Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Action Research for Science Teachers

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Action Research for Science Teachers

Article excerpt

Ms. Jones stared at the stack of biology quizzes and wondered what went wrong. She thought about the lesson plans and wondered what she should have done differently. Ms. Jones is not alone in wondering how to improve student learning and classroom instruction. To improve student achievement, educators must determine what is working and what is not. This article focuses on basic research skills that teachers can utilize to conduct studies in classrooms and schools for the purpose of determining the effectiveness of instructional techniques and curricula. While the emphasis is on quantitative research, the basics of qualitative research are mentioned as well.

Purpose of educational research

The purpose of educational research in general is to develop information which can be used to improve education. Alexakos (2015) stated that teachers conduct research to answer these questions about their own practice: How am I doing? How can I improve? What works? To answer these questions, teachers may conduct action research.

Action research

Action research is a special form of educational research. Gall, Gall, and Borg (2007), authors of some of the most respected educational research texts, define action research as: "A type of applied research the purpose of which is the improvement of education professional's own practice." Lesha (2014) describes action research as being a cyclical or spiral process that begins with a teacher-researcher identifying a problem, investigating the problem, taking action, evaluating the results of the action, and then repeating the process. In doing so, teachers can develop the most appropriate strategies for their own classroom or school.

How is action research different?

Action research is not necessarily very different from other forms of educational research. The main difference is that it is conducted by practitioners in the schools instead of someone from outside the school, such as a university professor or another researcher. With schools focused on learning outcomes for students and the call for decisions based on student data, teachers need the skills and confidence to scientifically evaluate their own practice in order to make curriculum and instructional decisions. Action research provides teachers with the data needed to make informed decisions to benefit their students and improve their own classroom practice.

Action research and Next Generation Science Standards

Action research is a great way for teachers to experience the 3D (three dimensional) approach of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). NGSS incorporates the three dimensions of learning science: crosscutting concepts, science and engineering practices, and core ideas. As teachers embrace the NGSS, they will consider the crosscutting concepts of effective teaching and focus on the core ideas to be taught as they plan for instruction. Through action research, teachers can investigate their natural world--classroom instruction--to determine what is and is not resulting in learning gains for their students.

Educational trends without research

So why should science teachers be interested in research? Although most educational research is conducted by college professors and other professional researchers, teachers can enhance their own knowledge and may contribute to the research base through research in their own classrooms (Abell 2007). Science teachers, because of the nature of their discipline, have a natural interest in research, and often have a good understanding of research methods.

Teachers seem to know many things intuitively (and through experience). A good example is using a hands-on approach to teaching science. The idea is that simply doing many activities is conducive to learning, which is not necessarily the case. Research findings indicate that if students do not fully understand what the activity is all about, very little learning really occurs (Gough 1990; Nadelson 2009). …

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