Academic journal article Science Educator

Laboratory Practices of Beginning Secondary Science Teachers: A Five-Year Study

Academic journal article Science Educator

Laboratory Practices of Beginning Secondary Science Teachers: A Five-Year Study

Article excerpt

Abstract

During the beginning years of teaching, science teachers develop the knowledge and skills needed to design and implement science laboratories. In this regard, this quantitative study focused on the reported laboratory practices of 61 beginning secondary science teachers who participated in four different induction programs. The results demonstrated an increase in inquiry-based laboratories while the participants were engaged in a science-specific induction program. Nevertheless, after the program concluded, the teachers reported enacting more skill-based and verification laboratories rather than continuing with the inquirybased laboratories. Other findings included an increased use of computer equipment over time for all teachers and a positive correlation between the number of science methods courses that the teacher had taken and the use of professional laboratory equipment. The results of this study support the notion that science-specific induction matters and that this support should be sustained beyond two years. The authors call for further research on ways to support beginning secondary science teachers in their use of laboratory practices to promote students' acquisition of science knowledge, skills, and literacy.

Keywords: science laboratory, teacher induction, teacher practice, inquiry-based instruction, science teacher education

Introduction

Laboratories are "learning experiences in which students interact with materials or with secondary sources of data to observe and understand the natural world" (Lunetta, Hofstein, & Clough, 2007, p. 394). According to A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (National Research Council [NRC], 2012), students in grades K-12 should have opportunities to engage in laboratories, or scientific investigations, in which they can investigate phenomena, control necessary variables, and interpret results. The Next Generation Science Standards also recognizes the importance of laboratories in data collection and the development of models (Achieve, Inc., 2013). In particular, inquiry-based laboratories provide opportunities for students to engage in science authentically and to interact with ideas about the nature of science that foster constructive learning and conceptual understanding that are essential for comprehension of scientific knowledge (Hofstein, Levi-Nahum, & Shore, 2001) and that promote interest in science (Lunetta et al., 2007). Such laboratories are critical because they give students opportunities to "describe objects and events, ask questions, construct explanations, test those explanations, and communicate thenideas to others" (NRC, 1996, p. 2).

To help students learn science concepts, engage in science practices, and become scientifically literate, laboratory activities should be purposefully selected and implemented. Many teachers, however, experience difficulties in incorporating these activities. At the secondary-school level, teachers report time, financial impediments, and societal issues as constraints on the frequency and type of laboratories that they can conduct in the classroom (White, 1996). Also contributing to teachers' difficulties in conducting laboratories is a lack of adequate knowledge to effectively design, select, or implement science laboratories (Windschitl, 2002).

A study of the educational experiences of beginning secondary science teachers indicates that they are likely to implement laboratories (Luft et al., 2011). Nevertheless, there is limited research on the laboratory practices of these teachers. The research that is available focuses on the general practices of beginning science teachers and has found that they have difficulties implementing studentcentered practices (Luft, 2009). Not surprisingly, these teachers are negotiating their new positions and school environments and have yet to refine the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively select and implement inquiry-based laboratories (Windschitl, 2002). …

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