TIME TO LEARN: EXPLORING TEACHERS’ LEARNING AS THEY REFINE THEIR PRACTICE TO INCLUDE TECHNOLOGY-ENHANCED SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY
A university and a school district have entered into a district-wide collaboration to increase the capacity of teachers from grades 4-12 to design, implement and assess student-centered science inquiry teaching and learning practices. During the first year of this program 181 teachers participated in a series of workshops to facilitate the classroom implementation of student-centered projects and generated work samples that were used to assess student learning in the area of science inquiry. An analysis of data collected during the first year of this program revealed the presence of critical junctures encountered by teachers as they attempt to acquire new scientific knowledge and skills and implement changes their teaching practices. These critical junctures are obstacles that cause teachers to doubt their ability and skills or call into question the validity of new teaching practices. A qualitative study of 18 teachers yielded learning portraits of these teachers as they entered and proceeded through critical junctures in their learning process. This paper identifies the presence of these critical junctures and documents strategies that teachers use to overcome them. This research is being used to inform the design of teacher learning programming, building and district-level support systems, and community/business collaborations.
Teachers face numerous hurdles in the time period between participation in staff development and a corresponding change in teaching practice. This research study describes the processes teachers engage in as they translate their learning from a staff development experience into their teaching practice. The impetus for our research emerged in the context of a university and school district collaboration in which 181 teachers participated in a series of staff development workshops. These workshops were designed to increase the capacity of teachers from grades 4-12 to design, teach and assess technology-enhanced science inquiry (TESI). An analysis of data collected during the first year of this program revealed the presence of “critical junctures” encountered by teachers as they attempted to refine their practice to include technology-enhanced science inquiry. We define critical junctures as obstacles that may cause teachers to doubt their ability and skills or call into question the validity of new teaching practices. If teachers can work through the doubts and solve the problems successfully, they will continue with the process. If not, they will either abandon the process completely, or at best, selectively incorporate minimal aspects of the process. Questions then arose. What are these critical junctures? When do these critical junctures occur? How do successful teachers transition through these junctures? What kind of support is needed to help teachers successfully get past each critical juncture? What additions or changes to the program can we make that will further support teachers as they deal with each critical juncture?
The opportunity to study these critical junctures presented itself when several teachers who had participated in the year-long TESI program requested that we provide advanced learning opportunities over the summer. The summer course allowed us to examine the critical junctures by working with the teachers after they completed the TESI staff development program, before they began a new school year. We utilized goal setting, course embedded assessments and reflection methodologies to document the teachers’ learning, critical junctures and capacity building experiences. A total of eighteen teachers provided us with data to describe and define the critical junctures they encountered. The data also allowed us to create learning profiles for the teachers as they worked to increase their capacity to teach technology-enhanced science inquiry.
This research is part of a constant feedback loop in which data is utilized to refine the design of staff development programming, building and district-level support systems, and community/business collaborations. Our findings further informed our programming by reinforcing the need for this feedback loop. In this manner, we could make the best use of district, university, and community partner resources to effectively support teachers in the difficult task of curricular change. The learning portraits also emphasize the individuality of teachers as learners and the need for them to have continuous, timely, appropriate and accessible learning experiences in order to overcome the critical junctures they encounter as they try to implement curricular change.
The Beaverton School District (BSD) has developed a multi-faceted, five-year plan to increase teachers' capacity to teach science through inquiry. Through this initiative, and in partnership with the Center for Science Education (CSE) at Portland State University (PSU), BSD-CSE have spent the last year working to create and pilot a staff development program designed to guide and support teachers from grades four through twelve as they develop and refine their ability to implement technology-enhanced science inquiry (TESI). This program reflects the increased prominence of inquiry in the National Standards (National Research Council, 2001) and the critical role teachers play in learning (Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 1999; National Research Council, 2001).
