Academic journal article Science Educator

Changes in Teachers' Beliefs and Classroom Practices concerning Inquiry-Based Instruction Following a Year-Long RET-PLC Program

Academic journal article Science Educator

Changes in Teachers' Beliefs and Classroom Practices concerning Inquiry-Based Instruction Following a Year-Long RET-PLC Program

Article excerpt

Abstract

This mixed-methods study examines how engaging science teachers in a summer Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) followed by an academic-year Professional Learning Community (PLC) focused on translating teacher research experiences to inquiry-based classroom lessons might facilitate changes in their beliefs and classroom practices regarding inquiry-based instruction. Supported with NASA funding, fourteen high school science teachers participated in a large mid-Atlantic university's year-long RET-PLC professional development program. The findings of this empirically-based study suggest that a summer RET program augmented by an academic-year PLC component can help teachers to shift their beliefs from a teacher-centered to a more student-centered approach. However, changes in classroom practices which demonstrate that teachers had transitioned from the use of teacher-centered to reform-centered practices were limited. Moreover, the study's findings have several implications for developers of professional development programs for in-service science teachers and science education researchers.

Keywords: professional development, teachers' beliefs, research experiences, RET, apprenticeship programs, Learning Communities, inservice teachers

Introduction

Science education reform efforts strongly emphasize the use of an inquirybased approach in K-12 science instruction (Singer et al., 2005). There is no shortage of research affirming that teachers who implement inquiry-based instruction in their classrooms can enhance students' science process skills, habits of mind, problem-solving skills, and understanding of the nature of science (Hofstein & Lunetta, 2004). Research studies further suggest that the successful implementation of inquiry-based instruction requires not just an understanding of the process of science, but a more sophisticated, well-developed knowledge of science inquiry (Akerson et al., 2000; Crawford, 2007; Roehrig & Luft, 2004), teaching and learning of science (Blanchard et al., 2009), and science content and pedagogy (Gess-Newsome, 1999; National Research Council, 1996).

While research recommendations advocate that teachers should be spending more time using an inquiry-based approach that incorporates problem-solving contexts and less time in didactic presentation of facts (Southerland et al., 2003), studies suggest that teachers have very little experience with inquiry in a formal scientific sense and possess very naïve and informal conceptions of inquiry-based instruction (Anderson, 2007; Blanchard et al., 2009; Windschitl, 2004). This apparent disconnect between how science is done by practicing scientists and how it is taught in schools may stem from teachers' lack of experience with authentic science research (Lotter et al., 2007).

To address this issue, a promising form of professional development, Research Experiences for Teachers (RET), has emerged over the past two decades and is premised on the notion that experience in the practice of science improves the quality and authenticity of science teaching and thereby increases student interest and achievement in science (Silverstein et al., 2009). Research experiences generally refer to the contexts in which teachers are mentored by research scientists and conduct scientific investigations (Kardash, 2000). Thus, what participating teachers believe they can do with new ideas that are generated from their research experience and how much they value the new element may indicate the extent to which changes are made in their classroom practices (Pop et al., 2010). A couple of recent studies have documented RET participants' translation of research to the classroom (Klein-Gardner et al, 2012; Klein, 2009). However, while RET programs allow teachers to experience scientific inquiry in the hopes that these experiences will then translate to inquiry-based lessons in the classroom, limited empirical evidence exists to document the effectiveness of RET programs in accomplishing this goal (Blanchard et al. …

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