Journal of Science Teacher Education

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 271–295

A Self-Study of the Role of Technology in Promoting Reflection and Inquiry-Based Science Teaching

Authors

    • Department of Curriculum and InstructionPurdue University
Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10972-007-9041-z

Cite this article as:
Capobianco, B.M. J Sci Teacher Educ (2007) 18: 271. doi:10.1007/s10972-007-9041-z

 

This self-study examined the 1st-year science teacher educator's integration of instructional technology into a science methods course and modeled the reflective practice of her own teaching. Elementary science methods students participated in a series of inquiry-based activities that utilized various instructional technologies. Data sources included daily reflections, formative assessments, concern-based surveys, and class assignments. Findings from this self-study revealed that the teacher educator's own reflections and practical inquiry influenced and paralleled her students’ development of learning how to teach scientific inquiry using instructional technology. Results suggest that inviting preservice teachers into reflective practice and modeling for them the development of professional practical knowledge allow them to address the uncertainties in their own learning about using technology for inquiry-based science teaching.

Introduction

The rise in visibility of the teacher-research movement and the lasting appeal of Schön's (1983, 1987) notion of reflective practitioner have helped science practitioners and researchers alike to imagine science teachers not only as consumers of knowledge, but also as creators of knowledge about science teaching and learning (Abell, Bryan, & Anderson, 1998; van Zee, 1998a). Equally important has been the attention given to teacher research in our national science education reform documents, suggesting that “teachers of science approach their teaching in a spirit of inquiry—assessing, reflecting on, and learning from their own practice” (National Research Council [NRC], 1996, p. 42). In response to this call for teacher inquiry, reflective practice has become a fundamental principle in science teacher preparation and licensure programs (Hodson & Bencze, 1998; Tabachnick & Zeichner, 1999; van Zee, Lay, & Roberts, 2003). Results from these studies indicate growth in science teachers’ knowledge, ability, and understanding to implement the standards (van Zee, 1998b); transformation in science teaching practices to more authentic, student-centered approaches (Hodson & Bencze, 1998); and heightened awareness and understanding for what counts as research among science teachers as researchers (Feldman, 1994). In many of these studies, the role of the science teacher educator includes teacher, facilitator, consultant, and advisor for the processes of teacher action research. Additional studies position the teacher educators themselves as the researchers in what is commonly known as self-study (Loughran, 1996; Rice & Roychoudhury, 2003; van Zee et al., 2003).

The practice of self-study in teacher education has become increasingly prevalent in the past 20 years. Teacher educators, professors, and educational researchers alike use systematic, self-critical inquiry as a way to not only improve practice but, more important, to come to a better understanding of that practice (Hamilton, 1998; Knowles & Cole, 1995; Loughran, 1996; Loughran, Hamilton, LaBoskey, & Russell, 2004; Pinnegar, 1995; Russell & Korthagen, 1995). In science teacher education, self-study practices are most commonly employed through teacher action research, whereby action research is used as a vehicle for prospective science teachers to engage in reflective practice (Feldman & Capobianco, 2002; Hewson et al., 1999; van Zee, 1998a). In these studies, prospective teachers are in the role of researchers, either studying their own instruction, students’ learning, or participating in curriculum research and development (Russell, 1995; Russell & Munby, 1992). Teacher educators take on the role of collaborators, negotiators, and facilitators, providing students with the skills and tools necessary for them to construct knowledge that enhances their ways of thinking about teaching science.

In this study, I positioned myself, a novice science teacher educator, as both the subject and the researcher of the inquiry. I wanted to improve my practice and come to a better understanding of how I can effectively prepare my methods students to become scientifically literate and technologically advanced practitioners. There were several layers to my self-study. First, I entered this study as a former middle school science teacher, an experienced teacher-researcher, and a facilitator of several collaborative action research groups (Capobianco, 2007; Capobianco, Horowitz, Canuel-Browne, & Trimarchi, 2004; Capobianco, Lincoln, Canuel-Browne, & Trimarchi, 2006). Therefore, my knowledge of and experience with both teaching science and conducting action research were extensive. Second, I entered this study as a 1st-year science teacher educator teaching an elementary science methods course. I drew on my own previous science teaching experiences and attempted to develop lessons that fostered scientific inquiry and a conceptual understanding of young learners. Lastly, I entered this study as a novice practitioner using instructional technology. My previous experience with and knowledge of technology was both narrow and limited; yet I was interested in learning more about the use of technology in my teaching, both because of my participation in a technology-related faculty development program and because Pedersen and Yerrick (2000) have urged greater use of technology in science teaching. In this self-study, I examined how technology operated as a catalyst for my own learning and for my students’ learning about inquiry-based science teaching.

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to examine my experience with integrating technology in an elementary science methods course. Thirty-eight students, enrolled in two different sections of an elementary science methods course, participated in a series of six inquiry-based activities using various instructional technology (IT) applications. My approach to inquiry-based instruction involved helping methods students pursue answers to significant questions (Brown & Campione, 1990) in ways similar to those practiced by scientists (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989). Methods students participated in various science process skills (NRC, 1996, 2000; Padilla, 1990), small-group interactions, and constructivist-oriented discussions. Likewise, I instructed students to write personal reflections to help them build current knowledge, challenge their personal theories, and revise their understandings of science teaching (Abell et al., 1998). My instructional approach went beyond providing students with a series of hands-on activities. I combined inquiry activities with various technologies to facilitate the development of my students’ knowledge and understanding of teaching science through inquiry at the elementary school level. The research questions that guided my self-study included
  1. 1.

