Initial Inquiry Science Learning and Urban Hispanic Students: Professional Development of Middle School Teachers

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This study explores how the instructional practices of two moderately experienced science teachers (< 5 years) influenced their students’ engagement in group work while using an inquiry-based science curriculum for the first time. The teachers, who were in their first and second years teaching in a charter school serving mostly low income urban Hispanic students, introduced their students to an inquiry-based curriculum in their science classrooms. Initial observations indicated that the students were unfamiliar with inquiry science and did not have the skills to work in small groups and therefore learn in the inquiry science curriculum. Curriculum support and instructional coaching was provided to both teachers. Teacher and student practices and experiences were documented over the course of a semester through classroom observations. Student pre and posttest scores were compared after each inquiry unit to determine whether teacher support increased students’ skills in group activities and improved test scores. Preliminary data suggest that teachers need curriculum support and instructional coaching in order to enact challenging inquiry-based materials, and that students unfamiliar with inquiry-based science units need to be taught how to work in small groups in order to learn from inquiry.


Keywords: Inquiry-Based Science, Middle School Science, Science Learning, Science Teaching, Urban Schools
Stream: Curriculum and Pedagogy; Student Learning, Learner Experiences, Learner Diversity
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Miria Biller

Doctoral Student, Teaching & Teacher Education, University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ, USA

Miria Biller is a doctoral student in Science Education at the University of Arizona. A former middle school and high school science teacher, her research interests include issues of equity around making science accessible for all students, especially students in diverse urban settings. Miria's work focuses on using current theoretical research to create practical applications for classrooms. She is presently conducting research in urban middle school science classrooms to study how teachers can successfully implement ambitious inquiry science instruction with culturally and linguistically diverse students.

Dr. Christopher Harris

Assistant Professor, Teaching & Teacher Education, University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ, USA

Christopher Harris (Ph.D. University of Michigan) is an Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Arizona. His areas of expertise include investigating teaching and learning in inquiry science classrooms, supporting students as they learn scientific inquiry practices, and designing inquiry science curricula and assessments that support teacher learning and serve the needs of diverse science learners. Of central interest is the design of science learning environments that capitalize on innovative technologies and make learning accessible for students of diverse backgrounds and abilities. He is an alumnus of the Center for Curriculum Materials in Science, an NSF-funded Center for Learning and Teaching, whose mission is to improve the quality and use of curriculum materials for K-12 science teaching and learning. He currently co-leads the Science Education Scholars Program at the University of Arizona, a doctoral program concerned with developing scholars who can contribute in a significant way to solving practical problems facing K-12 science education.

Dr. Ronald Marx

Dean, College of Education, University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ, USA

Ronald Marx (Ph.D. Stanford University) is Professor of Educational Psychology and Dean of Education at the University of Arizona. His previous appointments were at Simon Fraser University and the University of Michigan, where he served as the chair of the Educational Studies Program and later as the co-director of the Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education and the Center for Learning Technologies in Urban Schools. His research focuses on how classrooms can be sites for learning that is highly motivated and cognitively engaging. Since 1994, Prof. Marx has been engaged in large-scale urban school reform in Detroit and Chicago. With his appointment as Dean of the University of Arizona College of Education in 2003, he has been working to link the Colleges’ research, teaching, and outreach activities closely to P-12 schools and school districts.

Ref: L08P0320