Friedrichsen, P., Munford, D., & Zembal-Saul, C. (2003). Using inquiry empowering technologies to support prospective teachers' scientific inquiry and science learning. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 3(2). Available: http://www.citejournal.org/vol3/iss2/currentpractice/article2.cfm
Using Inquiry Empowering Technologies to Support Prospective Teachers' Scientific Inquiry and Science Learning
The Inquiry Empowering Technologies for
Supporting Scientific Inquiry course was designed to engage
prospective teachers, as science learners, in developing their
understandings about and abilities to do scientific inquiry. The
design of the course was informed by three central goals: (a)
engage prospective science teachers in authentic science
experiences in a technology-rich environment designed to promote
and support scientific inquiry; (b) situate science learning
within a social context; and (c) promote reflection on
learning. Pedagogical approaches used in the course are described
in detail within the context of a life science module.
Throughout the course, prospective teachers reflected on their
own experiences as learners of science; these learning
experiences appear to serve as powerful referents for novice teachers
as they learn to teach science through the use of
inquiry empowering technologies.
The notion of scientific inquiry is at the core of reform views of
science teaching and learning (National Research Council [NRC], 1996,
2000). Consequently, teachers are being asked to teach science in ways that
differ from their own past experiences as learners of science (Putnam &
Borko, 1997). To prepare future science teachers to meet the vision proposed
in reform documents, prospective teachers need to have experiences
engaging in scientific inquiry as learners. The purpose of this paper is to describe
the design of an innovative, technology-rich, inquiry-based science
course, Inquiry Empowering Technologies for Supporting Scientific Inquiry. In
this course, prospective secondary science teachers engaged, as science
learners, in authentic science investigations using inquiry empowering
technologies and reflected on these experiences to reconsider their roles as
science teachers. In this paper, the rationale for the course and theoretical
underpinnings will be followed by a discussion of the course goals. This one
semester course consisted of three instructional units, referred to as modules —
one each in life, physical, and earth science. For the purposes of this
paper, pedagogical approaches for meeting the course goals will be illustrated
with examples from the life science module. We conclude with a brief
discussion of research implications within the context of the course.
Course Rationale and Theoretical Underpinnings
In the National Science Education
Standards (NRC, 1996), two elements of scientific inquiry
for science learners have been emphasized: abilities to
do scientific inquiry and understandings about scientific inquiry. Engaging
in scientific inquiry involves focusing on scientifically oriented
questions, giving priority to evidence in responding to questions, formulating
explanations from evidence, connecting explanations to scientific knowledge,
and communicating and justifying explanations (NRC, 2000, p. 29).
This definition of engaging in scientific inquiry represents a shift in the focus
of teaching: less emphasis on "science as exploration and experiment"
(or hands-on activities), and increasing emphasis on "science as argument
and explanation" (or minds-on activities) (Abell, Anderson, & Chezem,
2000; Kuhn, 1993; NRC, 1996).
The notion that learning science also means learning
a way of thinking about nature underlies the other major dimension of scientific inquiry
for learners, that is, that they should develop understandings about
inquiry. Scientific inquiry from a reform-oriented perspective implies
that through school science, students should learn
how to "engage in a dialogue with the material world" (Wheeler, 2000). Moreover, in order to
understand how scientific knowledge is constructed, it is not enough to
understand scientists' practices. Rather, it is fundamental that science is understood in
a cultural and social context (Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000).
Science educators have referred to this broader construct as the "nature of
science" (NOS). Unfortunately, NOS aspects of scientific inquiry, in particular,
have been overlooked in school science (Bybee, 2000).
How do we achieve a more encompassing understanding of
scientific inquiry in school science so that learners develop both understandings
about and abilities to do scientific inquiry? Teachers need to create
opportunities for students to engage in inquiry-based investigations, in conjunction
with helping students reflect on those experiences to develop
understandings of scientific inquiry. To meet this challenge, teachers need to have a
thorough understanding of scientific inquiry (in addition to having robust
understandings of subject matter and inquiry-oriented teaching strategies;
Bybee (2000). Unfortunately, many prospective teachers have not learned
science in this way and know little about scientific inquiry. How, then, can
they realize the vision of science education reform in their classrooms? It is
the responsibility of teacher educators to provide support in this area.
