Problem

Research-based teaching reform as described by the National Science Education Standards (NSES) (NRC, 1996) and the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993) calls for teachers to engage students in inquiry-based science programs to “actively develop their understanding of science by combining scientific knowledge with reasoning and thinking skills” (NRC, 1996 p. 2), as research shows that these programs can increase scientific ways of communicating and thinking, particularly for students in underrepresented groups (Adamson et al., 2003; Kahle, Meece, & Scantlebury, 2000; Roseberry, Warren, & Conant, 1992; Scruggs, Mastropieri, Bakken, & Brigham, 1993; Shymansky, Kyle, & Alport, 1983; Wise & Okey, 1983). Furthermore, these approaches can enhance students’ science process skills, habits of mind, problem-solving skills, and understanding of the nature of science (NOS) (Hofstein & Lunetta, 2003). These skills, transcending all science disciplines, are as important as content knowledge, given the rapid expansion of scientific knowledge and our instantaneous access to information. Traditional instructional approaches, even when applied rigorously, have little impact on the development of students’ scientific reasoning abilities (Bao, et al., 2009); however, inquiry instruction can promote scientific reasoning abilities (Adey & Shayer, 1990; Benford & Lawson, 2001; Gerber, Cavallo, & Marek, 2001; Lawson, 1995; Zimmerman, 2000). Kipnis and Hofstein (2008) have shown that inquiry also allows students to practice metacognitive skills, which is another way that inquiry helps to develop scientific habits of mind (Schraw, Crippen, & Hartley, 2006). Recently a research synthesis of inquiry-based teaching concluded that such approaches are more likely to increase conceptual understanding in science (Minner, Levy, & Century, 2010). In summary, a strong body of evidence shows that teachers using inquiry helps students meet key learning outcomes.

Though many teachers want these outcomes for their students, many struggle to meet the NSES’ call for the use of inquiry-oriented approaches, and as such, rely primarily on lecture/discussion with occasional verification laboratory activities (Banilower, 2002; Smith, 2002; Weiss, 2002; Wood, 2002). This is not surprising given that most of today’s teachers’ science learning experiences consisted of lectures and “cookbook” labs. Thus, our “traditional” approach to educating teachers has resulted in teacher content knowledge that is often fragmented and a view of science as an objective body of knowledge generated using a linear process, often referred to as the “scientific method” (Abd-El-Khalick & BouJaoude, 1997; Brickhouse, 1990; Gallagher, 1991). The acknowledged mechanism for facilitating reform of instructional practices is PD. However, most PD programs fall short of expectations (AASCU, 2001; Borko, 2004; NRC, 2006) and do little to improve teachers’ content knowledge and teaching skills (NRC, 2001). We have addressed these PD inadequacies by incorporating into the Target Inquiry (TI) PD model (described below) core experiences shown to have positive effects on teachers and their students (Berlin, 1996; Blanchard, Southerland, & Granger, 2009; Dixon & Wilke, 2007; Grove & Dixon, 2007; Keys & Bryan, 2001; see review in Roth, 2007; Silverstein et al., 2009; Westerlund, Garcia, Koke, Taylor, & Mason, 2002) and the characteristics of effective and transformative PD (Garet, et al., 2001; Thompson & Zeuli, 1999).

The TI PD model was specifically designed to meet the PD needs of teachers to improve the quality of inquiry instruction and subsequently produce gains in student achievement. Piloted and studied at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) with support from NSF TPC/DRK-12 (0553215), TI produced changes in high school chemistry teachers’ beliefs about scientific and classroom inquiry, reformed their teaching practices to be more aligned with the NSES (Yezierski & Herrington, 2011; Herrington, Yezierski, Luxford, & Luxford, 2011; Kennedy, Yezierski, & Herrington, 2008), and for most teachers, significantly increased their chemistry students’ achievement (NSF TI Annual Report, 2009).

Page last modified November 21, 2011