual or instructor says (Lunetta, Hofstein, & Clough, 2007).

The National Research Council (NRC) endorses a greater emphasis on the process of inquiry to improve undergraduate science teaching, involving five essential features that allow students to (a) engage in scientifically oriented questions, (b) give priority to evidence, (c) formulate explanations from evidence, (d) connect explanations to scientific knowledge, and (e) communicate and justify the explanations (NRC, 1996, 2000). Although inquiry-based science education has a rather long history, confusion about inquiry design, implementation, and assessment is common among college faculty. A recent study showed that science faculty at a variety of institutions recognized the benefits of inquiry-based instruction, citing increased student motivation, critical thinking, and science learning. They also perceived constraints to implementing inquiry-based teaching, however, which derived from an incomplete view of classroom inquiry as completely student driven (Brown, Abell, Demir, & Schmidt, 2006). In addition, the lack of practical models usually inhibits the development and implementation of inquiry-based science teaching (Witzig, Zhao, Abell, Weaver, et al., 2010).

The success of inquiry-based science teaching relies heavily on the instructor's understanding, value, and belief toward classroom inquiry (Crawford, 2007; Lotter, Harwood, & Bonner, 2006), suggesting that positive developmental experience could alter their educational practice. Professional development programs for science teachers, including Local Systemic Change (Banilower, Boyd, Pasley, & Weiss, 2006) and Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (Moog & Spencer, 2008) have been conducted for nearly three decades. Successful strategies for enacting and sustaining educational programs for science teachers should not only disseminate curriculum and pedagogy but also develop reflective teachers, transform trainings into a shared vision of teachers' learning and practice, and ultimately lead to improvement in the classroom (Henderson, Finkelstein, & Beach, 2010). The characteristics of successful programs suggest that effective professional development usually includes qualified program providers, active engagement of the participants, correlated curriculum materials and instruction strategy, opportunities for networking, and long-term support (Hutchins, Arbaugh, Abell, Marra, & Lee, 2008; Loucks-Horsley, Love, Stiles, Mundry, & Hewson, 2003). Science teachers searching for professional development opportunities usually look for those led by experts in subject matter and pedagogy, where they can receive sustained support and collaboration (Sunal et al., 2001).

Mini-journal and Summer Institutes

An essential goal of inquiry-based science education is to engage students in ways that demonstrate science as a way of knowing, a concept defined in the National Science Education Standards as "the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work" (NRC, 1996, p. …

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