The course described here, Inquiry Empowering Technologies for
Supporting Scientific Inquiry, was designed to support prospective teachers in
developing their own abilities and understandings of scientific inquiry.
Status of Teacher Education Preparation in Technology
"Most preservice teachers know very little about effective use
of technology in education and leaders believe there is a pressing need
to increase substantially the amount and quality of instruction teachers
receive about technology," stated Willis and Mehlinger (1996, p. 978) in
their review of the literature on information technology and teacher education.
In addition, The United States Office of Technology Assessment
(U.S. Congress, 1995), in assessing preservice teacher education, found
that technology was not a central component of teacher preparation programs
in most colleges of education. A summary of the report's key findings stated,
" Most technology instruction in colleges of education is teaching
technology as a separate subject, not teaching
with technology across the curriculum" (p. 165). The Web-Based Education Commission
(2000) summarized the inherent problem in offering a separate course in
information technology: "But providing a stand-alone course about technology
is not the same as ensuring that courses in teaching methods integrate
technology as a way of building understanding or assessing learning" (p. 31).
In response to the current status of teacher preparation, the
Association for the Education of Teachers in Science (AETS) has proposed the
following guidelines for using technology in the preparation of science teachers:
Technology should be introduced in the context of science content.
Technology should address worthwhile science with
Technology instruction in science should take advantage of the
unique features of technology.
Technology should make scientific views more accessible.
Technology instruction should develop students' understanding of
the relationship between technology and science. (Flick & Bell, 2000,
In this paper, we describe an innovative course that attempts to meet
the guidelines proposed by AETS. Although taught in the College of
Education, Inquiry Empowering Technologies for Supporting Scientific Inquiry is
a science content course with the focus on science learning, rather than
a science "methods" course. The instructional team selected science topics
in which alternative conceptions abound. The computer-based tools
selected for use in the course, referred to as "inquiry empowering
technologies" (Zembal-Saul, 2002; Zembal-Saul, Munford, & Friedrichsen, 2002),
were specially designed to support scientific inquiry by providing access
to complex databases and powerful tools for organizing and analyzing
data, visualizing complex scientific phenomena, and constructing
evidence-based arguments (Krajcik, Blumenfeld, Marx, & Soloway, 2000; Reiser, Tabak,
& Sandoval, 2001). The use of electronic journals and the development
of web-based science teaching and learning philosophies were
essential components of the course, allowing students' views to be made
Through public sharing of ideas, students were able to compare and
contrast their views with those of the scientific community. Additionally, the
web-based philosophies and class discussions were designed to support
the students' developing understandings of the relationship between
technology and science.
The Context of the Secondary Science
Teacher Education Program
The course, Inquiry Empowering Technologies for Supporting
Scientific Inquiry, is the first course in a three-semester sequence of science
teaching and learning courses. This first course is designed to provide
reform-oriented science learning experiences early in the program. The second
and third courses in the sequence focus on science
teaching (i.e., methods courses). At the end of the third course, prospective teachers enroll in a
5-week practicum in which they observe and teach in secondary schools.
As part of this practicum experience, prospective teachers design and teach
an inquiry-based science unit. After the completion of these three courses
and practicum experience, prospective secondary science teachers enter
their student teaching semester.
