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Science "by Inquiry” for the Future Elementary Teacher. Jim Alouf, Education, Jill Granger, Chemistry, Hank Yochum, Physics and Engineering, Sweet Briar College. What’s Going on Here? The need to connect research and practice.

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science by inquiry for the future elementary teacher

Science "by Inquiry”for theFuture Elementary Teacher

Jim Alouf, Education,

Jill Granger, Chemistry,

Hank Yochum, Physics and Engineering,

Sweet Briar College

what s going on here the need to connect research and practice
What’s Going on Here?The need to connect research and practice
  • National education agendas encourage an investigative approach to the teaching and learning of science
  • But… in practice, the majority of in-service elementary teachers are reluctant to move away from a more traditional lecture and worksheet based approach in the classroom.


  • Recognizing a disconnection between theory and practice science and education faculty have been working with in-service elementary teachers through in-service development programs on Inquiry based teaching
  • Start at the source: pre-service elementary teachers.
  • In 2002, we began an NSF-funded project to develop new courses in "Science by Inquiry", specifically designed to meet the educational needs of future elementary teachers in terms of content and skills as well as pedagogy.
science by inquiry courses
Science by Inquiry Courses
  • Four Course Curriculum:


By Inquiry


By Inquiry

Earth Science and



Life Science

By Inquiry

Classes are Lecture/Lab format, meet for 6 hours per week,

and students earn 4 credits per course.

  • Introduce undergraduates to the process of science investigation as a tool for learning science content.
  • Introduce science as a discipline which is critically dependent on communication skills.








why approach teacher education in science via inquiry
Why approach Teacher Education in Science via Inquiry?
  • Inquiry is inherently a hands-on and minds-on experience
  • Best practices in science education for meeting the needs of diverse learners, for teaching science as a process (skills), and for showing science in application
a professionally relevant curriculum
A ProfessionallyRelevant Curriculum
  • Focus on Science by Inquiry allows the pre-service teacher to approach science from a pre-professional vantage
  • Based on content areas specified in the National Science Standards and the Virginia Standards of Learning
  • Topics divided between the series of specialty courses with minimal overlap

Our background in teacher education has taught us that teachers need to experience hands-on, inquiry-based science in order to teach hands-on, inquiry-based science

project progression
Project Progression

$50K in NSF-funding




Supplies and



And Travel











Enrollment total was 81, with an average

class size of 13.5. A total of 12 students

finished all of the required courses.

