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.