Description of the Course
The design of the course was informed by three central goals: (a)
engage prospective science teachers (PSTs) in authentic science experiences in
a technology-rich environment designed to promote and support
scientific inquiry; (b) situate science learning within a social context; and (c)
promote reflection on learning. In reference to "authentic" science experiences,
the instructional team wanted prospective teachers to
participate in practices and discourses that parallel those taking place in "formal science"
(Brown, Collins, & Duiguid, 1989). For instance, an essential aspect of
work involves investigation in a rich and complex context to reach
conclusions based on evidence (Hogan & Maglienti, 2001). By engaging
students in authentic science experiences, the intent was to promote a shift from
a discourse centered in authority to a discourse centered on interpretation
of evidence (Osborne, Erduran, Simon, & Monk, 2000). In addition,
the instructional team selected a set of inquiry empowering technologies as
an essential component of creating authentic science experiences.
"The successful adaptation of scientific practice for learning will place the
tools and techniques of scientists into the hands of students in a context
that reflects the characteristics of science practice" (Edelson, 1998, p.
319). Furthermore, by engaging students in authentic science experiences,
the instructional team expected that prospective teachers' knowledge about
the natural world would become less inert and could be used by these learners
in realistic situations (Edelson, 2001).
The second goal was to challenge traditional conceptions of
science learning, which are centered on factual information and
individualistic sense-making (Driver, Leach, Millar, & Scott, 1996). The
instructional team's goal was to promote a notion of scientific knowledge as
socially constructed, an idea that has became increasingly prevalent in
science education and teacher education literature (e.g., Putnam & Borko,
1997; Roth, 1995). Thus, in this course, the instructional team designed
opportunities for students to work collaboratively to construct scientific
understanding. The third goal was to promote PSTs' reflection on their science
learning experiences. This goal derives from the perspective that the learner is
the one who actively constructs knowledge, instead of being a passive
receptor of information. Thus, opportunities for PSTs to reflect on their
experiences and construct new understandings included peer review sessions,
class discussions, and the ongoing development of a web-based philosophy
of science teaching and learning.
Course Structure: Three Discipline-Specific Modules
The instructional team, consisting of a professor and three graduate
students, worked collaboratively to design, implement, and revise the course. Each
of the graduate students served as the lead instructor for a module, drawing
on their expertise as former secondary science teachers. The 15-week
course was comprised of three modules, with each module focusing on a
science discipline: life, physical, and earth science. The course was
designed to engage learners in multiple science disciplines for several reasons.
First, the instructional team wanted the prospective teachers to experience at
least one of the modules as learners. Secondary science teachers major in
a specific science discipline, and the instructional team expected that
the prospective teachers would have more content knowledge in some
modules (those most closely connected to their major) and less in other
modules. Findings from a pilot study indicated that some prospective teachers
resisted engaging as learners in a module in their content area, in an attempt to
avoid opening themselves up to the possibility of revealing a lack of robust
subject matter knowledge (Zembal-Saul, Munford, Crawford, Friedrichsen, &
Land, 2001). By designing the course with modules in multiple disciplines,
the instructional team's intent was to engage the prospective teachers as
science learners, rather than perceived content experts.
Second, by representing multiple disciplines in the course, the
instructional team's intent was to address an aspect of the nature of science
frequently neglected in school science — the common misconception of a
single scientific method. This misconception is rarely challenged in
classrooms (Driver et al., 1996; Rudolph & Stewart, 1998), despite the
extensive evidence derived from science studies (Hess, 1997). For example, in the
life science module, students analyzed a dataset of observational field
data, whereas in the physical science module, students collected and
analyzed experimental data. The course design reflected the instructors' goal
of challenging PSTs' preconceived notions of a single scientific method.
Module Structure: Pedagogical Approaches Illustrated with the
Life Science Module
Consistent pedagogical approaches were used across the three modules
(see Table 1). Within each module, a problem context and a driving
question were used to focus the students' inquiry. Evolutionary biology was the
focus of the life science module. At the beginning of each module, students'
prior knowledge was assessed. Throughout the module, students used
inquiry empowering technologies to build evidence-based arguments. The
students engaged in peer review, and class presentations and electronic journals
were used for assessment purposes. At the end of each module, students
revised their web-based science teaching and learning philosophies. In the
sections, these pedagogical approaches are elaborated and illustrated
with examples from the life science module.