    How did this integration of instructional technology facilitate preservice science teachers’ learning of science teaching practices and influence their interests in the use of technology?

     
  2. 2.

    In what ways did engaging in action research influence my development as a 1st-year science teacher educator and my understanding of the role technology integration plays the elementary science methods course?

     

Theoretical Framework

This study draws from two main areas of literature: teacher action research and teacher knowledge. Action research can be defined as systematic, self-reflective inquiry aimed at constructing knowledge about one's practice, with the major goals of improving and coming to a better understanding of that practice (Carr & Kemmis, 1986; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993; Stenhouse, 1975). In the context of this project, I see action research as a process that could improve my own use of instructional technology, increase my understanding of my preservice science teachers’ engagement with technology, and generate new knowledge to be shared with other science teacher educators and researchers.

Historical accounts (e.g., McKernan, 1991) locate the development of action research alongside contemporary developments in education and the social sciences. Lewin (1946) was one of the first to develop a theory of action research as a spiral of steps involving planning, fact-finding (or reconnaissance) and execution, which later came to be understood as an action-reflection cycle of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting. While Lewin's work was not located primarily in education settings (see Eden & Huxham, 1999), the relevance of his work to education was clear, and his ideas were soon applied in education in the United States. In 1953, Stephen Corey at Teachers College, Columbia University, made one of the first attempts to defend action research as a legitimate form of educational research (Noffke, 1997). Corey's model emphasized hypothesis testing as a means of resolving problems and testing solutions in practice. He viewed the work of teachers, such as curriculum planning and instruction, as a means for change in education. Corey was supportive of classroom teachers’ knowledge and found teachers a rich resource for learning about the generation of professional knowledge.

One of the most influential interpretations of action research is found in the work of Lawrence Stenhouse and others, who established the Center for Applied Research in Education at the University of East Anglia in 1970 (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993; McKernan, 1988; Noffke, 1997; Stenhouse, 1975). The goal of the center was to “demystify and democratize research, which was seen as failing to contribute effectively to the growth of professional understanding and to the improvement of professional practice” (Stenhouse, p. 136). Stenhouse encouraged teachers to become involved in the research process, believing that, through their own research, teachers could strengthen their judgment and improve their classroom practices. He believed that emphasis should be given to the role of teachers in making professional judgments about both the means and ends of instruction. Implicit in this conception is the dual purposes of improving understanding of practice, as well as improving practice itself (Noffke).

Other notable supporters of action research have demonstrated the key role educational action research plays in examining the constructed nature of educational practices (Carr & Kemmis, 1986), teacher professional development (Elliott, 1991), and curriculum research and development (McKernan, 1991). Based on these conceptions, action research is viewed as a process that is inquiry-based, self-reflective, collaborative, and emancipatory. Through careful problem solving and self-reflection, action research empowers practitioners to recognize political, practical, and personal problems related to practice and to take action to resolve these problems.

Central to this study is the work of teachers, specifically the knowledge they have and the decisions they must make to take action within their own practice. In this study, the teacher knowledge perspective provides one way of examining how science teachers (i.e., preservice and practicing) know how to teach. Shulman's work (1986, 1987) suggests that teaching is complex, encompassing knowledge of content, pedagogy, curriculum, learners, educational contexts, and other distinguishing factors characteristic of beginning and experienced teachers. Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) has been described as an integrated and adaptive component of teacher knowledge representing the junction at which knowledge of pedagogy, content, and students converge (Cochran, DeRuiter, & King, 1993; Cochran & Jones, 1998). Capturing the development and complexity of this knowledge in action requires rich descriptive accounts of a teacher's understanding of the content and how teaching the content alters his or her understanding of the concepts (Loughran, Milroy, Berry, Gunstone, & Mulhall, 2001). In the context of this research, my self-study is dependent on my own knowledge and understanding of the science concepts relative to the elementary school level, my instructional attempts at integrating technology through scientific inquiry, and my students (preservice science teachers).

Methods

Study Context and Participants

This study was conducted at a large, 4-year university of approximately 38,000 students, about 2,000 of whom are enrolled in undergraduate teacher education programs each year. The context of the study was an undergraduate elementary science methods course generally taken two semesters prior to student teaching. The methods course addressed a range of topics revolving around several key themes: how children learn science, how science is taught at the elementary level, and how children's science learning is assessed. The primary goal of each unit was to help students learn more about how to engage children in scientific inquiry. Supplementing class assignments were field-based experiences in a local elementary school where students incorporate elements of inquiry by interviewing children and teaching two independent lessons using productive questions and the learning cycle.

The mode of inquiry for this study was action research. Using Carr and Kemmis's (1986) model for systematic inquiry, I created an action plan, enacted my plan, made observations, and reflected on those actions. My plan included developing and implementing lessons that incorporated the use of various instructional technology applications and tools, including Excel, PowerPoint, digital cameras, and lab sensors. Because action research is a spiraling process (Carr & Kemmis, 1986; McKernan, 1988), I cycled through my research several times to clarify my starting point and simplify the IT applications and data collection methods that I used. This took place over the course of two semesters so that the results of my action research from the first semester (Spring 2003, n = 14 students) informed the actions I took in the next semester (Fall 2003, n = 24 students). Some of these actions included modifications to my lesson plans and data collection methods. The description of the modifications I made is described below.

The research methods I employed included maintaining a research notebook, also referred to as journal keeping (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993; Holly, 1989), and reviewing supporting documents. The data sources consisted of daily entries in my research notebook, teacher-created student feedback forms, a survey referred to as the Stages of Concern Inventory (SoCI; adapted from Hord, Rutherford, Huling-Austin, & Hall, 1987) and student work (i.e., class assignments). In addition, I recorded field notes based on my own classroom observations of students’ engagement with each IT application. Additional documents, such as my lesson plans and rubrics, were reviewed. What follows is a brief description of each source of data I gathered.

