Journal of Research in Science Teaching

Cover image for Vol. 51 Issue 10

Edited By: Angela Calabrese Barton and Joseph Krajcik

Impact Factor: 3.02

ISI Journal Citation Reports © Ranking: 2013: 6/219 (Education & Educational Research)

Online ISSN: 1098-2736

Virtual Issue-August 2010


Research Informing Practice

August 2010
Edited by Julie A. Luft


This virtual issue of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST), with its focus on scientific inquiry, represents a commitment by two communities to bridge the research and practice gap: the community of science educators who craft the instruction that ensures student learning – the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and science education researchers who study classroom life in order to understand more about the process of teaching and learning - the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST). In creating this virtual issue, the NSTA Research Committee sought out articles that directly supported points found in the NSTA position statement on inquiry, were written for science educators in the classroom, and that offered some insight into the teaching of scientific inquiry. The selected studies involve diverse study questions, methods, content areas and countries of origin. They are assembled here to help build a bridge between research and practice.



VI cover

Building a bridge between research and practice



Julie A. Luft

Educational research is conducted in order to understand and improve the way we learn and teach. Researchers often share their findings at conferences or in various publications. Sadly, the people who would benefit most from these studies do not always receive this information. Practitioners rarely attend educational research conferences because of the cost and time involved. They are not frequent readers of educational research journals, perhaps due to the cost, the academic jargon, or because the questions of study do not interest them. The disconnect between products of research and the needs of practitioners is often referred to as the “research to practice gap.” In science education, this gap has been around for decades—but this situation is about to change
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Embracing the essence of inquiry: New roles for science teachers



Barbara A. Crawford

“This is the thing I really get excited about. There are some great ideas here, some really neat projects. Wanda and Joan are working on amphibian decline. Ann is interested in territorial behavior or some sort of feeding behavior in crawdads. That is a good one to study because crawdads are an important decomposer in the stream. We're looking at what kinds of criteria in a stream make it habitable for different kinds of organisms. And when you see those different combinations of organisms, what do they mean? How do you interpret them? I mean we're really getting into higher levels of thinking, because we're looking at different kinds of organisms and interpreting them in terms of stream health.” Jake, biology teacher, Northwestern High School.
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Progressive inquiry in a computer-supported biology class



Kai Hakkarainen

The problem addressed in the study was whether 10- and 11-year-old children, collaborating within a computer-supported classroom, could engage in progressive inquiry that exhibits an essential principal feature of mature scientific inquiry: namely, engagement in increasingly deep levels of explanation. Technical infrastructure for the study was provided by the Computer-Supported Intentional Learning Environment (CSILE). The study was carried out by qualitatively analyzing written notes logged by 28 Grade 5/6 students to CSILE's database. Results of the study indicated that with teacher guidance, students were able to produce meaningful intuitive explanations about biological phenomena, guide this process by pursuing their own research questions, and engage in constructive peer interaction that helped them go beyond their intuitive explanations and toward theoretical scientific explanations. Expert evaluations by three widely recognized philosophers of science confirmed the progressive nature of students' inquiry.
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Folk theories of “inquiry:” How preservice teachers reproduce the discourse and practices of an atheoretical scientific method



Mark Windschitl

Despite the ubiquity of the term “inquiry” in science education literature, little is known about how teachers conceptualize inquiry, how these conceptions are formed and reinforced, how they relate to work done by scientists, and if these ideas about inquiry are translated into classroom practice. This is a multicase study in which 14 preservice secondary science teachers developed their own empirical investigations—from formulating questions to defending results in front of peers. Findings indicate that participants shared a tacit framework of what it means to “do science” which shaped their investigations and influenced reflections on their inquiries. Some facets of the participants' shared model were congruent with authentic inquiry; however, the most consistent assumptions were misrepresentations of fundamental aspects of science: for example, that a hypothesis functions as a guess about an outcome, but is not necessarily part of a larger explanatory system; that background knowledge may be used to provide ideas about what to study, but this knowledge is not in the form of a theory or other model; and that theory is an optional tool one might use at the end of a study to help explain results. These ideas appear consistent with a “folk theory” of doing science that is promoted subtly, but pervasively, in textbooks, through the media, and by members of the science education community themselves. Finally, although all participants held degrees in science, the participants who eventually used inquiry in their own classrooms were those who had significant research experiences in careers or postsecondary study and greater science-content background.
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Developing students' ability to ask more and better questions resulting from inquiry-type chemistry laboratories



Avi Hofstein, Oshrit Navon, Mira Kipnis, Rachel Mamlok-Naaman 

This study focuses on the ability of high-school chemistry students, who learn chemistry through the inquiry approach, to ask meaningful and scientifically sound questions. We investigated (a) the ability of students to ask questions related to their observations and findings in an inquiry-type experiment (a practical test) and (b) the ability of students to ask questions after critically reading a scientific article. The student population consisted of two groups: an inquiry-laboratory group (experimental group) and a traditional laboratory-type group (control group). The three common features investigated were (a) the number of questions that were asked by each of the students, (b) the cognitive level of the questions, and (c) the nature of the questions that were chosen by the students, for the purpose of further investigation. Importantly, it was found that students in the inquiry group who had experience in asking questions in the chemistry laboratory outperformed the control grouping in their ability to ask more and better questions
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Characteristics of professional development that effect change in secondary science teachers' classroom practices



