Project Summary

This research is to study the efficacy of science inquiry instruction at the middle school grades against direct instruction. Inquiry teaching of science reflects the investigative attitudes and empirical techniques scientists use to construct new knowledge. In recent years, under the National Research Council, National Science Foundation and American Association for the Advancement of Science leadership, the United States has developed a national commitment to the teaching of science as inquiry across the K-12 grades. Almost all state frameworks for K-12 science education have an inquiry focus. The science education research community has overwhelmingly adopted an inquiry pedagogy perspective for science education. “Inquiry” is omni-present in the language of the science education community, and for many in the science community, inquiry teaching has become the sine qua non for all science teaching. Since the NSF-funded science curriculum projects of the 1960s, many teachers, researchers, curriculum writers, policymakers, and others have been interested in the effectiveness of inquiry-based curricula and inquiry instruction with respect to science concept achievement. Research and evaluation projects have been carried out and proponents of inquiry teaching claim that there is general support for the effectiveness of inquiry instruction. Critics, however, are quick to point out that very little of this research has been unconfounded and thus the research support for inquiry instruction is tenuous at best. Given the widespread adoption of inquiry methods for science teaching, the lack of unconfounded experimental research data in support of inquiry instruction effectiveness is cause for alarm.

Project Goal:

The goal of this research is to test the efficacy of an inquiry model of science instruction to show best practice or what the Institute for Education Sciences refers to as “what works.” The research asks what works with regard to science instruction for middle school students and under what circumstances. The subjects are 8th grade students from the southwest Michigan area schools. The research activities include: a) Develop, adapt and revise science instructional practices according to the components of the Model. b) Summer school program where Model practices are experimentally tested against expert direct instruction using the random assignment of subjects to treatment/control groups. c) Regular school year implementation of the Model practices accompanied by quantitative and qualitative field research.

Intellectual merit:

The intellectual merit of the proposed project rests on its theoretical background and research design. The rational argument for the teaching of science as inquiry and the seminal description of inquiry are found in the NCR National Standards for Science Education and Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning, respectively. Our research draws it's view of inquiry from this literature and is indeed intended to test the view of pedagogy advocated by this literature. Concepts for the research are complex involving mathematics yet appropriate at the 8th grade level and consistent with national frameworks, thus generalizeable. Secondly, the research we propose utilizes a true experimental design with students randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. The specification of treatment is exact and repeatable. The control is appropriate and significant: a highly refined method of direct instruction that has support in the literature. Science conceptual achievement and science attitudes are measured as dependent variables using a double-blind format. The dependent measures are developed by an agent independent of the research team using an assessment format that is generalizeable. Surveys and semi-structured qualitative interviews with students and teachers are used to augment experimental data.

Broader impact:

Given the near universal advocacy of inquiry pedagogy, the proposed research will have an exceptionally broad impact regardless of its findings. It will either lend credible experimental support to what is now widely advocated practice, or will precipitate a serious reconsideration of what is considered to be appropriate science pedagogy at the school level. Moreover, given the urban setting of our research, the findings will support improved science education amongst the neediest of American students.


3225 Wood Hall
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 5444 USA
269-387-5407 | 269-387-4998 Fax

September 5, 2012