Research Notebook

I kept a daily research notebook that contained descriptions, reactions, and interpretations associated with my teaching and my students’ learning. I used it both to document and to reflect on my experiences as I attempted to learn more about how to use technology, integrate it effectively, and teach my students about the role IT plays in the science classroom in a manner that would encourage my students to learn for understanding.

On occasion, I shared excerpts from my research notebook (my reflections) with my students, not only to reveal my experiences, but also to provide a platform for discussions with them about using technology in the science classroom. In addition, I shared my reflections with a colleague (an education technology specialist) who served as a consultant. In this capacity, he would listen and respond to questions and concerns I had about teaching and learning how to use technology in the science classroom. According to Northfield and Loughran (1997), the perspective of colleagues can be very valuable and enhance the processes of self-study (e.g., data interpretation). These conversations provided opportunities for me to highlight particular events that otherwise would have remained insignificant or invisible to my personal development as a science teacher educator.

Student Feedback Form

Prior to the first semester the study was conducted (Spring 2003), I constructed a form that was designed to gather feedback from students about their engagement with each IT application, as well as the effectiveness of my instruction of the IT application. The feedback form was a modified version of a classroom-based assessment illustrated in Angelo and Cross's (1993) handbook on classroom assessment techniques for college teachers.

The feedback form included a five-point scale that measured the following criteria: clarity of instruction, difficulty with the application, interest in the application, and practicality of the application. For example, one item instructed students to rate on a scale from 1 (low) to 5 (high) the level of difficulty with using laboratory probeware. In addition, the feedback form included two open-ended questions that encouraged students to share their ideas and concerns about the application and to propose ways they envisioned using the application in their own practice. The feedback form was administered after each of the six IT applications was integrated in the spring and fall semesters. A total of 228 student feedback forms were collected and analyzed for Spring 2003 (n = 6 × 14 students) and Fall 2003 (n = 6 × 24 students).

Stages of Concern Inventory (SoCI)

After a review of my preliminary results gathered during the first semester of the study (Spring 2003), I discovered that some of the IT applications (e.g., lab probes) and how I introduced them to my students appeared novel and innovative. Therefore, I decided to investigate how my students perceived the IT applications from their initial introduction until the students gained mastery of them. I decided to add to my existing sets of data by developing a way to identify my students’ concerns about using the technology over time.

Hall, George, and Rutherford (1998) described the concept of concerns about innovations as “an aroused state of personal feelings and thoughts about a particular issue or task” (p. 5). They determined that concerns about an innovation can be perceived as progressing developmentally through stages; that is, certain concerns would be more intense, then less intense, before arousal of other types would occur, thus assigning the expression, stages of concern. This model is best demonstrated by concerns of teachers about teaching (Fullan, 1991), and it has been used successfully as a valuable lens for understanding change in schools (Joyce, 1990; Lieberman & Miller, 1991). Using this model in science education may help teachers, researchers, and others involved in change to better understand and support the changes in attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors science teachers experience when teaching and learning through inquiry (NRC, 2000).

Hord et al. (1987) adopted the stages of concern model to describe how practicing teachers perceived the use of instructional technology (Hall & Loucks, 1978). The Concerns Based Adoption Model, also known as the CBAM (Hord et al.), consists of seven stages of concerns that users or potential users of technology have identified (see Table 1). These stages of concern are distinctive, but are not necessarily mutually exclusive (Hord et al., 1987). The seven stages vary in intensity and, consequently, characterize the developmental nature of individual concerns related to using instructional technology within the classroom, a curriculum unit, or a school-based program. Accompanying the CBAM is a 38-item questionnaire that researchers have used to measure the overall personal development of teachers using an innovation. Because of time constraints on both my students’ schedules and my own, I decided not to incorporate the 38-item questionnaire in my self-study and, as an alternative, I developed a modified version of the CBAM matrix.
Table 1

Stages of Concern About an Innovation

Stages

 

Description

0

Awareness

Little concern about or involvement with technology

  

May or may not know about technology

1

Information

General awareness and interest in learning more detail

  

Wants to learn more about the technology

2

Personal

Has concerns about proficiency level

3

Management

Wants practical suggestions on how to use technology

4

Consequence

Uses technology, but not sure how to use with students or with activities out there that use technology

5

Collaborative

Would like to share lessons with other teachers

  

Offers technical support to others

6

Refocusing

Looks for ways to improve program using technology

Note. Based on Hord, Rutherford, Huling-Austin, and Hall (1987).

For this study, I adapted the CBAM and created a Stages of Concern Inventory (SoCI). On the SoCI, the stages of concerns ranged from Stage 0 – Awareness: “I am not concerned about using and integrating instructional technology in the science classroom” to Stage 6 – Refocusing: “I have some ideas about adapting my use of instructional technology in my own science classroom.” The SoCI was administered two times: once at the beginning and once at the end of Fall 2003 semester only. Each student (n = 24) was instructed to select one expression of concern that best described his or her concern at that time. A total of 48 inventories was collected and analyzed for Fall 2003 semester. The purpose of this instrument was to provide me with additional feedback about my students’ introduction to, engagement with, and potential adoption of instructional technology within their own science classrooms. I wanted to find out if, after multiple experiences with various IT applications, preservice teachers would consider these IT applications feasible, practical, and operational with their own science teaching. By being aware of these stages in my students, I was better able to design and implement effectively the type of supportive instruction that was most useful to my students as they experienced this process.

