Academic journal article Science Educator

Progress on Implementing Inquiry in North Carolina: Nearly 1,000 Elementary, Middle and High School Science Teachers Weigh In

Academic journal article Science Educator

Progress on Implementing Inquiry in North Carolina: Nearly 1,000 Elementary, Middle and High School Science Teachers Weigh In

Article excerpt

Abstract

This research analyzed 977 surveys to determine the extent to which teachers report employing inquiry in their science teaching, how their use of inquiry varies by student level, and what contextual factors relate to teachers' inquiry implementation.

Introduction

Keywords: inquiry, survey

Engaging students in inquiry-based science is a potentially powerful way for students to understand science-as-practice (Lehrer & Schäuble, 2006; NRC, 2007). Students who gain a more meaningful understanding of the processes of science will be more prepared citizens as consumers, science enthusiasts, or civicminded participants (Toumey et al., 2010; Wickson et al., 2010). Reform-oriented practices that include inquiry-based instruction are generally the focus of teacher education programs and teacher professional development efforts, with the knowledge that teacher beliefs and school culture and contexts are important factors contributing to the nature of classroom instruction (Barnes, Hodge, Parker, & Koroly, 2006; Demir & Abell, 2010; Fletcher & Luft, 2011; Lotter, Harwood, & Bonner, 2006).

The complex process of teaching for inquiry (Anderson, 2003; Blanchard, Southerland, & Granger, 2009; Crawford, 2007; van Zee, 2000) has turned the conversation to how to help teachers implement inquiry in their classrooms. Settlage (2007) suggests we think about inquiry as a skill-set to be developed by students and that we "abandon efforts to teach by inquiry in favor of teaching for inquiry" (p. 316), using the essential features of inquiry as a guide (see Table 1).

Resonant with the work of Settlage (2007), Bell, Smetana, and Binns (2005) describe the basis of inquiry as a research question. They propose a four-level model of inquiry in which the complexity of the inquiry activity depends on "the level of openness and the cognitive demands required" (p. 32): 1) Confirmatory - the result is known and students are simply seeing it occur and answering questions; 2) Structured inquiry - Students investigate a given question using provided procedures; 3) Guided inquiry - Students investigate a teacher question using their own procedures; and 4) Open - Students investigate student questions using their own procedures.

We find the model of Abrams, Southerland, and Evans (2007) useful in gaining an understanding of the instructional choices teachers make, given such aspects as the students' abilities and background knowledge, contextual constraints, the goals of the instructor for inquiry, and the nature of the content to be taught. In Figure 1, the model depicts a teacher who likely is more focused on students' connecting the laboratory to material covered in class, has limited time, and/or believes her students are not ready for more open inquiry. The students in this classroom are doing a structured inquiry investigation, with a given question and procedures (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005). If the teacher had more time, the teacher felt confident in having students conduct inquiry, and was focused on students developing their own research questions, these factors would push the arrows in the model upward and the level of inquiry would be open inquiry.

North Carolina's Standard Course of Study Objectives (NCDPI, 2012) were revised in 2004 to mirror the national emphasis on inquiry-based science teaching (NRC, 1996). The Next Generation Science Standards (2013) emphasize the skill and knowledge specific to scientific investigations and better explain the meaning of science "inquiry" and the range of physical, social and cognitive practices it requires. A study by Kohn (2008) investigated the prevalence of inquiry with teachers in grades 3-8 in a mid-sized school district, and found that inquiry use was moderate and dependent on class size, the amount of inquiry professional development, and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in the school. The purpose of our study was to investigate the use of inquiry across the state and all K-12 grade levels. …

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