Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Impact of Backwards Faded Scaffolding in an Astronomy Course for Pre-Service Elementary Teachers Based on Inquiry

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Impact of Backwards Faded Scaffolding in an Astronomy Course for Pre-Service Elementary Teachers Based on Inquiry

Article excerpt


In response to national reform movements calling for future teachers to be prepared to design and deliver science instruction using the principles of inquiry, we created and evaluated a specially designed course for pre-service elementary education undergraduates based upon an inquiry-oriented teaching approach framed by the notions of backwards faded-scaffolding as an overarching theme for instruction. Students completed both structured- and open-inquiry projects and presented the results of their investigations several times throughout the semester. Using a single-group, multiple-measures, quasi-experimental design, students demonstrated enhanced content knowledge of astronomy and inquiry as well as attitudes and self-efficacy toward teaching.


It is generally accepted that successful science education should result in learners developing a meaningful understanding of the nature of science as inquiry. For concepts surrounding Earth and space science in particular, the various guidelines for which astronomy concepts should be taught in science courses throughout the educational levels, uniformly state that students should develop an understanding of inquiry (viz., Adams and Slater, 1999; Partridge and Greenstein, 2003; Slater, 2001).

Although we acknowledge that there are a variety of definitions of inquiry in the research literature, for this paper we adopt a model of inquiry consistent with that widely advocated by Bell and colleagues (2005). In this sense inquiry is: (i) students working to answer questions; (ii) students designing plans to acquire data; and (iii) students generating and defending conclusions based on evidence they have collected. If one agrees that enhancing students' understandings of inquiry is an important goal of science education, the next thing one wonders is now best to teach students these ideas. Along the continuum of pedagogical approaches, many have taken the stance that students will develop an accurate sense of the processes of the scientific endeavor by exposing them to the methods and results of astronomical inquiry over the duration of their coursework. A robust and highly regarded research agenda by Lederman and his colleagues (1992) argues, however, that students do not develop deep understandings of the structure of the scientific discipline unless the underlying ideas are taught explicitly. In response, in recent years authors have argued that successful approaches to students learning science must feature experiences that allow students to "know, use, and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world," to "generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations," and to "participate productively in scientific practices and discourse" National Research Council, 2007).

Given these well-defined criteria, policymakers have suggested that the most efficient way to bring these ideas into the classroom is to adopt the inquiry-oriented approach to teaching advocated by the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996). Unfortunately, findings suggest that the vast majority of teachers do not understand the nature of science themselves (Abd-El-Khalick and Lederman, 2000) and that this deficit is a critical factor in students low achievement in developing an understanding of the nature of the scientific enterprise. Common lore suggests that this effect is most pronounced for elementary-level teachers, who are often stereotyped as being science-phobic. Their lack of understanding may lead to very early leaks in the science pipeline. Clearly, this situation should serve as a call to action for those who are responsible for the education and preparation of future teachers. How science teacher educators can successfully prepare future teachers to manage this approach to earning science is, as yet, an unsettled issue (Johnson, 2007).

Considerable complexity is added to this issue when one considers that pre-service teachers need to be prepared in at least four different dimensions. …

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