Developing Technology Integration Activities

As a new faculty member at the university, I participated in a series of professional development workshops in the summer of 2002. These workshops were part of a U.S. Department of Education Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to use Technology (PT3) implementation project (Brush, 2003). The university-based initiative, P3T3: Purdue Program for Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to use Technology (Lehman, 2003), was designed to change teacher education by providing support for faculty development and technology integration in the teacher preparation programs. One of the two main goals for the initiative was to prepare teacher education faculty to teach preservice teachers in technology-rich environments, modeling approaches that future teachers should use themselves when they teach K–12 students. Subsequently, I took part in both skills development workshops and Techie Talk sessions (short informational sessions over the lunch hour), and I took advantage of the drop-in help sessions provided by the project staff. In addition, I submitted proposals for faculty minigrants in Fall of 2002 and 2003 and was awarded enough funding each semester to purchase equipment (e.g., lab sensors) and other supporting materials.

After attending the professional development workshops provided by P3T3 project staff, I reviewed the syllabus for my elementary science methods course and determined that applications for instructional technology were not only missing, but clearly warranted. Before taking any steps to integrate technology into the existing syllabus, I decided to teach the course once to familiarize myself with the content, organize and develop my own teaching procedures and strategies, and develop an understanding of who my students were and how they learned. In other words, I wanted to develop my professional knowledge base, specifically PCK, to better recognize how my teaching could influence my own development as a science teacher educator. While teaching, I noted specific places in the curriculum where I could integrate and pilot various IT applications. The following is an excerpt from my research notebook where I began to capture and frame my initial thoughts or what Loughran (1996) referred to as anticipatory reflections about integrating technology in the course.

After teaching my lesson on science process skills, I now know where I can begin integrating instructional technology. I am thinking that my methods students could use temperature probes to measure temperature, organize the data in a table, and then make charts from the tables. I am thinking that this might be a good introduction to using instructional technology in science and a good way for my methods students to begin developing basic science process skills. It will also align with the science standard that suggests students use simple equipment to gather data. By engaging in the activity themselves, I am hoping that my methods students become aware of the importance of learning basic process skills and, furthermore, recognize the difficulties associated with using IT in the science classroom. I am thinking it will also help my methods students understand that what they do in this course links to their prospective classroom practice. I am thinking that I should practice using the lab probes myself and generate a list of questions I can ask my students for them to prompt their own inquiries using IT. (Reflections, Fall 2002)

For my action plan, I created a weekly calendar that listed each unit of study, examples of IT applications for each unit, and materials needed for each application. In addition, I listed the respective science standard that would apply to each lesson. My action strategies involved incorporating the skills and applications I learned in the professional development workshops and the help sessions.

I developed a series of class activities that incorporated the use of common productivity software, such as Excel and PowerPoint, and hardware, including digital cameras, probeware, and electronic sensors (e.g., temperature probes), interfaced to a computer (see Table 2). I carefully reviewed existing lesson plans for each unit and generated an alternative way of teaching the lesson using technology to support students’ inquiry. Temperature probeware allowed students to collect, organize, and communicate their data via tables and graphs. The software accompanying the sensors provided students the opportunity to create workbooks and final drafts of their lab work, which they e-mailed to one another at the end of the lesson. Students could critique and analyze one another's workbooks for clarity, accuracy, and the formation of logical arguments concerning the relationships between their evidence and explanations.
Table 2

Overview of Course IT Applications

Unit of study in methods course curriculum

Activity

IT application

Product

1. Introduction to process skills

Determine the distribution of color in candy

Excel, PowerPoint

PowerPoint presentation

2. Engaging in scientific inquiry

Design and conduct an investigation that determines the effect of SUVs on traffic

Excel, Digital cameras, PowerPoint

PowerPoint presentation

3. Learning to use laboratory probes

Examining the temperature of our hands (Extremity Remedy)

Lab probes

Minireport with data table

4. Exploring science learning through productive questioning and journaling

Record responses to productive questions while engaging in an inquiry-based activity (e.g., Batteries & Bulbs Activity)

Digital cameras, PowerPoint

PowerPoint presentation with digital photos

5. Challenging students’ misconceptions

Determine the relationship between heat and temperature on making ice cream

Lab probes & software, Excel

Written lab report

6. Designing a fair-test investigation

Design and conduct a fair-test investigation using lab probes (e.g., Cold Pack Lab)

Lab probes & software

Written lab report

Integrating Technology Activities

When designing the integration of each IT activity, I paid particular attention to three key factors: (a) the unit objectives in the methods curriculum, (b) the national standards for science as inquiry that applied to each unit (see NRC, 1996, pp. 121–123 for Grades K–4 and pp. 143–148 for Grades 5–8), and (c) the technologies that were available and appropriate for fostering inquiry-based skills. Table 2 outlines each unit of study, respective activity, and instructional application. A brief description of each activity follows.

Activity 1. Introduction to process skills. This activity introduced methods students to the process skills associated with engaging in inquiry (NRC, 1996, 2000; Padilla, 1990). Students predicted the color distribution in a small bag of candy, made observations, and created Excel tables and charts of the data. As a whole class, we compared data sets and noted patterns, as well as individual team's approaches to charting (e.g., pie chart vs. bar chart).