The TESI staff
development program was jointly developed and implemented. TESI included
activities that integrated district resources, community partners and
University scholarship. BSD-CSE established an infrastructure to increase the
capacity of teachers to create, implement and assess technology-enhanced
science inquiry lessons in
The impetus for our research emerged as we piloted the first year of the TESI staff development program. Our preliminary data analysis suggested that teachers are simultaneously involved in a myriad of learning and decision-making processes as they work to incorporate scientific inquiry into their teaching practice. As we expected, teachers are often trying to increase content knowledge and integrate new technology, while also juggling the process of learning to teach science inquiry. In addition, the teachers informed us that they are making changes to their pedagogical strategies. During this time they are also making values decisions as they alter their curriculum to find space to teach the inquiry process in a manner that is congruent with their own expected outcomes of learning (Laurence & Becker, 2005). As a result of our preliminary TESI data analysis, we refined our research protocol to help us understand what impediments might prevent teachers from continuing with the learning process and which support structures would assist teachers as they translate their learning experiences into practice. Specifically, using data that we gathered from a series of course embedded assessments, we met and reflected on our own teaching experience after each staff development session. Through this reflective process, we began to ask the question – what critical junctures might occur during the sparsely studied time frame when teachers are coming to know how to teach in a new way as a result of a staff development experience?
As a precursor to the AF course, we conducted an in-depth literature review of other programs designed to bring inquiry into the classroom. Based on the literature review, there seemed to be a need to study the processes that transpire between staff development experiences and subsequent improvements in student learning. Although there has been an increasing amount of recent work investigating how increases in teachers’ knowledge and skills from staff development might lead to improvements in student achievement, the links are not always direct, guaranteed or well researched (National Research Council, 2001). For example, some researchers have found that although teachers may increase their content and inquiry knowledge as a result of participation in staff development opportunities, their teaching practice does not show corresponding change (Shepardson, 2003 & Desimone, et al., 2002). These findings stress the importance of focusing on the learning between staff development and the implementation of curricular change.
Ultimately, the goals of TESI are the same as most teacher development programs – to increase student learning. Since research investigating the connections between staff development and student achievement were inconclusive, our interest in exploring the processes that teachers experience as they learn new knowledge and skills and work to implement change in their teaching practice grew. We were particularly intrigued by Shymanksy, Yore & Anderson’s (2000) examination of changes in student achievement as a result of teacher participation in a staff development program. Their quantitative data did not demonstrate a causal change in student achievement due to the staff development program. This finding appeared to be inconsistent with informal conversations with teachers who had indicated a strong positive reaction to the staff development program. These empirical observations reaffirmed our interest in studying the processes that teachers experience, particularly in the time frame between learning new knowledge and skills and when changes in teacher practice or student achievement might occur.
Our research plan was framed by our programmatic and theoretical need to understand the critical junctures teachers encountered in the time between the TESI staff development and the start of a new school year. We based our investigation on one broad research question followed by three supporting questions:
§ How do teachers direct their learning to cope with critical junctures encountered between a staff development experience and their implementation of curricular change?
§ How do critical junctures impact a teacher’s learning process?
§ What do teachers identify as their learning needs?
§ What learning supports allow teachers to navigate critical junctures?
In order to address our research questions, methodologies were chosen that would provide descriptions of critical junctures from the teachers’ perspectives, document the learning strategies and outcomes, and illuminate any additional concerns the teachers might have. We further refined our research methods based on our goals as instructors and researchers – to model strategies of inquiry into learning, participant learning assessment and the implementation of data driven curricular adjustments. Aligned with these goals, we had another methodological consideration. We sought to create a series of tools that would not place a huge burden on the teachers’ time and would allow them to concentrate on their learning goals while providing an informative stream of data. Finally, the research design was chosen because it allowed for the creation of a series of assessment tools that could continue to be implemented and interpreted by the school district without the need to continually hire outside program evaluators.
Given these parameters, we designed a series of self-assessments and guided reflections that would allow the teachers to describe their learning needs, strategies and outcomes. Theoretically we rooted our methodology in education change theory; particularly in the work of Hall & Hord (1987) and Hord, Rutherford, Huling-Austin & Hall (1987). Of predominant interest to us were the teachers’ concerns and questions that provided a window to their adoption of curricular change. Our strategy allowed teachers’ descriptions of their learning to direct our data gathering. This methodology was theoretically supported by integrating the work of Chi, Slotta & de Leeuw (1994) which examined the conceptual changes that takes place when learning science with their work on the role of self-explanation in learning (de Leeuw & Chi, 2003).
