Inquiry experiences as a lecture supplement for preservice elementary teachers and general education students

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  • Inquiry experiences as a lecture supplement for preservice elementary teachers andgeneral education studentsJill A. Marshall and James T. Dorward Citation: American Journal of Physics 68, S27 (2000); doi: 10.1119/1.19516 View online: View Table of Contents: Published by the American Association of Physics Teachers Articles you may be interested in The Effect of an InquiryBased Early Field Experience on PreService Teachers Content Knowledge and AttitudesToward Teaching AIP Conf. Proc. 1179, 253 (2009); 10.1063/1.3266729 Modeling Aspects Of Nature Of Science To Preservice Elementary Teachers AIP Conf. Proc. 883, 69 (2007); 10.1063/1.2508693 Students Cognitive Conflict and Conceptual Change in a Physics by Inquiry Class AIP Conf. Proc. 818, 117 (2006); 10.1063/1.2177037 Oersted Medal Lecture 2001: Physics Education ResearchThe Key to Student Learning Am. J. Phys. 69, 1127 (2001); 10.1119/1.1389280 The challenge of science education: Teaching physics to elementary educators AIP Conf. Proc. 399, 99 (1997); 10.1063/1.53201

    This article is copyrighted as indicated in the article. Reuse of AAPT content is subject to the terms at: Downloaded to IP: On: Tue, 11 Nov 2014 00:40:25

  • Inquiry experiences as a lecture supplement for preservice elementaryteachers and general education students

    Jill A. Marshalla) and James T. DorwardUtah State University, Logan, Utah 84322-4415

    ~Received 2 December 1997; accepted 20 March 2000!

    The study reported here was designed to substantiate the findings of previous research on the use ofinquiry-based laboratory activities in introductory college physics courses. The authors sought todetermine whether limited use of inquiry activities as a supplement to a traditional lecture anddemonstration curriculum would improve student achievement in introductory classes for preserviceteachers and general education students. Achievement was measured by responses to problemsdesigned to test conceptual understanding as well as overall course grades. We analyzed the effecton selected student outcome measures in a preliminary study in which some students engaged ininquiry activities and others did not, and interviewed students about their perceptions of the inquiryactivities. In the preliminary study, preservice elementary teachers and female students showedsignificantly higher achievement after engaging such activities, but only on exam questions relatingdirectly to the material covered in the exercises. In a second study we used a common exam problemto compare the performance of students who had engaged in a revised version of the inquiryactivities with the performance of students in algebra and calculus-based classes. The students whohad engaged in inquiry investigations significantly outperformed the other students. 2000American Association of Physics Teachers.


    In recent years a substantial and growing body of researchhas demonstrated that interactive engagement~IE! allowsstudents to construct and implement appropriate mental mod-els of physical phenomena better than the traditional passivelecture~or lecture with prescriptive laboratory! approach tophysics education. McDermott and Redish1 have compiledan exhaustive overview. Basic precepts of cognitive sciencesuggest the importance of IE for all physics students,2 but theneed is particularly acute in the case of preservice elemen-tary teachers, especially given the expectation that these stu-dents will go on to teach science in the same way that theyhave been taught.

    Logically, one might expect a hands-on approach to bebetter for science education in the primary grades. Elemen-tary students are not likely to be engaged by a lecture ordemonstration in which they do not participate. Researchsupports this assertion. Students who regularly engage inhands-on activities have been shown to outperform studentswho do not.3 Further, students who engaged in inquiry ac-tivities ~hands-on activities oriented toward discovery learn-ing! outperformed students in programs that used laboratoryactivities only as verification exercises.4 Perhaps equally im-portant, fourth and fifth graders enjoyment of science hasbeen shown to increase after inquiry exercises.5 This wasparticularly true for female students, supporting a wide-spread contention6 that hands-on experiences are key to re-taining girls interest in science. Lack of teacher preparation,however, has been a major stumbling block in the implemen-tation of inquiry-based curricula.

