Inquiry-Based Instruction and Teaching About Nature of Science: Are They Happening?

Abstract

Anecdotal accounts from science educators suggest that few teachers are teaching science as inquiry. However, there is little empirical evidence to support this claim. This study aimed to provide evidence-based documentation of the state-of-use of inquiry-based instruction and explicit instruction about nature of science (NOS). We examined the teaching practice and views of inquiry and NOS of 26, well-qualified and highly motivated 5th–9th-grade teachers from across the country in order to establish the extent to which their views and practice aligned with ideas in reform-based documents. We used a mixed-methods approach analyzing lesson descriptions, classroom observations, videotape data, questionnaires, and interviews to assess teaching practice and views of inquiry and NOS of these teachers. We also determined the relationships between teachers’ views and their teaching practice. Findings indicated the majority of these teachers held limited views of inquiry-based instruction and NOS. In general, these views were reflected in their teaching practice. Elements of inquiry including abilities, understandings, and essential features were observed or described in less than half the classrooms. Most commonly, teachers focused on basic abilities to do inquiry instead of the essential features or important understandings about inquiry. When aspects of inquiry were present, they were generally teacher-initiated. There was also little evidence of aspects of NOS in teachers’ instruction. This study provides empirical evidence for the claim that even some of the best teachers currently struggle to enact reformed-based teaching. Further, it highlights the critical need for an agreement upon definition of inquiry-based instruction and the need to develop appropriate and feasible assessments that specifically target inquiry to track changes in teachers’ views and practice. Important implications include the heightened need for rigorous and continuous professional development to support teachers in learning about inquiry and NOS and how to enact reform-based instruction in classrooms.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This study was conducted prior to a multi-year teacher professional development program. We reported on the change in teachers’ views after the professional development experience in a conference paper presented at the European Science Education Research Association. This paper is currently in review.

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Acknowledgments

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. NSF 733233. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to Daniel K. Capps.

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Capps, D.K., Crawford, B.A. Inquiry-Based Instruction and Teaching About Nature of Science: Are They Happening?. J Sci Teacher Educ 24, 497–526 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10972-012-9314-z

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Keywords

  • Inquiry
  • Nature of science
  • Views
  • Practice