A total of eighteen teachers (Elementary, middle and high school) chose to participate in the research portion of the Advanced Frameworks summer workshop. Each participant completed a pre-course self-assessment of their learning needs and goals, a daily, guided self-reflection and a post-course self-assessment of their learning and future plans. Analysis of the data proceeded in three stages. The first stage involved on-site and immediate programmatic feedback to determine the teachers' learning needs from day-to-day in order to make the necessary adjustments to the Advanced Frameworks seminar. The second stage involved an examination of the data to develop an understanding of the critical junctures these teachers faced. Next, the data was integrated to form an individual learning portrait for each teacher. Finally, the emerging trends that spanned all three analysis stages are summarized.
Underpinning our methodology was the theoretical premise that teachers' questions and concerns would direct us to their learning needs and their progression towards being able to implement curricular change (Hall & Hord, 1987; Hord, Rutherford, Huling-Austin & Hall, 1987). As a result, the initial pre-assessment and the daily, guided reflections provided opportunities for the teachers to describe their questions, learning needs and own assessment of their progression. The teachers also provided us with feedback that informed us about how well we were meeting their learning needs and what learning experiences and supports were best meeting their learning needs.
Our initial analysis of the AF data was done onsite and the teachers' responses provided a continuous feedback loop that allowed for programmatic changes to be made to meet their learning needs. For example, several teachers requested the opportunity to try the data gathering technology in a field setting. As a result, a group of AF teachers went on a field trip to a local watershed to collect water samples and learn how to use the scientific equipment in an outdoor setting. Several teachers later listed the field trip on the post-course self-assessment as one of the most helpful learning activities.
The onsite analysis also aided us in helping to shape learning experiences that met the needs of several teachers with varying backgrounds in science, inquiry and teaching. In particular, the feedback emphasized the individuality of teachers and their different learning needs and styles. For instance, one teacher noted the need to direct his or her own learning with the question: "Will I get to 'drive' the time -- implement what I need [teacher’s emphasis]?" While at the same time, another teacher noted: "I was totally self-motivated today but I can see myself losing steam by Wednesday or Thursday. I may need some more direction on Thursday."
The responses provided in the self-reflection provided data that allowed continuous refinement of the semi-structured course; however, the data also continually emphasized the individual learning needs of the teachers. For example, each day teachers reflected on their questions and concerns. The range of teachers' responses demonstrated the various levels of content knowledge, experience with inquiry and concern about the implementation of inquiry in the classroom. To emphasize this point a sample of one day's responses are illustrated in Table 1. The responses also serve as a reminder of the complex processes involved in learning something new, creating lessons and implementing curricular change.
Table 1 - Sampling of Teachers' Daily Questions and Concerns
The onsite data analysis allowed the AF team to continuously monitor the teachers' learning needs and make appropriate modifications. Teachers continuously provided us with questions and reflections that foreshadowed many of the critical junctures that would emerge in the second round of analysis.
In addition to using the data to make immediate programmatic adjustments, we also analyzed the data in light of our research questions regarding the critical junctures that teachers might encounter in the time between a staff development experience and when they are able to implement a change in their teaching practice. In order to determine how teachers direct their learning to cope with critical junctures encountered between a staff development experience and their implementation of curricular change we needed to first document and describe the critical junctures the teachers encountered.
During the first year of the TESI programming, our initial data and informal conversations with teachers suggested several possible critical junctures. Our initial experience suggested that if teachers could not navigate these critical junctures they would either abandon the inquiry process completely or at best selectively incorporate only minimal aspects of the inquiry process, thus further underscoring the need to recognize and develop strategies for helping teachers navigate the critical junctures. Using aggregate data from year one of TESI, we developed a pre-post self-assessment that was framed around six possible critical junctures (Table 2).
Proposed Critical Junctures
The scientific content knowledge necessary to conduct an inquiry project.
Understanding of and experience using and teaching with the scientific inquiry method.
The ability to use, care for and trouble shoot with various pieces of technological science equipment.
The classroom management skills and pedagogical practices necessary for a student centered classroom.
The ability to bring in the necessary support and resources necessary to teach with the inquiry method.
Practical Conflict Solutions
Barriers that prevent the practical application of the desired curriculum change.
In order to develop data-driven critical junctures, the second stage of data analysis involved integrating the daily reflections with the learning descriptions from the pre- and post- self-assessments to begin searching "for general statements about relationships among categories of data" in order to build grounded theory (Marshall & Rossman, 1999; Strauss & Corbin, 1997 as cited in Marshall and Rossman, 1999, p. 152). The material was then sorted by working through a series of stages, beginning with common classifications, moving through to special classifications and then into theoretical classifications (Schatzman & Strauss, 1973 as cited in Marshall & Rossman, 1999). Finally, these emerging classifications were integrated back together to see if they would confirm or deny and/or describe the critical junctures we believed these teachers might face during this learning experience.