Bobby Jeanpierre, Karen Oberhauser, Carol Freeman

We studied the outcome of a professional development opportunity that consisted of 2-week-long resident institutes for teams consisting of a secondary science teacher and two students. The science content of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded professional development institute was monarch butterfly ecology. The first institute took place in Minnesota during the summer, and the second in Texas during the fall. Staff scientists provided intense instruction in inquiry, with numerous opportunities for participants to conduct short inquiry-based research projects. Careful attention was paid to introducing each step of the full inquiry process, from asking questions to presenting research findings. All participants conducted independent team full inquiry projects between the two institutes. Project findings show that the number of teachers providing opportunities for their students to conduct full inquiry increased significantly after their participation. A mixed-methodology analysis that included qualitative and quantitative data from numerous sources, and case studies of 20 teachers, revealed that the characteristics of the program that helped teachers successfully translate inquiry to their classrooms were: deep science content and process knowledge with numerous opportunities for practice; the requirement that teachers demonstrate competence in a tangible and assessable way; and providers with high expectations for learning and the capability to facilitate multifaceted inquiry experiences.
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Science inquiry and student diversity: Enhanced abilities and continuing difficulties after an instructional intervention



Okhee Lee1, Cory Buxton1, Scott Lewis1, Kathryn LeRoy

This study examines elementary students' abilities to conduct science inquiry through their participation in an instructional intervention over a school year. The study involved 25 third and fourth grade students from six elementary schools representing diverse linguistic and cultural groups. Prior to and at the completion of the intervention, the students participated in elicitation sessions as they conducted a semistructured inquiry task on evaporation. The results indicate that students demonstrated enhanced abilities with some aspects of the inquiry task, but continued to have difficulties with other aspects of the task even after instruction. Although students from all demographic subgroups showed substantial gains, students from non-mainstream and less privileged backgrounds in science showed greater gains in inquiry abilities than their more privileged counterparts. The results contribute to the emerging literature on designing learning environments that foster science inquiry of elementary students from diverse backgrounds.
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Inscriptional practices in two inquiry-based classrooms: A case study of seventh graders' use of data tables and graphs



Hsin-Kai Wu1, Joseph S. Krajcik

This case study characterizes the inscriptional practices demonstrated by seventh graders, particularly their use of data tables and graphs, in an inquiry-based learning environment. Using a naturalistic approach, we collected multiple sources of data during an 8-month instructional unit that emphasized water quality and relevant concepts. The analyses show that constructing and interpreting graphs and tables provided students with opportunities to discuss, review, and clarify questions about concepts and the inquiry process. At the end of the unit on water quality, students were capable of fully participating in designing a more complicated inscription and interpreting new inscriptions. The findings suggest that four features of the learning environment promoted the development of inscriptional practices: (1) embedding the use of inscriptions in students' science inquiry; (2) providing scaffolds to support students' inquiry process; (3) sequencing tasks and the inquiry process; and (4) engaging students in science inquiry in an iterated manner. This study provides insight into the design of a learning environment in which students can develop competent scientific practices.
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Exploring teachers' informal formative assessment practices and students' understanding in the context of scientific inquiry



Maria Araceli Ruiz-Primo, Erin Marie Furtak

This study explores teachers' informal formative assessment practices in three middle school science classrooms. We present a model for examining these practices based on three components of formative assessment (eliciting, recognizing, and using information) and the three domains linked to scientific inquiry (epistemic frameworks, conceptual structures, and social processes). We describe the informal assessment practices as ESRU cycles—the teacher Elicits a question; the Student responds; the teacher Recognizes the student's response; and then Uses the information collected to support student learning. By tracking the strategies teachers used in terms of ESRU cycles, we were able to capture differences in assessment practices across the three teachers during the implementation of four investigations of a physical science unit on buoyancy. Furthermore, based on information collected in a three-question embedded assessment administered to assess students' learning, we linked students' level of performance to the teachers' informal assessment practices. We found that the teacher who more frequently used complete ESRU cycles had students with higher performance on the embedded assessment as compared with the other two teachers. We conclude that the ESRU model is a useful way of capturing differences in teachers' informal assessment practices. Furthermore, the study suggests that effective informal formative assessment practices may be associated with student learning in scientific inquiry classrooms.
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The development of dynamic inquiry performances within an open inquiry setting: A comparison to guided inquiry setting



Irit Sadeh, Michal Zion

Dynamic inquiry learning emphasizes aspects of change, intellectual flexibility, and critical thinking. Dynamic inquiry learning is characterized by the following criteria: learning as a process, changes during the inquiry, procedural understanding, and affective points of view. This study compared the influence of open versus guided inquiry learning approaches on dynamic inquiry performances among high-school biology students. We hypothesized that open inquiry students who engage in the inquiry process from its initial stage, participating in the decision making process of asking inquiry questions and planning all aspects of the inquiry, will outperform students who experienced guided inquiry, in terms of developing dynamic inquiry performances. Students were divided into two groups: guided and open inquiry learning approaches. Both groups were followed throughout their 2-year inquiry learning process. The data sources included interviews, students' inquiry summary papers, logbooks, and reflections. A quantitative content analysis of the two groups, using a dynamic inquiry performances index, revealed that open inquiry students used significantly higher levels of performances in the criteria “changes during inquiry” and “procedural understanding.” However, the study's results indicated no significant differences in the criteria “learning as a process” and “affective points of view.” The implementation of dynamic inquiry performances during inquiry learning may shed light on the procedural and epistemological scientific understanding of students conducting inquiries.
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