Activity 2. Engaging in scientific inquiry – What is the effect of SUVs on traffic? In this activity, students developed their own scientific investigations on the topic of sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and traffic. Students discussed issues related to SUVs (e.g., cost, fuel consumption, and accident rates), generated a list of concerns, and then worked in teams of four to identify a testable question and carry out an investigation. Each student team gave a PowerPoint presentation that outlined their original question, prediction, design, data analysis, and explanations of what they observed.

Activity 3. Learning to use laboratory probes – Extremity remedy. This activity introduced students to using laboratory probeware as an appropriate tool to gather, analyze, and interpret data. Before using the lab probes, students drew pictures of their hands and predicted the temperature of various areas of the hand. Students used the temperature probes to determine the temperature of each area, while comparing their results with their predictions. To reinforce the science standard that using technology for data collection enhances accuracy (NRC, 1996), students, using alcohol thermometers, repeated the same task and compared and contrasted their results.

Activity 4. Exploring science learning through productive questioning and digital journaling. In this activity, methods students engaged in an inquiry-based activity that used productive questioning as a way of learning about batteries, bulbs, and electricity. Using one small light bulb, one battery, and one wire, students were asked: “How many different ways can you get the bulb to light?” Using digital cameras and a science journal, students recorded their predictions, tested their predictions, and photographed their results. As students progressed through the lesson, they responded to a series of productive questions. For a final product, students gave PowerPoint presentations that profiled their digital photos and accompanying written explanations of how open and closed circuits operate, using evidence from their respective inquiries.

Activity 5. Challenging students’ misconceptions – Heat versus temperature. The main purpose of this activity was to uncover methods students’ conceptions of heat and temperature and to challenge their conceptions through inquiry. Before engaging in the investigation, students disclosed their working definitions for heat and temperature. Using the temperature lab probes, students determined the temperature of ice at specific time intervals when making ice cream, then graphed their results. Students discussed patterns in their data and developed explanations using evidence.

Activity 6. Designing a fair-test investigation – Making cold and hot packs. In this activity, students designed and conducted a fair-test investigation using temperature lab probes and the accompanying software. This activity spanned 2 days and involved the hot and cold packs often used to treat sport injuries. Students activated hot and cold packs and made observations of how the packs worked. They were given a series of unknown salts and instructed to design a fair-test investigation to determine which salts made the packs hot and cold. Students made predictions and devised plans that placed emphasis on which variables they would control to make the experiment a “fair test.” Using the lab probes, students collected and organized data in tables and charts and then presented their findings in a workbook for peer review. On the second day, students conducted additional investigations, isolating one or more variables related to the hot and cold packs. Students based their explanations of their findings on their conceptual understandings of exothermic and endothermic reactions.

Data Analysis

Once all the data were collected, I began preliminary analysis using grounded theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). During the first phase, I attempted to identify key statements students reported on the open-response questions of the feedback forms about my instruction and their learning of scientific inquiry. Repeatedly appearing statements helped me to construct specific features or themes based on the lessons I learned as a researcher of my own practice. I then tested the viability of the construction of these themes against other relevant data sets (e.g., reflections from my research notebook, notes from my own classroom observations, and student work).

I analyzed data gathered from the five-point scale of the student feedback forms by determining the median for each response for each course for each semester. I calculated medians for students’ responses in relation to the clarity of my instruction, the difficulty with, interest in, and practicality of the application. I analyzed data from Fall 2003 SoCI (pre- and postinventories) by calculating the frequency and respective percentage for each concern. In this self-study, I used the student feedback and SoCI instruments primarily to fuel “practical judgments and decisions about how to improve my practice” (Elliott, 1991, p. 64) in the context of my elementary science methods course, involving an identifiable group of students. For this reason, the data were not statistically aggregated for outcome measures but rather evaluated for the purposes of self-validation and learner validation (McNiff, 2002).

To ensure the validity or trustworthiness (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) of my interpretations of the data, I employed peer debriefing, member checking, and triangulation. By reviewing the data with my colleague, an education technology specialist, I attempted to test the validity and reliability of my data sources and, more important, my interpretations of the data. Subsequently, my colleague helped me frame my experience in ways I would not have thought of as the subject and researcher of the study (Northfield & Loughran, 1997). I used member checking by taking my descriptive themes back to my students to ensure I was representing their ideas accurately. Lastly, I triangulated the different data sources, comparing and contrasting “different accounts of the situation” (Elliott, 1991, p. 82) and writing analytic memos containing my thinking about the evidence collected. This process resulted in my identification of new knowledge that my students and I gained about how to teach scientific inquiry using instructional technology.

Findings

Student Feedback on Engaging in Inquiry Using Technology

Data from the student formative feedback forms indicated relatively high and consistent levels of interest in and ability to engage in inquiry using technology (see Table 3). Students indicated relatively high interest in and perceptions of usefulness for the majority of applications. Additionally, students reported relatively high interest in integrating more than half of the instructional technology applications within their own practice.
Table 3

Overall Median Scores of Students’ Responses to Statements From Feedback Forms for Each Instructional Technology Application

Statement

Semester

Process skills (M&M's)

Scientific inquiry (SUV)

Extremity remedy

Digital journaling

Scientific investigations (ice cream)

Fair-test investigations (cold pack)

How interesting did you find today's use

Spring

4

4

4

4

5

3

of IT?

Fall

3

4

3

4

4

4

Rate the clarity in my instruction with

Spring

4

4

4

4.5

4

4

giving directions on using the technology

Fall

4

4

4

4

4

4

How useful was today's lesson in using

Spring

4

4

4

4

4

4

IT?

Fall

3

4

4

4

4

4

Rate the level of difficulty with today's

Spring

1.5

1

1.5

2

2

2

application of IT

Fall

1

1

2

1

2

3

How likely do you envision yourself

Spring

5

5

4

4

4

4

integrating this application in your own classroom teaching?