As the analysis unfolded, the teachers' descriptions of their learning, experiences and questions provided data-driven confirmation of what emerged to be five critical junctures. The teachers expressed consistent concerns about these five critical junctures and directed most of their effort towards overcoming them. Table 3 includes a definition for each data-driven critical juncture, as well as supporting examples taken from teachers’ comments.
Data Driven Critical Junctures
Requesting further content knowledge in order to understand a particular scientific concept.
"GIS-GPS? Can you Help?"
"Nitrate and Phosphorus testing"
Refining classroom management skills and pedagogical practices necessary for a student-centered classroom. Including the decisions of what to leave in or out of the curriculum.
"How will I integrate into the content of varied classes?"
"I am still wondering the best way to teach many sensors."
"Which labs to sacrifice in order to have more time for inquiry activities."
Developing an understanding of and experience using and teaching student-centered scientific inquiry method.
"Testing activities with ‘go sensor’ appropriate for fifth grade."
"How to be certain that the equipment and technology will work with kids and that they understand the data."
Encountering barriers that prevent the practical application of the desired curriculum change.
"Not having my own classroom where I can do advanced set-up.”
"Will I have the money to purchase new HR monitors?"
"How can our team coordinate the use of equipment with 60 more kids?"
The need to develop the ability to use, care for and trouble shoot with various pieces of technological science equipment.
"How to use the water quality probes."
"How will the data collection work with calculators in the field?"
During the data analysis it became apparent that the proposed list of critical junctures would need modification. We initially listed Science Content as a critical juncture and modified it to Content in order to encompass additional subjects such as mathematics. Classroom Management's definition was expanded to include the difficult decisions teachers face as they decide what to put in and what to leave out of their curriculum. Finally, as we compiled the learning profiles we realized that capacity building was often a solution and not a critical juncture.
It is one thing to create a data-driven series of classifications to describe how teachers might be derailed, yet this list of critical junctures does not fully answer our research questions. The questions remain: How do successful teachers transition through these junctures? What kind of support is needed to help teachers successfully get past each critical juncture? What additions to or changes to the program can we make that will further enable teachers to deal with each critical juncture? How do critical junctures interact within the learning needs and experiences of individual teachers?
To begin to answer these questions, we integrated the data to compile a learning portrait of each teacher’s learning strategies and progression through various critical junctures. These portraits include the teachers’ learning goals, question asking patterns, use of learning supports (experts, technology, colleagues) and the products that the teachers created (lessons, assessment material, etc.). These portraits are of particular interest because the teachers were given the latitude to design their own learning and determine when they needed access to various materials and expertise.
This section highlights the profiles of three teachers who participated in the summer Advanced Frameworks Seminar. During the four-day seminar, teachers were provided with a semi-structured environment within which they could work on creating, experimenting with and refining inquiry-based labs. Throughout the seminar, learning, technology, inquiry and content specialists were continually on-hand to answer teachers’ questions as they arose. Furthermore, teachers from throughout the district were encouraged to work together to share ideas and strategies with one another. (NOTE: All teachers participating in this study have been assigned pseudonyms to maintain confidentiality.)
As with many teachers in this study, the Inquiry Process and Technology critical junctures seemed to be quite interwoven for Barbara. At the start of the four days, her goal was to have more labs in place to use in her classroom, and specifically, she planned to produce, “a complete plan for at least one lab.” She wanted to gain more confidence using the calculators, and also expressed a concern involving a practical obstacle – establishing procedures to ensure proper equipment maintenance. From her perspective, what she needed most was, “practice with the probes” and time to talk “with other teachers about their management procedures.”
