I received an email from a science educator colleague and friend, and he included a copy of a paper that he presented last fall at conference among science teacher educators. The paper, entitled “The journey from powerful ideas to classroom practice:Enacting inquiry pedagogy through co-construction, not indoctrination,” by Michael Dias, Kennesaw State University. The paper also earned the “outstanding faculty position paper” award at the conference. The paper traces the issues related to attempts by science teacher educators to develop inquiry-oriented programs to prepare secondary science teachers. It’s been a difficult journey. Inquiry-based teaching was not really in the mainstream of teacher preparation until the 1960s, and yes it was related to the massive response by the National Science Foundation to the launching by the USSR of Sputnik. Science education responded with the emergence of a host of science curriculum projects and were developed from late 1950s and into the early 1970s.
On a personal note, Sputnik enabled me to receive a Ph.D. in science education in the late 1960s because the NSF funded Academic Year Institutes at many universities around the country. Hundreds of science and mathematics teachers (like myself) spent a year in full-time study–in my case (and many others as well) I stayed on at the university (Ohio State) and completed my doctorate, and did not return to high school teaching.
Inquiry-based teaching was a theme of many of the NSF funded science projects such as PSSC Physics, Chem Study, BSCS Biology, Earth Science Curriculum Project, Introductory Physical Science, Individualized Science Curriculum Study. Elementary projects such as Elementary Science Study (ESS) followed the inquiry theme. And during the 1970s many teachers earning their Ph.D. degree in science education focused their dissertations on these projects and their impact on student learning. Many of the studies compared these NSF projects to the more “traditional” text book oriented programs. Oddly, all of the NSF programs produced texts (except for the elmentary science projects). Most studies found little difference in the “academic” achievement of students in either NSF or traditional programs. Years later, using more sophisticated methods (essentially looking at a whole bunch of studies and using the data to draw conclusions), researchers reported that the NSF projects did have significant differences in impacting students understanding of inquiry and attitudes toward science.
Yet, inquiry-oriented teaching is not the staple of secondary science classrooms. Texts, lecture and testing still dominate the classroom. And even when major universities develop what appear to be strong-inquiry-oriented science teacher education programs, the long term effects seem to be nill.
So Dr. Dias’ paper sheds light on this issue, and he suggests changes that are needed in teacher education, e.g. “practice to theory” and “co-constructionÃ¢â‚¬Â of inquiry-based science.” In his view:
” …Collaboration with teachers using this framework has resulted in the realistic view of inquiry that I wish to promote. The essential features framework allows us to acknowledge with teachers the elements of inquiry pedagogy already present in their practice, and also provides direction for extending student opportunities for working at a higher level of independent and collaborative thought. With this tool we can take teachers from the common initial notions of inquiry as Ã¢â‚¬Å“hands-on activityÃ¢â‚¬Â or Ã¢â‚¬Å“discoveryÃ¢â‚¬Â or Ã¢â‚¬Å“design an experimentÃ¢â‚¬Â to a more varied view of endeavors congruent with the nature of science.”
There are programs that have initiated these changes, but if history is of value here, to reverse the trend of constantly striving for inquiry-based learning will take significant changes. I think Mike is on the right track!