Fall

4

5

4

4

4

4

Note. Responses are based on a Likert-type scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high). Spring n = 14. Fall n = 24.

Responses to open-ended questions also allowed me to recognize the connection between my teaching and my students’ understanding of IT in the science classroom. Students described my instruction as a way of modeling inquiry teaching that interconnected scientific processes and content learning through the use of technology. For example, Kristen and Paul (all names are pseudonyms) described their fair-test investigation with using temperature probes for measuring endothermic and exothermic reactions as

a very good way of teaching children how to develop a testable problem, make predictions, design a test using technology to gather data, analyze the data, and draw a conclusion. … By encouraging us to experiment, observe, and document, we now understand how important it is to have our students engage in similar authentic experiences. (Reflections, Spring 2003)

Clint and Josh described engagement with technology as “important for children to be able to do and to see how it helps them make observations, test ideas, and analyze results” (Reflections, Spring 2003). Beth and Kavita suggested that my instruction allowed them to investigate their own “explorations using digital cameras to catalog pictures of living things outside the classroom, generate productive questions about these photos, and design miniexperiments to investigate one or two of these questions” (Reflections, Spring 2003). Nikki and Audrey commented on the nature of their inquiry using lab probes as being an “open-ended, question-grounded, and personal exploration that we studied on our own time and in our own ways” (Reflections, Spring 2003). According to Nikki and Audrey, “This was in stark contrast to how we learned science … where procedures and protocols were more important than content.”

The students’ representations of scientific inquiry focused on scientific processes and explorations—their own and their students’. My attempts to demonstrate the use of scientific inquiry through technology capitalized on their interests, needs, and concerns for teaching inquiry in personal and meaningful ways. By explicitly modeling the process, I supported their ideas for inquiry-based teaching and provided the foundation necessary for them to use inquiry-based pedagogy in their own practice.

Stages of Concerns Profiles

When scores from the pre- and post-SoCI were reviewed, several trends were apparent. On the preadministration of the SoCI, most students expressed concerns that were in Stage 1 – Information or Stage 3 – Management. A high score in Stage 1 – Information indicated an interest on the part of the students to learn more about the technology (see Table 4). Students reported being curious about how technology can be used by science learners. Responses from open-ended questions accompanying the pre-SoCI from Stage 1 students included the following comments: “[we] feel comfortable with using technology in the science classroom but want to learn more about it,” “[I] think that technology is important to use in the science classroom, but I am not really sure the best ways to go about doing that,” “[I] have some ideas and experience with using IT, but I would like to learn more interesting and helpful ways to do so,” and “I am a beginner with using technology and teaching science in the classroom and I am eager to learn more about how to integrate both.” (Responses on pre-SoCI questions, Fall 2003).
Table 4

Frequency and Percentages of Stages of Concern

Stages

 

Preinventory

Postinventory

0

Awareness

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

1

Information

13 (54%)

0 (0%)

2

Personal

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

3

Management

10 (42%)

3 (13%)

4

Consequence

0 (0%)

2 (8%)

5

Collaborative

1 (4%)

5 (21%)

6

Refocusing

0 (0%)

14 (58%)

Note. n=24.

A high score in Stage 3 – Management suggested that the methods students wanted practical suggestions on how to use technology for specific purposes. Responses to open-ended questions from Stage 3 students included the following:

[I] understand instructional technology; however, [I am] not sure how to integrate it into my science lessons or how to use applications that make inquiry more interesting and engaging for my students. (Response on pre-SoCI questions, Fall 2003)

I have not seen much science being taught in the classroom I have visited. It seems that science is often put off, and I want to include it by teaching effective science activities using technology and be good at it. I want to learn more practical, hands-on activities using technology. (Response on pre-SoCI questions, Fall 2003).

These responses from the SoCI clearly indicated that students’ self-concerns were task oriented and pedagogically driven. Students reported an overwhelming interest in knowing how to integrate IT in their respective classroom practice.

Results from the postadministration of the SoCI indicated a progression from personal, task-oriented concerns (Stages 1 and 3) to more collaborative, impact-oriented concerns (Stages 5 and 6). More than 75% of the students on the post-SoCI indicated Stage 5 – Collaborative and Stage 6 – Refocusing (see Table 4) as important. Results at Stage 6 – Refocusing indicated that students had some ideas and strategies about how to integrate IT in the science classroom effectively and productively. Responses from open-ended questions support this finding. Students stated, “I have learned many new and practical ideas that I can readily use in my own science classroom”; “I have learned multiple ways of integrating IT in my classroom, and I can see better now how IT can help foster scientific inquiry among children”; and “I feel much more confident now using IT and incorporating it into my own science classroom” (Responses from post-SoCI questions, Fall 2003). Interestingly, about 25% of the students reported still having personal and task-oriented concerns (Stages 3 and 4) about using IT in the science classrooms. In open-ended questions, Stages 3 and 4 students (post-SoCI questions, Fall 2003) stated that they felt they knew a little more about using IT, but felt unfamiliar with it and were, thus, still concerned. Further, they said that they were aware and had some idea about integrating IT, but were a little concerned about integrating it with younger children and developing appropriate science instruction for that age group.

The Nature of Learning to Teach Inquiry Through Collaborative Reflection

To help my students articulate their ways of thinking about inquiry-based teaching through technology, I wanted to model for them how I was making meaning of my own practice. My intentions were to help them see that I, an experienced science teacher and their instructor, grappled with issues within my own practice. At the end of each week, I read aloud to students my reflections about incorporating technology for the first time. The following is an example of a reflection I shared with students after their first introduction to using probeware.

