Theoretical Framework

The four core constructs that guided the development of this study were (i) teachers’ knowledge and beliefs, (ii) teachers’ beliefs about inquiry and inquiry-based instruction, (iii) student learning from inquiry-based practices, and (iv) social constructivism.

In general, beliefs are constructed based on significant personal experience and contain an emotional or evaluative component (Gess-Newsome, 1999; Nespor, 1987; Pajaras, 1992; Richardson, 1996). Unlike many professions, by the time prospective teachers enter college they already have well constructed beliefs about teaching and learning from their experiences as a student (Posner, Strike, Hewson, & Gertzog, 1982). Jones and Carters’ (2007) sociocultural model of embedded belief systems illustrates how knowledge of science content, instructional methods, self-efficacy, social norms, environmental constraints, science epistemologies, attitudes toward instruction, and attitudes toward implementation are all part of the filter through which teachers make decisions about instructional practices. There is considerable agreement that these belief systems play a critical role in decisions about curriculum and instruction (Keys & Bryan, 2001; Nespor, 1987; Pajares, 1992; Richardson, 1996). Therefore, if we are to cause lasting instructional change, introducing teachers to new methods and materials is not enough. We must also address teachers’ underlying beliefs about teaching and learning.

One factor that appears to be essential, although not sufficient, for teachers to successfully implement inquiry-based instructional methods, is a robust understanding of the science inquiry process that is consistent with contemporary ideas about the real-world practice of scientists (Akerson, Abd-El-Khalick, & Lederman, 2000; Crawford, 2007; Roehrig & Luft, 2004). Research indicates that teachers who hold the naive perception of science as a set of facts hinders their abilities to implement inquiry instruction, whereas teachers that view science as tentative and a way of exploring the physical world are more likely to use inquiry-methods (Lotter, Harwood, & Bonner, 2007; Roehrig & Luft, 2004; Windschitl, 2004). It was also noted that the teachers in these studies attributed their understanding of science to personal experience outside of school doing “real science” (lab technician, outdoor biologist, etc.). This suggests that a contemporary understanding of the nature of science inquiry requires some experience in an authentic science research environment. However, research also indicates that a contemporary understanding of the process of science developed through authentic science research is not enough to transform teaching practices (Blanchard et al., 2009; Crawford, 2007; Roehrig & Luft, 2004). Crawford (2007) states, “In order to achieve the goals of the NSES, science teacher educators must facilitate teachers in understanding the essences of science, the nature of scientific inquiry, and how to translate these understandings into the curriculum.” The TI program does this by building on the RET with a study of the education research literature, MA, and AR, in contrast with the more typical RET model, which lacks deep and meaningful connections to classroom practice and student learning.

The belief underlying the NSES and TI is that inquiry strategies provide students with a more accurate understanding of the process of science and improves student achievement. Although there are data that suggest that some reformed teaching practices may not improve achievement (VonSecker & Lissitz, 1999), the majority of studies indicate that teaching practices described in the NSES improve achievement as well as student attitudes, understanding of NOS, and scientific reasoning (Adamson, et al., 2003; Kahle, Meece, & Scantlebury, 2000; Roseberry, Warren, & Conant, 1992; Scruggs, Mastropieri, Bakken, & Brigham, 1993; Shymansky, Kyle, & Alport, 1983; Wise & Okey, 1983).

Finally, learning is viewed through the lens of social constructivism as a process of individual construction and enculturation into practice (Cobb, 1994; Driver, 1995: Vygotsky, 1978). Opportunities that allow learners to dialogue and share perspectives with their peers can support the development of more meaningful science concepts (Millar & Driver, 1987); however, construction of the complex conceptual understanding of the contemporary science community requires negotiation with “experts” (Driver, 1995). In applying these principals to teacher learning, the TI model integrates authentic experiences with opportunities for peer and expert collaborations as well as individual reflection.

Page last modified November 21, 2011