In alignment with her desire for time to learn the calculators and probes, Barbara learned how to use specific equipment such as the light sensors, and she had a chance to incorporate these skills into her labs. She wrote that she was able to improve her photosynthesis lab, and that she came up with ideas for environmental science labs as well. As the seminar days progressed, Barbara expressed that having time to work, talking with other teachers and utilizing the Vernier staff, were the things that were most helpful for her. For example, on Day 1 of the Advanced Frameworks, she said, “The time to discover and questions being answered by the Vernier guys,” were the most helpful. She also gained insights from other teachers. On Day 2 she said that, “talking with teachers that are also doing water quality studies,” was of great value. At the end of the 4-day series, Barbara had, “…written 3 labs and an outline for a 3-4 week unit.” This exceeded her stated goal of completing at least one lab and plan, and based on the technology support throughout the week, it appears that gaining confidence with the probes and software enabled her to incorporate technology into her labs.
Based on her comments on the “Check-in” surveys throughout the workshop and her Pre-/Post- Program Learning Task Assessment forms, it appears that Barbara passed through a critical juncture in inquiry, and probably technology as well. In answer to the question on the Final Check-in (Day 4) asking, “If we dropped by your classroom in five years, what is one thing from this seminar that we would still see you doing or using?” Barbara wrote, “I will still be doing inquiry science. I don’t know if the technology will be the same.” This statement so eloquently demonstrated a theme we found over and over – the realization and acceptance of learning (technology in particular) as an ongoing process.
Another interesting thing about critical junctures that is highlighted in Barbara’s profile is the interconnected nature of critical junctures and a teacher’s progression through them. As noted above, it appears that Barbara moved forward in implementing inquiry and utilizing technology. However, that same progress seems to have opened a view into other critical junctures she faced – curriculum management and practical obstacles. Managing students in the field and classroom when using inquiry-based approaches and high-quality technological tools can be quite challenging. At the start of the workshop series, Barbara wanted a chance to talk, “…with other teachers about their management procedures.” Midway through the AF course, she was, “…still wondering the best way to teach many sensors.” Finally, at the end of the series she said that her, “[goals] are still in progress. I didn’t get much help with the practical set-up as far as classroom/field management.” These curriculum management issues also related to practical obstacles she faces as a result of physical space in her building. Managing inquiry and technology is even more challenging, “not having my own classroom where I can do advanced set-up.”
Barbara felt she had more than exceeded her goals for developing labs and lesson plans; however, as so often happens during periods of learning and growth, advancements in one area may reveal a new critical juncture in other area. In this case, Barbara moved through inquiry and technology critical junctures and was then getting ready to tackle curriculum management and practical obstacles critical junctures during the school year.
As mentioned earlier, the primary focus of the Advanced Frameworks workshops was to give teachers time and support to devise inquiry-based labs that incorporated Vernier technology; therefore, most teachers showed progress in those two areas. Sally was no different in that regard, but she was struggling in particular with the desire to implement inquiry-based practices while also meeting the state’s assessment requirements.
At the beginning of the 4-day series, Sally’s goals were to become familiar with the probes and software, and to refine Vernier labs to be more inquiry-based. Specifically she wanted to produce, “at least 1 CIM worksample to use in science inquiry.” CIM stands for Certificate of Initial Mastery, and is the series of 10th grade benchmarks that students are expected to master. The CIM benchmarks include both knowledge and skills based assessments, including a science inquiry work sample (Oregon Department of Education, 2006).
At the end of the first day, Sally wrote that she gained, “ideas for CIM,” but also asked, “How can I turn labs into inquiry/CIM labs?” She also mentioned that seeing examples of inquiry labs would be very helpful. Again on Day 2, Sally asked, “How can I find examples of good inquiry labs that can work as CIM worksamples?” She also asked, “Can we start a database for teachers to share labs/ideas?” On the third day, she, “found [the] ‘Students and Research’ book with lots of great ideas.” Discovering this book, in conjunction with the worktime throughout the series seemed to enable Sally to reach a point of satisfaction in regards to challenges with CIM requirements. She did not mention CIM again, but in the Final Check-in, she wrote that she had produced, “new labs,” and “plans for implementing the technology and inquiry into my curriculum.”
When asked what helped during each of the four days, all of her responses stressed the value of having time to talk and work with others. On her Final Check-in she wrote that, “Time to work independently on what we need” was very helpful. Sally’s comments and those from other teachers emphasize the importance of not only time – time to work, time to collaborate, time to reflect – but also the importance of networking and building capacity with other teachers and resource specialists.