Overview of Modules
did the finches die in 1977?
some finches survive?
Galapagos Finches software
a dataset of observational field data, role of theory emphasized
happens when light leaves its source?
we see what we see?
et al., 1996- 1999)
& analyzed experimental data
global temperatures increasing?
causing changes in global temperatures?
& Gordin, 1998)
empirical data and established datasets, complex scientific representations
through visualization, socio-cultural aspects of NOS
Using an Authentic Problem Context with Driving Questions
Each module was centered within a problem context focused by a
driving question. In the life science module, prospective teachers worked in pairs
to investigate an authentic problem, one that Rosalyn and Peter Grant
encountered in the Galapagos Islands during the 1970s (Grant, 1986;
1994). The student pairs were required to explain the drastic decrease in
the population of ground finches in 1977, as well as determine why some
birds were able to survive. To do this, they used the
Galapagos Finches software to study a rich dataset from the island Daphne Major. We
intentionally selected the Galapagos
Finches software and the supporting
curriculum, Struggle for Survival, because of the focus on creating a context for
scientific inquiry and supporting the construction of evidence-based arguments.
The software and curriculum are part of the Biology Guided Inquiry
Learning Environment (BGuILE) project directed by Brian Reiser at
Northwestern University (see
http://www.letus.org/bguile) and supported by
LeTUS (Learning Technologies in Urban Schools; see
http://www.letus.org). Scientists have reached some consensus regarding what caused the death
of so many birds, while there are still uncertainties regarding how some
birds managed to survive (Grant & Grant, 1989). In other words, the task did
not involve simply confirming something that had been extensively
corroborated by scientists. In that sense, the students engaged in an authentic
Eliciting Students' Prior Knowledge
Students' prior conceptions were elicited at the beginning of each
module. In the life science module, a portion of Bishop and Anderson's (1990)
paper and pencil questionnaire was used. The questionnaire is designed to
elicit common alternative conceptions regarding natural selection and its role
in evolution. As an out-of-class assignment, students read the Bishop
and Anderson (1990) article, which contrasts common alternative conceptions
to biologists' conceptions of evolution by natural selection. In a
follow-up whole class discussion, the students explored possible sources of
their alternative conceptions.
Constructing Evidence-based Arguments
Within each module, a driving question focused the students' inquiry.
In response to the driving question, students built arguments consisting
of claims, evidence, and justifications. Claims were defined as
assertions grounded in data/evidence that were intended to account for the
under investigation. Evidence was drawn directly from the investigation
and assumed multiple forms (e.g., graphs, numerical data, field notes).
Finally, justification provided an explicit rationale indicating how/why a
particular piece of evidence was appropriate for supporting a claim.
Working in pairs, the PSTs sorted through the data, examined the data set for patterns,
and collected evidence for their arguments. Electronic journals were used to
aid students in this process (see Figure 1). In the life science module,
the students used Explanation Constructor, which is part of The
Galapagos Finches software. An important feature of the
Explanation Constructor was the linking feature, which allowed students easily to connect specific
pieces of evidence to the claims that they supported (Reiser et al., 2001;
Sandoval & Reiser, 1997).
Figure 1. Screen shot of electronic journal.
As part of creating authentic science experiences, peer review
was incorporated into each module. Using a peer review
assessment sheet (see appendix) as a guide, each pair of students reviewed another pair's
electronic journal. After completing the assessment sheets, the two pairs met
for face-to-face discussions. During this time, the PSTs shared their critique
of the argument, reviewing each claim and the strength of the evidence
used. Students were encouraged to use multiple pieces of evidence to support
each claim, as well as to consider alternative explanations. After the peer
review, the students were given additional class time to revise their arguments
based on peer feedback.