    Studies have shown that a lack of content knowledge willprevent teachers from using the inquiry approach with theirprimary school students, but even solid content knowledgehas been shown to be insufficient to guarantee that teacherswill adopt this approach.79 McDermott has made a convinc-ing case that physics classes for preservice teachers shouldbe taught by physics department faculty using an inquiry

    approach.10 She describes a 20-year development effort forsuch a course, beginning with the work of Arnold Arons inThe Various Language11 and culminating in the publishedversion ofPhysics by Inquiry.12

    Physics by Inquiryhas been shown to be a highly effectiveapproach to science learning for both preservice and in-service teachers.10 Thackeret al. report that elementary edu-cation majors at Ohio State who were taught usingPhysicsby Inquiry significantly outperformed other students, includ-ing those in a calculus-based course and an honors course, oncommon quantitative and conceptual exam problems.13 Leareports that elementary education majors in that samePhys-ics by Inquiryclass at Ohio State developed more positiveattitudes toward teaching physics and intended to use inquiryactivities when they went on to teach.14

    The Physics by Inquiryapproach enables students to de-velop a more robust conceptual framework, but it requires acommensurately higher commitment of resources on the partof the teaching institution and of students. ThePhysics byInquiry course for preservice teachers as taught at the Uni-versity of Washington and Ohio State consists of six hours aweek10 and three hours twice a week,14 respectively, in alaboratory setting, over the course of two~presumably ten-week! quarter terms. The method requires both a lowstudent-to-instructor ratio and a laboratory setting, resultingin limited class sizes. Physics departments that typicallyteach large numbers of elementary education majors~greaterthan 200, for example! each year would be hard pressed tocommit these necessary resources.

    Students are also required to commit two three-hourblocks per week for two~ten-week! terms to complete thePhysics by Inquirycurriculum, whereas most traditional lec-ture courses for elementary education majors~or generaleducation students! provide a survey of physics in only onequarter or one semester. Upper division female students, inparticular, have expressed concern over the time commit-ment for some inquiry-based programs. These students ex-

    S27 S27Phys. Educ. Res., Am. J. Phys. Suppl.68 ~7!, July 2000 2000 American Association of Physics Teachers This article is copyrighted as indicated in the article. Reuse of AAPT content is subject to the terms at: Downloaded to IP: On: Tue, 11 Nov 2014 00:40:25

  • pressed frustration with a method that was at variance withtheir expectations of learning as straightforward fact gather-ing or memorization.15 Some researchers have argued thatconstructivist curricula such as these may in fact fail tomeet student needs because they do not take into accountstudent expectations and goals.16

    A strict inquiry approach will also result in coverage offewer curriculum topics in the same amount of time. Stu-dents discussed in Ref. 13 covered only electrical circuitsand light and optics in their one-quarter course. Many pro-ponents of science education reform are calling for just sucha trade-off of mile-wide, inch deep coverage for a morenarrowly focused, in depth curriculum, particularly in lightof the recent TIMSS results.17 Yet, the fact remains that theelementary science curriculum in many states requires teach-ers to teach many topics within science. McDermott reportsthat for preservice teachers in a small practice teaching pro-gram at the University of Washington about five~presum-ably ten-week! quarters of work in~physics! courses are re-quired before the students can prepare and teach material thathas not been previously studied, and that the situation issimilar for inservice teachers, although the time requireddoes not appear to be quite so long.9

    Given these constraints~laboratory setting, low student-to-instructor ratio, reduced coverage of topics! on a coursetaught exclusively by the inquiry method, some physics edu-cators have instituted a compromise approach, supplement-ing a traditional lecture with limited exposure to IE. There isevidence that such a combined approach yields improve-ments over traditional instruction alone. In Hakes compre-hensive survey of IE and traditional introductory physicscourses,18,19 some university courses that employed peer in-struction and concept tests20 during lectures achieved Hakefactors nearly double that of any class with traditional in-struction alone. The Hake factor is the normalized gain~ratioof actual gain to possible gain! between pre- and postcoursescores on the Force Concept Inventory~FCI!,21 and is awidely used figure of merit for the effectiveness of instruc-tion in introductory mechanics courses.

