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Inquiry-based science in a primary classroom : professional development impacting practice

Fittell, David (2010) Inquiry-based science in a primary classroom : professional development impacting practice. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

Abstract

The critical factor in determining students' interest and motivation to learn science is the quality of the teaching. However, science typically receives very little time in primary classrooms, with teachers often lacking the confidence to engage in inquiry-based learning because they do not have a sound understanding of science or its associated pedagogical approaches. Developing teacher knowledge in this area is a major challenge. Addressing these concerns with didactic "stand and deliver" modes of Professional Development (PD) has been shown to have little relevance or effectiveness, yet is still the predominant approach used by schools and education authorities. In response to that issue, the constructivist-inspired Primary Connections professional learning program applies contemporary theory relating to the characteristics of effective primary science teaching, the changes required for teachers to use those pedagogies, and professional learning strategies that facilitate such change. This study investigated the nature of teachers' engagement with the various elements of the program. Summative assessments of such PD programs have been undertaken previously, however there was an identified need for a detailed view of the changes in teachers' beliefs and practices during the intervention. This research was a case study of a Primary Connections implementation. PD workshops were presented to a primary school staff, then two teachers were observed as they worked in tandem to implement related curriculum units with their Year 4/5 classes over a six-month period. Data including interviews, classroom observations and written artefacts were analysed to identify common themes and develop a set of assertions related to how teachers changed their beliefs and practices for teaching science. When teachers implement Primary Connections, their students "are more frequently curious in science and more frequently learn interesting things in science" (Hackling & Prain, 2008). This study has found that teachers who observe such changes in their students consequently change their beliefs and practices about teaching science. They enhance science learning by promoting student autonomy through open-ended inquiries, and they and their students enhance their scientific literacy by jointly constructing investigations and explaining their findings. The findings have implications for teachers and for designers of PD programs. Assertions related to teaching science within a pedagogical framework consistent with the Primary Connections model are that: (1) promoting student autonomy enhances science learning; (2) student autonomy presents perceived threats to teachers but these are counteracted by enhanced student engagement and learning; (3) the structured constructivism of Primary Connections resources provides appropriate scaffolding for teachers and students to transition from didactic to inquiry-based learning modes; and (4) authentic science investigations promote understanding of scientific literacy and the "nature of science". The key messages for designers of PD programs are that: (1) effective programs model the pedagogies being promoted; (2) teachers benefit from taking the role of student and engaging in the proposed learning experiences; (3) related curriculum resources foster long-term engagement with new concepts and strategies; (4) change in beliefs and practices occurs after teachers implement the program or strategy and see positive outcomes in their students; and (5) implementing this study's PD model is efficient in terms of resources. Identified topics for further investigation relate to the role of assessment in providing evidence to support change in teachers' beliefs and practices, and of teacher reflection in making such change more sustainable.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 37633
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Watters, James& Kidman, Gillian
Keywords: beliefs, case study, constructivism, education, elementary, inquiry, nature of science, pedagogy, primary, Primary Connections, professional development, science
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 30 Sep 2010 09:47
Last Modified: 29 Oct 2011 06:00

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