Since technology and inquiry were the main foci of the AF course, these were the areas that Sally and other teachers experienced the most. However, their comments also demonstrated other areas where they struggled. The progression through learning experiences so often show the complex, interconnected nature of critical junctures. For example, in Sally’s case, gaining experience and confidence with the technology helped her address practical problems. On her Pre-Program Learning Task Assessment, she said, “We are limited by the number of computers we have available at our school and also having enough space to complete labs…we need more portable equipment for traveling from room to room.” By the end of the four days, she wrote on her Post-Program Learning Task Assessment that she was working on, “…learning how to use calculators which are more portable…trying to get more computers and some probes for labs.” Although these comments do not necessarily indicate that Sally successfully moved past this critical juncture, it does show how building capacity in one area (technology) can help problem-solve or trouble-shoot in other areas (practical problems) as well.
Michael was late to the first day of the AF course, so we do not have explicit pre-programming goals for him. Nonetheless, his comments on all of the daily check-in forms were exemplary of so many teachers’ comments, we chose to highlight his profile. Michael exemplifies how interconnected a teacher’s journey through critical junctures can be. He specifically shows how intertwined using inquiry and technology are, and the importance of capacity building through his time spent working with and sharing ideas with colleagues.
Michael seemed quite driven in his desire to learn the technology, and he appreciated the hands-on, self-directed nature of the workshop. At the end of the first day, he found that, “going through experiments instead of just ‘messing with’ sensors,” was the most helpful thing for him. He explained that, “…by using probes to conduct some experiments,” he was able to answer his questions. As he “messed” with the sensors, Michael gained confidence using multiple probes including the motion sensors, magnetic field sensors, dissolved oxygen probes and force plates.
As he shared his learning process with us, Michael highlighted the importance of capacity building as a means of navigating through a critical juncture. On the Day 2 Check-in, he wrote that what helped the most was “time with experiments, probes and teammates.” By the end of the third day, he stated that, “This time was invaluable to me as a teacher – to work with my peers, developing and sharing work.” As has been reported in the literature (Lortie, 1974) teachers often feel isolated and disconnected from a professional community. Comments such as these speak strongly to the need to provide teachers with opportunities to collaborate and share their work with their professional colleagues.
As with Sally, Michael highlighted the challenge that many teachers face implementing inquiry-based science and meeting the state’s assessment requirements. The Oregon State Assessment System includes several performance-based tasks for measuring student achievement. In grades 4 through 10, every student is required to submit a Science Inquiry work sample to the state to meet the requirements for a Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM) (Oregon Department of Education, 2006). This requirement is relatively new, and has been phased in over time. Michael expressed concerns about CIM (the 10th grade tests and work samples), and how to align labs and experiments with the CIM inquiry requirements. When he was provided with the time to network with peers, he found support and realized that, “Inquiry is difficult to score for all levels [levels of the state scoring guide]” but, “we can do multiple inquiries without scoring them.” Although these statements may seem to carry little relevance, they exemplify how sometimes basic things can be enough to allow a teacher to pass through a critical juncture.
The findings specifically answer our research question(s) by documenting how teachers direct their learning as they navigate through critical junctures while incorporating technology-enhanced science inquiry into their teaching practice. Our teacher learning portraits provided further confirmation of the identified critical junctures and offer suggestions as to which learning supports best help teachers navigate past the critical junctures they face. Our findings suggest that teachers were successful when they were provided with learning that was appropriate for their needs, when they had access to resources to increase their capacity, when they had the opportunity to engage in the process of learning technology and inquiry, and when they were provided with adequate time to address each critical juncture that arose during their attempt to implement curricular change.
To support teachers trying to implement curricular change, we found that staff development experiences need to be appropriate for each teacher’s own learning needs. Despite many similarities in teachers’ questions and concerns, the learning portraits consistently demonstrated the individual nature of the learning process teachers engage in as they develop, expand or refine their teaching practice. For example, on Day 1, some teachers were working on basic inquiries into temperature while others were looking to improve their existing photosynthesis labs. While many teachers wanted to learn how to collect basic data with calculators, other teachers had advanced technical questions such as how to incorporate video into their labs.
Another important finding was that teachers needed access to appropriate learning experiences, experts and their teaching colleagues. This access provided teachers with the capacity to navigate many of the critical junctures. For teachers to be able to utilize inquiry-based teaching strategies, it is crucial for them to have a chance to experience inquiry first-hand. Additionally, they need to believe in the value of research and in their ability to ask a research question. Asking appropriate questions is hard for doctoral researchers, so it is not surprising that this is an area that teachers and students often struggle. For example, one teacher stated that, “by asking questions I was able to answer all my questions.”