As a summative assessment task, students created
PowerPoint presentations (PowerPoint
1) of their arguments. In creating their
presentations, students were asked to outline their arguments, selecting only the
most powerful pieces of evidence to support their claims. Students also
included alternative arguments they had explored. Each student analyzed the
same dataset, so they were able to ask critical questions during the class
presentations. Afterwards, the students were given the opportunity to revise their electronic journals based on feedback given during the class
Developing Web-based Science Teaching and Learning Philosophies
Throughout the course, the students worked on creating their
individual web-based science teaching and learning philosophy (Avraamidou
& Zembal-Saul, 2002). The web-based philosophies were designed
around three main questions: (a) What is the nature of science and
scientific inquiry? (b) What does it mean to learn science in meaningful and
authentic ways? and (c) How can technology support meaningful science learning?
At the end of the evolutionary biology module, the students generated
claims for each of the three guiding questions. The claims needed to be
supported with evidence from their experiences in the evolutionary biology
module (see student example of Version 1 at
). At the completion of each module, students added
to and revised their claims using additional evidence from the new module
(see student example Version 2 at
). Construction of the web-based science teaching and
learning philosophy required the students to reflect on their own science
learning, using the format of an evidence-based argument.
Making Connections to Teaching
Although the primary focus of the course was on science learning,
each module had explicit pedagogical connections. In the evolutionary
biology module, the students examined the Atlas of Science
Literacy's K-12 conceptual strand maps for evolution and natural selection (American
Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], 2001). The maps illustrate
the sequence of concepts, as well as the relationships between concepts,
needed to develop a robust understanding of evolution and natural selection
(AAAS, 2001, pp. 80-83). Prospective secondary science teachers, particularly
those seeking certification in earth science, were able to see how concepts in
their discipline connected to the teaching of evolution. Using the
conceptual strand maps as a guide, PSTs selected National Science Teacher
Association journal articles related to the teaching of evolution. In a written
assignment, students made connections to the module and discussed how the
NSTA journal article informed their future teaching practices.
Conclusions and Research Implications
The Inquiry Empowering Technologies for Supporting Scientific
Inquiry course was designed to engage prospective science teachers, as
science learners, in authentic science investigations. The students
constructed evidence-based arguments with the support of inquiry empowering
technologies. The science experiences were situated within social contexts,
and reflection on learning was a critical component of the course. Within each
of the three discipline-specific modules, the following pedagogical
approaches were used: (a) an authentic problem context with a driving question;
(b) elicitation of students' prior knowledge; (c) evidence-based
argument construction (d) peer reviews; (e) development of web-based
teaching and learning philosophies; and (f) connections to teaching.
Through the course design, our goal was to help prospective teachers develop
both understandings about and
abilities to do scientific inquiry.
The Inquiry Empowering Technologies for Supporting Scientific
Inquiry course has provided a rich context for research. In a
phenomenological study, the second and third authors explored the PSTs' lived experiences
as they participated in the course, focusing on individual students'
understandings of science as argumentation (Munford, 2002). The results of the
study indicated that, from PSTs' perspectives, the learning experiences in
this course were complex and contextualized. Multiple factors interplayed
to define these experiences, namely perceptions about science, learning
and school. Technological tools had the potential to challenge or reinforce
these perceptions, indirectly raising questions about what it means to
learn science, what science is, and what characterizes school science. In
the context of this course, PSTs had the opportunity to consider these
questions in light of their own experiences as learners of science.
Additionally, as researchers, we are interested in the transformation
of subject matter knowledge for teaching — a domain referred to as
pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) (Shulman, 1986).
How do PSTs, as learners, translate their experiences in this course into
teaching science as argumentation? Currently, in a longitudinal study, we are continuing to work
with former students as they enter practica and student teaching
experiences. Initial findings indicate that previous experiences in this course
(and meanings constructed from these experiences) appear to serve as
powerful referents for novice teachers as they learn to teach science as
argumentation through the use of inquiry empowering technologies.
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science
Foundation (NSF REC 9980055). 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.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Association for
the Education of Teachers of Science Annual Meeting, Charlotte, NC,
University of Missouri-Columbia