, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 425-449
Date: 30 Apr 2009

The Role of Content in Inquiry-Based Elementary Science Lessons: An Analysis of Teacher Beliefs and Enactment

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Abstract

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) Video Study explored instructional practices in the United States (US) in comparison with other countries that ranked higher on the 1999 TIMSS assessment, and revealed that 8th grade science teachers in the US emphasize activities over content during lessons (Roth et al. 2006). This study applies the content framework from the TIMSS Video Study to a sample of 28 3rd grade teachers enacting an inquiry-based unit on floating and sinking, and seeks a deeper understanding of teachers’ practices through analysis of interviews with those teachers. Transcripts of observed lessons were coded according to the TIMSS framework for types of content, and transcripts of teacher interviews were coded to capture the ways in which teachers described their role in and purposes for teaching science, particularly with respect to the floating and sinking unit. Results indicate that teachers focused more on canonical, procedural and experimental knowledge during lessons than on real-world connections and the nature of science; however, none of the types of content received major emphasis in a majority of the classrooms in the sample. During interviews, teachers described their practice in ways that prioritized helping students to like science over specific content outcomes. The study suggests that elementary school teachers’ emphasis on doing and feeling during inquiry-based lessons may interfere with teaching of content.