Today we engaged in an inquiry that delved into students’ misconceptions associated with heat versus temperature. This is the first time students used the lab probes for an extended investigation. … I am finding teaching this way demanding, but exciting. I find myself more mindful of their interactions with the technology, observing carefully how they use it and what questions they ask. I grapple with whether or not I should intervene and help them by answering all their questions and assisting them one-on-one. I feel this underpinning need to help them so they can succeed with subsequent lessons using the technology. I ask myself: “How might I interact with my students such that I model for them inquiry-based teaching practices? Will I know enough about the technology to answer their questions or be able to support their ways of thinking about using technology? Am I helping them recognize the relevancy of this activity with what they intend to do in their own classrooms?” … I decide to suspend my need to help and focus on asking questions that facilitate their learning without imposing an immediate answer or prescribed approach to solving their problem. I also observed several student teams helping others by showing them how to connect the probes, start the program, and make charts of their tables. (Reflections, Spring 2003)

After sharing my reflections publicly, I encouraged my students to reflect on their own experiences, feelings, or concerns with the lesson, using the following prompt: “What happened in class this week that was particularly interesting, exciting, frustrating, and/or uneasy?” The following are several students’ reflections on using the probeware for the first time.

I thought using the lab probes was a lot of fun. I did get a little frustrated at first because the program would not read the probe, but Clint helped me out with that. … What I am concerned about is whether or not I know enough about using this kind of technology to really teach it. Maybe I just need a little more practice. (Beth, Reflections, Spring 2003)

The lesson was fun, and I liked using the probes. I played around with technology, but I didn't feel I knew enough to use it in the science classroom. My concern is that I need to get to know the science content and how to teach science first, then learn how to use technology in the science classroom. (Clint, Reflections, Spring 2003)

I liked using the probes to find out what would happen to the temperature of our bag of ice cream. I knew it would be cold, but I didn't expect the temperature to change like it did. … That was a lot fun. I also like the fact that we engaged in an actual inquiry that our own students could do. I would like to learn more about how to create activities that engage children to think about science and technology as connected, rather than isolated. I am worried that I will not be able to create these kinds of lessons on my own because I don't have enough experience with teaching science or using technology in my own classroom. (Kristen, Reflections, Spring 2003)

The lesson was fun, and I learned a lot about how to ask questions to students such that I am not giving them the answer or they are searching for one right answer. I saw you do this, and I thought, “That is how I want to teach.” … It was interesting to see how other students approached the problem differently and how they were not penalized for doing something different. I am getting a better idea of teaching for inquiry. But what I don't get yet is how to tie that in with technology. I wonder if I know enough about how to use technology and will that technology be available in my own classroom next year. How will my students respond? What kinds of questions will they ask? And like you said … ”Do I know enough science and technology to answer their questions?” (Paul, Reflections, Spring 2003)

I learned from my students that my anxiety for teaching inquiry through the use of technology paralleled their concerns for teaching science content and using technology in the science classroom. My students’ concerns, like most novice science educators, focused on their need-to-know the science content and pedagogy, whereas my concerns focused primarily on pedagogy associated with using technology. Although our anxieties do not exactly mirror one another, they do, in fact, inform the needs and concerns we have as educators. Though stressful and disconcerting at times, our reflections empowered us to reveal our internal processes and made us vulnerable to learning how to teach. I felt it was important for all of us to disclose and confront our anxieties.

I found these reflections to be more informative and revealing of my students’ needs and immediate concerns than the results communicated in the feedback forms and SoCI. Although the feedback forms indicated relatively high interest and understanding on the part of my students with each application, the forms did not reveal the internal dilemmas my students were facing with regard to learning how to teach science. Results from the post-SoCI did indicate evidence of persistent concerns among some students (25%) with using IT; however, the instrument did not allow students to disclose in detail their immediate concerns with teaching science using technology. The reflections provided a forum for the students to expose their thinking and for me to question my assumptions about their ways of thinking about how to teach science. By making my self-study inclusive of their needs and ways of thinking, I was able to better assist my students to develop their skills using technology, design appropriate lessons that fostered scientific inquiry using technology, and envision their own ways of teaching science through inquiry.

After several practical experiences, I asked the students to respond to the following prompt: “What are your experiences, feelings, and/or concerns about teaching science using technology now and how do they compare to your initial experiences, feelings, and/or concerns?” Students responded in the following manner:

I feel a lot more confident in what I can do with children in the science classroom. I think personally engaging in different activities using the different forms of technology was very helpful. I can see myself using some of these applications in my own 4th-grade science classroom. So I would say that my feelings have changed quite a bit. (Beth, Reflections, Spring 2003)

I learned that teaching the facts about science is not too terribly important. I mean, the content is not as important as the process. I think my students need to understand and engage in inquiry more often … asking questions, designing their own investigations, testing their ideas, and sharing their results are all important processes for doing science. My students can discover the phenomena that way versus my telling them how a simple circuit works. And I can see how technology can help you do this, but I am not completely convinced that I will use it like we did in class. (Clint, Reflections, Spring 2003)

I think my feelings about teaching science have changed a lot. I feel like I know so much more now than I did months ago. Participating in all the inquiries with my friends was so important to me. I got to experience firsthand how frustrating it is to solve a problem or to use the program to create a chart. I am concerned as to whether or not my own students, young children, will have the same kind of persistence and interest that I had when they get frustrated with science or using the technology. How do I help them develop the right kinds of scientific attitudes they need to engage successfully and productively in inquiry? (Kristen, Reflections, Spring 2003)

