More student-led science inquiry needed in elementary school

iStock_000016869784XSmallElementary school teachers need more confidence in encouraging children to carry out student-directed, open ended scientific inquiry and/or technological design projects in science, says a new study the Journal of Technology and Design Education.

Many elementary school teachers, who lack self-efficacy in teaching science,  stay close to curriculum guidelines and to customary practices with the result that children learn too little about the nature of science and the false leads, ambiguities and setbacks that go with knowledge-building.

“Although there is considerable academic and official curricular support for promoting student-directed, open-ended science inquiry and technological design
projects, in schools, the reality is that they rarely occur,” the researcher writes.

“Most empirical science and technology activities in school science involve some form of teacher intervention to ensure that students’ ‘products’ (e.g., inventions, theories and laws) are similar or identical to those of professional science and technology.”

In this study, 78 preservice elementary school teachers were encouraged to make student-led inquiry the focus of a research methods class. Only 3 teachers
decided to do so.  As part of their work in the course, teachers learned about a constructivism-informed framework for teaching school science.

The framework has a 3-stage process:

Expressing ideas–Students express their current ideas to explore persistent, frequently sub-conscious conceptions that differ from those that will be taught.

Learning ideas–Organized lessons help students to learn ideas, attitudes, perspectives and to adopt a questioning stance so that they can broaden their repertoires of conceptions and skills.

Judging ideas–Students evaluate (judge) conceptions about nature (e.g., laws, theories and inventions) in student-led problem solving situations. The activities reflect the uncertain nature of scientific inquiry and technological design.

The study focuses on the experience of one student “Colleen” who learned that knowledge building in science and technology is not quite as rigid, predictable
and free from personal involvement as she thought. The study reported on the success she had in promoting student-directed, open-ended technological design projects in class.

“Promoting student-led science and technology projects in elementary teacher education: entry into core pedagogical practices through technological
design,” by John Lawrence Bencze, International Journal of Technology and Design 
Education, 2010, Volume 20, pps. 43-62.


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