Science Education Research

Research on Student-Centered Instruction

Transforming science learning through student-centered instruction that engages students in a variety of scientific practices is central to national science-teaching reform efforts. Faculty members from the Office of Science Teaching Activities are actively engaged in scientific research on the effectiveness of science teaching practices. One line of this research has been on the effects of the combination of research-based curricula and teacher professional development on student learning and on teachers' practice. One such study using a large-scale, randomized-cluster experimental design to compare the effects of student-centered and teacher-centered approaches on elementary students' understanding of science concepts was published in Science (October 5, 2012, Vol. 338:105-108). A second line of research is investigating the effects of the Argument Driven Inquiry instructional model on student learning. Publications from this line of work as well as on changes in teachers' practice are in preparation.

Research on Teacher Pedagogical Discontentment

It is well established that many teachers are resistant to take up the messages of change in science teaching if these messages require them to substantially shift their teaching practices. What accounts for this resistance? There is a large body of literature on the effects of teacher beliefs on teaching practices. One line of research into the question of resistance to reform in which faculty members from the Office of Science Teaching Activities engaged has examined teacher pedagogical discontentment. Our work has indicated that pedagogical discontentment contributes to resistance to reform. Further, this work resulted in the design and validation of an instrument to measure pedagogical discontentment. One of the papers resulting from this work can be accessed in Research in Science Education (2011, vol. 41:299-317).

Research on the Effects of Research Experiences for Teachers

Inquiry (engaging in scientific practices) is seen as central to the reform of science teaching and learning, but few teachers have experience with scientific inquiry and thus possess very naive conceptions of it. One promising form of professional development, Research Experiences for Teachers (RETs), allows teachers to experience scientific inquiry by participating in it alongside practicing scientists. RETs are funded in the hopes that these experiences will then translate favorably into inquiry in the classroom. This line of research is investigating the effectiveness of such programs and what are their necessary and sufficient aspects to positively impact student learning. Two publications on this can be found in Journal of Science Education (2009, Vol. 93:322-360 and 2010, Vol. 94:577-616). Additional publications are forthcoming.

Research on Teacher Interactions with Curricula

The findings of science education research and the central features of the national science teaching reform efforts have produced promising, well-designed instructional materials that have undergone years of development, field-testing, and revision; however, despite extensive efforts to precipitate educational change using such materials, classroom teaching practices remain largely unaffected. Reform-minded teaching places many demands on teachers, requiring both well-designed curricula and professional development to support teachers to change their classroom practice. Further, research has shown that teachers' personal characteristics are very influential in shaping their teaching practices. Faculty members in the Office of Science Teaching Activities have been investigating the interaction of context and practice with teachers' knowledge and beliefs about science teaching through a large-scale, randomized cluster research project. Preliminary results from this work were presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (2010, Comparing Reform-Based and Traditional Curricula in a Large-Scale, Randomized Cluster Design Study: The Interaction Between Curriculum and Teacher's Knowledge and Beliefs, Philadelphia, PA) and the publications from this work are in preparation.