Based on these reflections, I saw that my students continued to raise interesting questions that were focused on their own students’ needs and capabilities. It appeared that their concern for teaching science content had been replaced with a genuine concern for their students. Also, their confidence associated with using the technology had improved (e.g., Beth), although some students remained skeptical as to whether or not they would use technology in their own practice (e.g., Clint). This raised a new question: Should teachers avoid using technology because they do not feel they have a level of expertise? According to Becker (2001), teachers often grapple with ill-defined conceptions of expertise associated with using technology. Becker stated, “Differences in computer use among subject-matter teachers are often dependent upon their own belief and confidence in using the technology themselves” (p. 21). In Becker's view, if teachers decide to use technology, they do so, not because of features inherent in the technology, but on the basis of their knowledge and expertise.

When I shared these reflections with the education technology specialist, we raised additional questions, such as is it legitimate not to start with using technology and to focus on teaching scientific inquiry first, then introduce the use of the technology? Should using technology in the science classroom be taught as a discrete enterprise or an integrated endeavor? Are there alternative solutions to integrating technology in an elementary science teacher preparation program that prepare preservice teachers to construct the technical, content, and practical knowledge necessary to teach science effectively? How can science teacher educators help their students balance content, pedagogy, and technological issues intrinsic in science teaching?

According to Pedersen and Yerrick (2000), integrating technology in science content instruction is not only important, but imperative: “Teacher education programs bear a large part of the responsibility to rear teachers prepared to use technology … in line with current science education visions” (p. 145). They further stated that science teacher educators need increased support, instruction, knowledge, and resources to aid them in this endeavor. In my self-study, I described the support I received, the investment I made, and the novel expertise I developed. Accompanying this expertise was my assumption that my students would exhibit the same commitment—choices only an expert science teacher makes to inform the hows and whys of integration.

Conclusion

My aim in this article has been to profile my integration of instructional technology in an elementary science methods course as both a novice science teacher educator and practitioner using instructional technology and to describe an emerging perspective of how my students, preservice teachers, responded to these instructional activities through collaborative reflection. I incorporated the use of inquiry-based instruction accompanied by the processes of teacher action research. This self-study emphasized a systematic, self-critical approach to addressing the phenomenon of how I assisted preservice teachers to begin viewing technology as an important tool for teaching science through inquiry. I demonstrated how technology integration and my shared reflection on that process uncovered methods students’ thinking about how to teach science using technology. Furthermore, I explained how my new understandings of preservice teachers’ reflective thinking influenced subsequent cycles in my action research in which I implemented curricular changes in the elementary science methods course.

By sharing my personal reflections with my methods students and listening intently to their own reflective accounts, I have begun to conceptualize the relationship between the modeling of reflective practice and its development in, and use by, preservice science teachers. Abell et al. (1998) and van Zee (1998b) found that authority of experience derived through reflection in and on practice is meaningful and useful to methods students as they become practicing science teachers. In this study, my students learned from their experiences of teaching science through inquiry using instructional technology and regarded their experiences as a source of authority (Munby & Russell, 1994).

Integrating technology into the methods course prompted my students to question their ideas about teaching science and using technology and, subsquently, to begin to develop their own use of technology as a habit of mind in their science teaching practice. The students’ initial concerns about learning how to teach science were consistent with other research that has found learning teaching skills to be a primary concern and expectation of elementary methods students (Boone, 1993; Butts, Koballa, & Elliott, 1997; Rice & Roychoudhury, 2003). My students’ concerns forced me to reveal my own tentative thoughts, ideas, and assumptions about preparing prospective science educators. As my students and I developed interest in and understanding of using technology, we discovered collaborative reflection to be both meaningful and useful in reframing our personal theories about science teaching and learning.

This study contributes to the literature that van Zee (1998a) described as promising research on educating prospective science teachers to become reflective practitioners. My approach to self-study has much in common with other self-studies in science teacher education. Rice and Roychoudhury (2003), for example, used self-study as a vehicle to examine how the actions of an elementary science methods teacher influenced the development of her students’ confidence as science teachers. In my self-study, I investigated my actions at integrating instructional technology and what impact that made on my students’ knowledge and understanding of teaching elementary school science. Both studies placed emphasis on the methods teachers’ expressed concerns about the development of elementary science teachers and highlighted the capacity of self-critical inquiry as an effective way to address and improve the preparation and, consequently, the quality of instruction.

Although this study reflects an independent approach to conducting reflective inquiry, elements of collaboration did transpire over the course of my work in the methods course. I encouraged ongoing interactions among my colleagues and students to assure that I remained grounded in my research while open minded to new ideas, questions, and concerns. What I have learned from my practical inquiry and reflections is that self-study is best performed in a collaborative setting (Barnes, 1998; Loughran & Northfield, 1998). It was important that there were opportunities for me to test out my action strategies and reflect on them with my students and colleagues. With the help of interested colleagues, I learned over time that I could generate activities in an unfamiliar realm of practice and enhance the existing methods course.

A focus on the personal seemed essential as well. Considering I was a novice science teacher educator and new to using IT in the methods course, I needed to trust my own learning as being dynamic and developmental. To compare this experience with another would defeat the main purpose of my own critical inquiry. Understanding the context and personal nature of the self-study reiterates Loughran and Northfield's (1994) claim that these conditions are key in defining the self-study; reframing one's practice; and, most important, developing an understanding of the actions taken with one's practice.

Acknowledgments

Funding provided by U. S. Department of Education Grant # P342A000075. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007