The findings that consistently emerged from teachers facing technology or inquiry critical junctures illuminated a fascinating trend. It seemed that as teachers gained confidence and understanding with technology and how to use it in their teaching, they also began to embrace the idea that the use of technology is an on-going process. As they began to develop more of a systems-level understanding of how things work, they could better engage with the technological tools and problem solve as challenges arise. A good example of how teachers began to view technology as a process is highlighted by a final comment by Barbara regarding what she would be doing in her classroom in five years. She said, “I will still be doing inquiry science. I don’t know if the technology will be the same.” Her comment exemplifies how technology can enhance inquiry-based teaching, but is not intended to be a final destination.
Another consistent pattern that emerged from the data analysis was the value teachers placed on the time they were given to engage in the process of developing, expanding or refining their curriculum. For example, one teacher told us that, “Teachers need this kind of training with each other and the time to work through problems.” A key component to this time was allowing teachers to work in a semi-structured environment where they could direct their own learning. One teacher summed it up by saying, “Thanks for trusting us to use our time productively.” Comments such as, “It’s not often that we not only can play and learn as well as plan” consistently reminded us of how important it is for teachers to have the time not just to learn but to enjoy learning.
Time and time again, teachers’ reflections pointed to time it takes to build the capacity to teach technology enhanced scientific inquiry lessons. As teachers worked on their labs and lesson plans, they had immediate access to resource specialists who could address their questions and problems as they arose. This eliminated the need for the teachers to have to track down resources and find answers – they were free to keep the momentum going. Furthermore, simply having the time to work was greatly appreciated by all the teachers who participated. However, it was not only the work time that these teachers valued, but also the time to network with other teachers, district leaders, university personnel and the technology experts. This level of capacity building allowed teachers to build relationships that could benefit them well beyond the workshop days.
Bridging Theory to Practice
Because this research is being used to inform our teacher development programming, building and district-level support systems, and community/business collaborations, the findings from our on-going data collection are constantly cycled back into the program planning and development. As a result of our experiences and the data collected during the summer Advanced Frameworks workshops, there are four consistent programmatic components we will continue to incorporate into our programming: formative assessment, teachers as agents of change, the power of partnership and on-going research.
First, formative assessment will continue to be an integral tool in our staff development programming. Using the critical junctures as a formative assessment tool allows for the early identification of each teacher’s learning needs. As a result, programming can then be directed to allow teachers to engage in learning experiences specific to their needs. Often times, professional development programs are based on the perceived needs of teachers, but from our observations, teachers are as unique as their students and one size does not fit all. As professional developers we need to be “nimble” enough to make and model curriculum modifications to help teachers navigate through critical junctures in an intentional manner.
Second, empowering teachers to become the agents of change remains a key goal of our program. The district has shown a strong commitment to transforming teaching practices to include technology-enhanced inquiry-based science. Examples have included financing the purchase of technology equipment and supplies, and supporting teachers in the use of classroom work samples and classroom assessment strategies. These types of supports will be necessary to continue making the shift in practice. We will to continue to create opportunities for teachers to generate products that were not in use before. For example, teachers should be the leaders in designing inquiry-based labs or modifying existing labs to include inquiry, as well as in designing assessment protocols and tools.
Third, a key component driving this partnership has been our ongoing commitment to educational change. Through this staff development venture, we have been able to leverage university, school district and corporate resources to empower teachers to have access to appropriate and timely learning experiences that allow them to effectively navigate the critical junctures as they try to implement curricular changes in their classrooms.
Finally, in order to make TESI a sustainable program, we intend to engage in longitudinal research. Documenting and analyzing the change over time will not only ensure that goals are achieved, but will also help provide a model for our future professional development activities. We are currently in our second year of TESI and have incorporated these programmatic recommendations. Our on-going research will allow us to examine the impact of these change levers over time.
The words of a teacher who participated in the Advanced Frameworks course provide closure for this paper and, hopefully, mark the beginning of sustainable change: “This is the type of workshop that should be offered more often to science teachers. It enabled us to test new labs and increase our confidence to use them in classrooms. A movement into inquiry needs to start like this.”
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