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Learning Progressions in Scientific Inquiry 

This is a collaboration with researchers at San Diego State University.   


Our major project goals are to understand learning progressions in scientific inquiry for students and teachers and to develop curriculum modules and professional development activities to help teachers support students’ engagement in inquiry. During the first year of our project, we worked with 8 elementary teachers, and their classrooms of students (approximately 240 students, grades 3-6).  We are now working with 20 teachers, in two public school systems.

     We started our work with the assumption that elementary students have resources for engaging in scientific inquiry – we define that to mean "the pursuit of coherent, mechanistic accounts of natural phenomena" - but that they do not necessarily apply those resources reliably or deliberately. Through close analysis of videotaped classroom interaction and artifacts of student work, we seek to identify episodes of scientific reasoning, describe their nature, and then understand the dynamics that lead students into and out of attending to mechanistic accounts and seeking coherence.  Over time, we seek to establish what more stable and deliberate commitments to reasoning look like, and from what conditions they arise.

     Recognizing the interplay between teachers’ facility to support student inquiry and students’ engagement in inquiry, we also consider teachers’ progression in their abilities to facilitate scientific inquiry.  Through research on our professional development activities and teachers’ classroom teaching, we seek to better understand what scaffolding, instructional activities, and professional development activities support teachers’  attention, awareness, and responsiveness to the substance of students’ ideas and reasoning. We have collected and analyzed baseline data from teachers on key-aspects of reform-oriented teaching and will continue to track teachers’ practice throughout the project. This data is primarily videotape of classroom teaching, (both within the module and in non-module teaching), of summer and bi-weekly professional development sessions, and of interviews. We analze this video for what teachers are attending to while teaching and in reflection on teaching, for what they notice and pursue, as well as for what their moves in class appear to promote in students’ reasoning and understandings.

     The project supports teachers in their classroom practices through both the  modules and professional development activities.  We are designing modules for four grade levels in four different content areas: motion (3rd grade), electric circuits (4th grade), water cycle (5th grade), and ecology (6th grade).  Each module consists of an opening question aimed at generating substantive student conversation, anticipations of what ideas might arise in that conversation, and suggestions for ways the teacher might respond, including ideas for topics or activities that would follow-up on students’ reasoning. In the end, the module will include video vignettes embedded in the descriptions of the opening and possible follow-up activities to illustrate the kinds of class discussion that might emerge, along with extensive commentary on interpretations of students’ ideas and reasoning and suggestions for possible in-the-moment and next day responsive moves .

     For professional development we have focused both on engaging teachers in scientific inquiry and in examining scientific inquiry in their classrooms.  During the summer workshops, and occasionally during the school year meetings, the teachers have had extensive discussions about various scientific topics (e.g. electric circuits and composting), lead by project staff.  The purpose of these activities is to help provide teachers with ‘images’ both of what scientific inquiry is and how it may play out in a classroom.  To help teachers practice attending to students’ ideas and reasoning, we spent much of the time during the school year PD sessions examining video from the teachers own classrooms, focusing on what the students say and considering responsive moves.  

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