Research in Science Education

, Volume 44, Issue 5, pp 777–800 | Cite as

From Words to Concepts: Focusing on Word Knowledge When Teaching for Conceptual Understanding Within an Inquiry-Based Science Setting

  • Berit S. Haug
  • Marianne Ødegaard


This qualitative video study explores how two elementary school teachers taught for conceptual understanding throughout different phases of science inquiry. The teachers implemented teaching materials with a focus on learning science key concepts through the development of word knowledge. A framework for word knowledge was applied to examine the students’ level of word knowledge manifested in their talk. In this framework, highly developed knowledge of a word is conceptual knowledge. This includes understanding how the word is situated within a network of other words and ideas. The results suggest that students’ level of word knowledge develops toward conceptual knowledge when the students are required to apply the key concepts in their talk throughout all phases of inquiry. When the students become familiar with the key concepts through the initial inquiry activities, the students use the concepts as tools for furthering their conceptual understanding when they discuss their ideas and findings. However, conceptual understanding is not promoted when teachers do the talking for the students, rephrasing their responses into the correct answer or neglecting to address the students’ everyday perceptions of scientific phenomena.


Inquiry Conceptual understanding Science and literacy Video study 


  1. Abd-El-Khalick, F., BouJaoude, S., Duschl, R., Lederman, N. G., Mamlok-Naaman, R., et al. (2004). Inquiry in science education: international perspectives. Science Education, 88, 397–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson, R. D. (2002). Reforming science teaching: what research says about inquiry. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 13(1), 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, R. D. (2007). Inquiry as an organizing theme for science curricula. In S. Abell & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (pp. 807–830). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  4. Bell, B., & Cowie, B. (2001). The characteristics of formative assessment in science education. Science Education, 85(5), 536–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bell, T., Urhahne, D., Schanze, S., & Ploetzner, R. (2010). Collaborative inquiry learning: models, tools, and challenges. International Journal of Science Education, 32(3), 349–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Black, P., & William, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice. doi: 10.1080/0969595980050102.Google Scholar
  7. Blanchard, M. R., Southerland, S. A., & Granger, E. M. (2009). No silver bullet for inquiry: making sense of teacher change following an inquiry-based research experience for teachers. Science Education, 93(2), 322–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Borko, H., & Putnam, R. (1996). Learning to teach. In D. C. Berliner & R. C. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (pp. 673–708). New York: Macmillan Library Reference USA, Simon & Schuster Macmillan.Google Scholar
  9. Bransford, J., Brown, A. L., Cocking, R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school (expanded ed.). National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bravo, M. A., Cervetti, G. N., Hiebert, E. H., Pearson, D. P. (2008). From passive to active control of science vocabulary. In The 56th yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 122–135). Chicago: National Reading Conference.Google Scholar
  11. Cervetti, G. N., Pearson, P. D., Bravo, M. A., & Barber, J. (2006). Reading and writing in the service of inquiry-based science. In R. Douglas, M. P. Klentchy, K. Worth, & W. Binder (Eds.), Linking science and literacy in the K-8 classroom (pp. 221–244). Arlington: National Science Teacher Association Press.Google Scholar
  12. Cervetti, G. N., Barber, J., Dorph, R., Pearson, D., & Goldsmith, P. G. (2012). The impact of an integrated approach to science and literacy in elementary school classrooms. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(5), 631–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chinn, C. A., & Malhotra, B. A. (2002). Epistemologically authentic inquiry in schools: a theoretical framework for evaluating inquiry tasks. Science Education, 86, 175–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Crawford, B. (2007). Learning to teach science as inquiry in the rough and tumble of practice. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(4), 613–642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Crawford, B. (in press, 2014). From inquiry to science practices in the science classroom. In N. Lederman & S. Abell (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (Vol. II). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. Davis, E. A., & Krajcik, J. S. (2005). Designing educative curriculum materials to promote teacher learning. Educational Researcher, 34(3), 3–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Erickson, F. (2012). Qualitative research methods for science education. In B. J. Fraser, K. Tobin, & C. J. McRobbie (Eds.), Second international handbook of science education (pp. 1451–1469). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fogleman, J., McNeill, K. L., & Krajcik, J. (2011). Examining the effect of teachers’ adaptions of a middle school science inquiry-oriented curriculum unit on student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48(2), 149–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Furtak, E. M., & Alonzo, A. C. (2010). The role of content in inquiry-based elementary science lessons: an analysis of teacher beliefs and enactment. Research in Science Education, 40, 425–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Glen, N. J., & Dotger, S. (2009). Elementary teachers’ use of language to label and interpret science concepts. Journal of Elementary Science Education, 21(4), 71–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Guthrie, J. T., Wigfield, A., & Perencevich, K. C. (Eds.). (2004). Motivating reading comprehension: concept-oriented reading instruction. Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  22. Harlen, W. (2003). Enhancing inquiry through formative assessment. San Francisco: Exploratorium, Institute for Inquiry.Google Scholar
  23. Harlen, W., & Holroyd, C. (1997). Primary teachers’ understanding of concepts of science: impact on confidence and teaching. International Journal of Science Education, 19(1), 93–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hmelo-Silver, C. E., & Barrows, H. S. (2006). Goals and strategies of a problem-based learning facilitator. Interdiciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1(1), 21–39.Google Scholar
  25. Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Duncan, R. G., & Chinn, C. A. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in problem-based and inquiry learning: a response to Kirchner, Sweller, and Clark (2006). Educational Psychologist, 42(2), 99–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kind, V. (2009). Pedagogical content knowledge in science education: perspectives and potential for progress. Studies in Science Education, 45(2), 169–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kirchner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 4(12), 75–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lemke, J. (1990). Talking science: language, learning, and values. Norwood: Ablex.Google Scholar