    Traditional university physics lecture courses supple-mented with inquiry activities outside of lecture have alsobeen shown to yield higher Hake factors than courses withno inquiry activities. Two examples areTutorials in Intro-ductory Physics22,23 and Group Problem Solving.24 Thesecurricula were both developed in an iterative cycle of re-search, curriculum development, and instruction. TheTuto-rials approach augments a traditional lecture with one hourper week in which small groups of students work onresearch-based worksheets, replacing the traditional recita-tion or problem session in which teaching assistantsmodel problem solving skills and students usually do notactively participate.Group Problem Solvingreplaces a tradi-tional recitation session with one hour per week of IEthrough problem solving in small groups.

    Both these methods have been shown to be effective. Re-dish and Steinberg recently reported a systematic study~withmatched pairs! of more than 2000 university physics studentsat eight institutions.25 These students were enrolled either intraditional lecture courses~no inquiry!, lecture coursessupplemented withTutorials, or Workshop Physics. Work-shop Physicsreplaces lecture, recitation, and laboratory withtwo three-hour sessions per week of research-based,hands-on activities and discussion, and is considered a fullexposure to the inquiry method. A report by Saul26 extended

    the comparison to courses usingGroup Problem Solving.27

    These studies again reported normalized percentage gainsfrom pre- to postcourse administration of the FCI, i.e., Hakefactors.Workshop Physics, which uses the inquiry approachexclusively for six hours each week, yielded the highestHake factor, 0.4160.02. The two limited approaches, how-ever, also achieved significantly higher Hake factors~0.3560.03 and 0.3460.01! with only one hour of inquiry perweek, as compared with traditional, non-inquiry courses(0.1660.03).

    At the time of the study reported here, we knew of nomatched-pair study comparing a limited inquiry approach toa traditional approach for elementary education majors orstudents in non-algebra-, non-calculus-based courses de-signed to fulfill general education requirements. In this con-text, limited inquiry is an average of one hour per week orless of inquiry-based, hands-on activities as a supplement toa regular lecture curriculum.

    To determine the effectiveness of limited exposure to in-quiry activities for elementary education majors and otherstudents in introductory~non-algebra, non-calculus! courses,we implemented a preliminary study of the effectiveness of~1! two-hour inquiry sessions six times during ten weeks forelementary education majors and~2! one-hour inquiry ses-sions six times during ten weeks for general education stu-dents. Following the preliminary study and revision of theinquiry activities based on formative assessment, limited in-quiry activities were implemented for both groups of stu-dents during a third ten-week term.

    We give details of the implementation and a description ofthe inquiry exercises in Sec. II. In Sec. III we describe thevarious formative and summative assessments used. In Sec.IV, we present detailed results, and, in Sec. V, we presentour discussion and conclusions.


    In order to determine the extent to which limited exposureto inquiry activities affects student mastery of concepts forelementary education majors and others in introductory~non-algebra, non-calculus! courses, we incorporated selected in-quiry activities into the curriculum of a large~140 students!lecture class at a large land grant institution. During twoconsecutive ten-week terms~winter and spring quarters,1996! we performed a preliminary study of the inquiry ac-tivities. The activities were then revised and institutionalizedinto our curriculum. During a third ten-week term~winterquarter, 1997!, we performed a comparison study, involvinga common exam problem, with algebra- and calculus-basedclasses at the same institution.

    During each term, the class comprised two groups of stu-dents:~1! those who were taking the course to satisfy generaleducation science requirement and~2! those who were takingthe course to satisfy a laboratory scien...


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