Inquiry-based science teaching tested in Central Florida district

An FSU researcher yesterday reported on the results of a large scale study of inquiry-based teaching in space science conducted in 4th and 5th grade classes in elementary schools in an unnamed Central Florida school district from 2007 to 2009.  The report was given in a talk to the FSU Biological Sciences Department on Thursday.

The study was conducted in the form of a “randomized-cluster experimental field trial”, in which teachers and their classes were sorted into two groups and the performance levels of the two groups compared.  In one group, called the “treatment group”, teachers were trained to use a progressive inquiry-based curriculum developed at the Lawrence Hall of Science located at the University of California, Berkeley during a four-day summer workshop and several follow-up sessions.  In the second group, called the “control group”, teachers were constrained to use the district’s adopted space science text and not allowed to use inquiry strategies in their teaching.  In fact, the researcher, Dr. Ellen Granger, pointed out that the careful monitoring of both groups of teachers and classes and the prohibition of the use of inquiry strategies in the control group was an important feature of the FSU study.  There were about 60 teachers and 1200 students in each group, and 29 schools were involved.

Student testing performed right at the completion of the unit demonstrated that students in the treatment group had a significantly higher level of achievement in both the understanding of the specific space science content taught during the unit and a more general understanding of how science is practiced than students in the control group.  A retesting of the students five months later showed that the difference between the treatment group and the control group in the specific understanding of the space science content had disappeared, but that the treatment group maintained an advantage in its understanding of how science is practiced.

The use of large-scale experimental field trials has been pushed by federal education officials as the only valid way of testing educational innovations.

The results of the study have not yet been published.

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2 Responses to Inquiry-based science teaching tested in Central Florida district

  1. Jonathan Smith says:

    Sorry but I’m not convinced on this one. Just for the record, inquiry-based learning has been around since the 60’s so this may be just an offshoot of the original idea.

    The basic pedagogical concept is formed around learning that is generated by students questions and not on direct instructions from the teachers.Ergo- the teachers job is not to provide knowledge but to help students discover knowledge themselves.

    However, there is no good body of research or controlled studies that upholds this technique. Students with good prior knowledge may respond a little better to this form of teaching,while there is some indication that less motivated students fair much worse, acquiring many learning misconceptions and incomplete knowledge. Inquiry-based science seems to be the current trend in mainstream teaching,but as usual,it is being carried to excess (according to a report by the Thomas B Fordham Institute)

    I’m still of the opinion that the “chalk and talk”method of imparting direct knowledge works for most main stream students.

  2. DSW says:

    I recently read an opinion piece that elementary kids spend too much time on math. The author suggested educators wait until the 6th grade and kids would “naturally” get it much faster. While I agree there is some innate number sense in kids, math is like reading–an arbitrarily devised way of communicating information. Reading is certainly not innate; it must be explicitly taught. This goes for science as well, both content and skills. Florida’s Nature of Science benchmarks articulate this position nicely. Inquiry based teaching is one strategy to use, but it must be combined with direct instruction if it is to cover all the material. Kids don’t always ask all the right questions, even with prompting.

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