Science and Inquiry-Based Learning
by T. DePriest and J. Shirk at the 76th Annual Conference
of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching,
March 23-26, 2003, Philadelphia, PA.
By identifying factors within a student/teacher research
experience that promote inquiry-based learning, this study
will make recommendations for successful inquiry-based learning
and teaching practices. In addition, through analysis of
skills developed in inquiry-based student-scientist partnerships,
we will explore actual and potential mutual benefits that
occur for the scientific and educational communities as
a result of engaging students and teachers in research experiences.
Conventional high school science curricula, based on memorization
of scientific facts and definitions, are limited in their
ability to give school students the conceptual understanding
of the practice and nature of science and how it applies
to real world situations. Proponents for science education
reform believe that a deeper, cognitive understanding of
science as it is practiced and applied will result in greater
scientific literacy, allowing students and citizens to be
able to engage in scientifically-based decision making on
both a societal and personal level. Movement toward an approach
to science education that promotes development of scientific
literacy is the goal of current science education reform
efforts being proposed at the national level (NRC 1996).
To achieve this
goal, reformers recommend a model of science education commonly
termed "inquiry-based" education, where learners
are able to use observation, reasoning, and communication
to reflect and construct new knowledge based on their experiences
(NRC 2000). While the concept of inquiry-based education
has a well-developed theoretical framework, practical recommendations
for teachers wishing to implement inquiry in the classroom
are somewhat lacking. Inquiry should not be conceptualized
as a particular teaching methodology or curriculum, but
rather as an overarching teaching and learning philosophy,
defined by the teacher, that gives value to certain pedagogical
processes and outcomes (Keys and Bryan, 2001). Unfortunately,
this gap in the theoretical and the practical aspects of
inquiry-based science pedagogy has been the source of confusion
and ambiguity about how to implement the kind of inquiry-based
experiences that specifically promote the acquisition of
scientific literacy (Lederman, 2001).
What most teachers
are failing to realize is that the most important learning
outcomes of an inquiry-based approach are gained through
the process of investigation, and not in the final outcomes
of the investigation. For the current science education
standards to be effectively met by science teachers, they
need a clear understanding of the desired learning goals
and a framework for the practical application of pedagogy
that moves their students towards those goals. Without a
specific, clear process for implementing inquiry-based curricula,
science educators will continue to utilize the conventional
pedagogical methods that they are familiar and comfortable
with, and science education will continue to suffer from
the same lack of cognitive learning outcomes that it has
experienced for decades (Lederman, 2001).
are in place within the school system that limit the ability
of a teacher to implement inquiry-based science. Issues
of standardized exams that test for science content only,
class time limitations, and lack of school and community
support, as well as claims that students will not know how
to approach or adapt to this style of learning (Costenson
and Lawson 1986). By identifying factors that lead to success
in inquiry, pathways will be developed to encourage student,
teacher, and community confidence in this approach to science
experiences that model the ways in which authentic scientific
research is carried out seem to hold the most promise for
promoting the current reform standards (Chinn and Malhorta,
2001). By engaging in the processes of science, students
find out first-hand how science is really used and applied
in research, providing the context for cognitive learning
that is needed for the development of scientific literacy.
Three different classroom approaches to inquiry research
have been described: open-ended, guided, and teacher-collaborative
(D'Avanzo, 1996). In each, students have varied levels of
involvement and responsibility in all aspects of doing scientific
research, from developing the question and methods to analyzing
results and communicating findings.
As a resource
for inquiry-based research learning, there is a need among
educators for connections to current research. Student-scientist
partnerships offer opportunities for collaborations, which
can involve schools in authentic research, but sustainable
partnerships must benefit both schools and scientists (TERC
1997). Schools in the GLOBE program have set precedents
for student-collected biophysical and biochemical data to
be used by scientific organizations (Finarelli 1998), but
no validations have been performed on biodiversity studies.
The authenticity and level of student involvement in the
research project may also factor into school abilities and
outcomes (Trumbull et al, 2000; Sadler et al 2001), and
should be considered in an analysis of the success of these
The focus of this paper will be on the features of inquiry
that are supported through a woodland salamander population
monitoring research project in which students and their
teachers will participate in the Fall of 2002. To identify
the various components of inquiry-based learning supported
or promoted by student/teacher research experiences, a rubric
for assessing inquiry will be utilized. A document titled
“Rubric for Evaluating Essential Features of Facilitating
Classroom Inquiry” has recently been published by
the Council of State Science Supervisors (2001), and has
been chosen for this research as the instrument for measuring
the extent of Inquiry teaching and learning that is evident
in student/teacher research activities. Through field observation
and review of materials used in research activities, the
student/teacher research experiences will be assessed in
terms of the presence and extent of essential features for
inquiry addressed by the rubric. This methodology will be
replicated in various types of research projects that students
and teachers are commonly engaged in (i.e. Long Term Ecological
Research, Watershed/ Water quality monitoring, amphibian
population monitoring, experimental research, etc.) By doing
so, the various kinds of research projects that are available
for students and teachers to be involved with can be compared
and analyzed with respect to the features of inquiry that
each type is able to support and promote.
Preliminary findings from student interviews indicate that
high school students are motivated in their research work
by the ability to be deeply involved in the process of approaching
scientific research. Open-ended inquiry allows students
to research authentic questions, for which they tend to
choose motivating topics relevant to their lives and/or
ones they are curious to investigate. Novice researchers
may lack confidence to ask or design research methods for
authentic questions, but can find success through guided
inquiry projects if teachers offer questions with unknown
results or ones relevant to the students. Through appropriate
sequencing of the level of student inquiry involvement,
teachers can facilitate projects within students' capacities,
therefore maintaining their interest and building their
confidence as researchers.
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