course content development
Course Content Development
  • Review of Virginia Standards of Learning for K-6 in science (and math)
    • Standards were updated in 2003 and course was realigned at that time
  • Divide strands among courses such that all strands are incorporated in the course sequence
  • For Example: Chemistry by Inquiry, focus on…
    • Scientific Investigation, Reasoning, and Logic
    • Matter
  • Chemistry by Inquiry shares topics in some strands with the other Inquiry courses:
    • Life Processes and Living Systems
    • Force, Motion, and Energy
    • Resources
courses utilize a variety of general and content specific resources
Courses utilize a variety of general and content-specific resources:
  • “Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards”, NRC
  • Douglas Llewellyn, “Inquire Within: Implementing Inquiry-based Science Standards”, Corwin Press
  • The Physics by Inquiry course utilizes a single-text, “Physics by Inquiry” developed by McDermott
  • The Chemistry by Inquiry course utilizes a variety of research based and field tested materials:
    • Lawrence Hall of Science, “Full Option Science System”
    • Lawrence Hall of Science, “Great Explorations in Science and Math”
    • Science and Technology for Children (STC) - available through Carolina
    • Other materials developed from various sources, tested with in-service teachers during professional development workshops
overcoming barriers
Overcoming Barriers
  • Identify faculty members who have similar goals and values with respect to science education and the role of scientists to lead reform;
  • Utilize state-mandated changes in licensure requirements to get involved in curricular changes;
  • Build relationships with faculty in the Education department;
  • Gain Administrative support for faculty and facilities
evaluation process
Evaluation Process
  • Iterative process which included planning, implementation, and summative review; completed the cycle twice between spring 2002 and spring 2005;
  • Course materials and student evaluations were reviewed by in-service teacher consultants as well as project evaluator;
  • Project faculty met/communicated on regular basis; project director reported to Teacher Education Advisory committee annually;
  • Project evaluator made annual site-visits and met with in-service consultants as well as project faculty.
Outcomes - In Students’ Content Knowledge and Students’ Attitudes toward Science(from external evaluator’s final report)
  • Students’ test/exam results demonstrate that substantial science content was learned and furthermore that the courses stimulated them to want to learn more science.
  • 100% of students agreed with the statement “What I learned in this class will be useful to me in my classroom work as a teacher of science.”
  • “Students experienced the scientific process and gained more positive attitudes toward science.”
outcomes developmental from external evaluator s final report
Outcomes - Developmental(from external evaluator’s final report)
  • Course evaluations and end of course survey results provide evidence that effective science pedagogy was transferred from the faculty to the future elementary teachers. (Additional follow-up will be needed to determine if that pedagogy gets transferred into the elementary classroom.)
  • Faculty development was enhanced through interactions among the faculty, the external evaluator, the Advisory Committee, and the Education Department. Evidence of the science faculty’s increased expertise was seen by the evaluator through review of the syllabi, course materials, and interviews.
challenges met pedagogy from external evaluator s final report
Challenges Met: Pedagogy(from external evaluator’s final report)
  • Student resistance to the inquiry approach: “Some students struggled with making decisions on their own, possibly a result of the novelty of the inquiry approach to them at this late stage in their education.”
  • Managing student frustration during the inquiry process: “The stronger students digest the course deeper and see inquiry as a way to teach. Many find that what they thought was good science, isn’t, and that what they thought was good science teaching isn’t.”
challenges met facilities from external evaluator s final report
Challenges Met: Facilities(from external evaluator’s final report)
  • Creation of appropriate teaching spaces: traditional science labs were deemed inappropriate for these courses because of lack of flexibility, lack of maneuverability, poor seating options, and visual obstructions. Furthermore the space did not model what a future teacher would encounter professionally.
formative issues from the faculty
Formative “Issues” from the Faculty
  • Breadth and Depth
      • The Virginia Standards of Learning are content rich, making it difficult for faculty to give every topic sufficient attention at what the College Faculty deem collegiate-level. For example, “an understanding of the Periodic Table”… how is that Standard implemented in the course and what level of understanding should the pre-service teachers be held accountable?
  • Reconciling Content and Pedagogy
      • The design of the courses is such that, in addition to providing content, they are also to serve as pedagogy courses/models for the undergraduate students. Science faculty are, to varying degrees, uncomfortable in this role. How is expertise gained and what professional development opportunities are available?
lessons learned new directions sustainability
Lessons Learned: New Directions, Sustainability
  • Pre-Professional Courses for Elementary Education students are not appropriate for fulfilling general education requirement primarily because of different student motivations for learning.
  • Teaching Load considerations: Each course currently gets counted as 50% of full load (course plus lab equivalent). Departments find this difficult to staff in consideration of courses needed for major programs.
  • Moving Life Science to its own course and combining Earth Science with Environmental Geography because of content load was a significant recommendation.
  • Continued faculty development in science education is desired.
  • A Long-term follow-up project will be needed to see how these newly trained teachers put their experiences to use in the classroom.
  • Sequencing the science courses and linking them with appropriate pre-service courses in math are desired.
  • National Science Foundation, CCLI, A&I track, award #0126968
  • Michael Bentley, Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • Mary Haines-Johnson, Joe Seagle, and Ingrid Sherwood; Nelson and Amherst County Public Schools
  • Other members of the Sweet Briar College faculty including those who served on the Teacher Education Advisory Committee 2002-2005
  • Contact Us: Jim Alouf (, Jill Granger (, Hank Yochum (