  29. Lotter, C., Harwood, W. S., & Bonner, J. (2007). The influence of core teaching conceptions on teachers’ use of inquiry teaching practices. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(9), 1318–1347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lyman, F. T. (1981). The responsiveness classroom discussion: The inclusion of all students. In A. Anderson (Ed.), Mainstreaming digest (pp. 109–113). College Park: University of Maryland Press.Google Scholar
  31. Magnusson, S. J., & Palincsar, A. S. (2004). Learning from text designed to model scientific thinking in inquiry-based instruction. In E. W. Saul (Ed.), Crossing borders in literacy and scientific instruction (pp. 316–339). Newark: International Reading Association.Google Scholar
  32. Magnusson, S., Krajcik, J., & Borko, H. (1999). Nature, sources, and development of pedagogical content knowledge for science teaching. In J. Gess-Newsome & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Examining pedagogical content knowledge (pp. 95–132). Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  33. Mangold (2010). INTERACT quick start manual V2.4. Mangold International GmbH (Ed.). Accessed 15 September 2013.
  34. McNeill, K. L., & Krajcik, J. (2008). Scientific explanations: characterizing and evaluating the effects of teachers’ instructional practices on student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(1), 53–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mercer, N., Dawes, L., & Staarman, J. K. (2009). Dialogic teaching in the primary science classroom. Language and Education, 23(4), 353–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Minner, D. D., Levy, A. J., & Century, J. (2010). Inquiry-based science instruction-what is it and does it matter? Results from a research synthesis years 1984–2002. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(4), 474–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Minstrell, J., & van Zee, E. (Eds.). (2000). Teaching in the inquiry-based science classroom. Washington: American Association for the Advancement of Science.Google Scholar
  38. Mortimer, E. F., & Scott, P. H. (2003). Meaning making in secondary science classrooms. Philadelphia: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Myhill, D., & Brackley, M. (2004). Making connections: teachers’ use of children’s prior knowledge in whole class discourse. British Journal of Educational Studies, 52(3), 263–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nagy, W. E., & Scott, J. A. (2000). Vocabulary processing. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, D. P. Pearson, R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. III; pp. 269–284). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  41. National Research Council. (2000). Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: a guide for teaching and learning. Washington: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  42. Norris, S., & Phillips, L. (2003). How literacy in its fundamental change is central to scientific literacy. Science Education, 87(2), 224–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. O’Connor, M. C., & Micheals, S. (1996). Shifting participant frameworks: Orchestrating thinking practices in group discussion. In D. Hicks (Ed.), Discourse, learning and schooling (pp. 63–103). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ødegaard, M., & Frøyland, M. (2009). Budding science and literacy. A longitudinal study of using inquiry-based science and literacy in comprehensive schooling. Oslo: Norwegian Centre for Science Education.Google Scholar
  45. Ødegaard, M., Mork, S. M., Haug, B., & Sørvik, G. O. (2012). Categories for video analysis of science lessons. Oslo: Norwegian Centre for Science Education.Google Scholar
  46. Poon, C. L., Lee, Y. J., Tan, A. L., & Li, S. S. L. (2012). Knowing inquiry as practice and theory. Developing a pedagogical framework with elementary school teachers. Research in Science Education, 42(2), 303–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ritchie, S., & Hampson, B. (1996). Learning in-the-making: a case study of science and technology projects in a year six classroom. Research in Science Education, 26(4), 391–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rocard, M. (2007). Science education now: a renewed pedagogy for the future of Europe. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.Google Scholar
  49. Scott, P., Asoko, H., & Lemke, J. (2007). Student conceptions and conceptual learning in science. In S. Abell & N. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (pp. 31–56). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  50. Scott, P., Mortimer, E., & Ametller, J. (2011). Pedagogical link-making: a fundamental aspect of teaching and learning scientific conceptual knowledge. Studies in Science Education, 47(1), 3–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Shavelson, R., Young, D., Ayala, C. C., Brandon, P. R., Furtak, E. M., Ruiz-Primo, M. A., et al. (2008). On the impact of curriculum-embedded formative assessment on learning: a collaboration between curriculum and assessment developers. Applied Measurement in Education, 21(4), 295–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Stahl, S. A., & Stahl, K. A. (2004). Words wizards all! Teaching word meanings in preschool and primary education. In J. F. Baumann & E. J. Kame’enui (Eds.), Vocabulary instruction (pp. 59–78). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  53. Tan, A. L., & Wong, H.-M. (2011). “Didn’t get expected answer, rectify it”: teaching science content in an elementary science classroom using hands-on activities. International Journal of Science Education, 34(2), 197–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Vygotsky, L. S. (1986). Thought and language (translation of Myshlenie i rech’). Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.Google Scholar
  55. Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). Thinking and speech (N. Minich, Trans). In R. W. Rieber & A. S. Carton (Eds.), The collected work of L. S. Vygotsky (pp. 39–285). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  56. Wellington, J., & Osborne, J. (2001). Language and literacy in science education. Philadelphia: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Wilson, C. D., Taylor, J. A., Kowalski, S. M., & Carlson, J. (2010). The relative effects and equity of inquiry-based and commonplace science teaching on students’ knowledge, reasoning, and argumentation. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(3), 276–301.Google Scholar
  58. Windschitl, M. (2004). Folk theories of “inquiry.” How preservice teachers reproduce the discourse and practices of an atheoretical scientific method. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(5), 481–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Yore, L. D., Hand, B., Goldman, S. R., Hildebrand, G. M., Osborne, J. F., Treagust, D. F., et al. (2004). New directions in language and science education research. Reading Research Quarterly, 39(3), 347–352.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Norwegian Centre for Science EducationUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

Personalised recommendations