Using Action Research to Engage K-6 Teachers in Nature of Science Inquiry as Professional Development

Dec. 10, 2010

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Volume 21, Number 8, 971-992. (December, 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article describes how the authors designed activities to assist K-6 teachers in conducting action research on their NOS instruction to enable them to better assess their students’ NOS understandings and the lessons learned by the professional development staff about this process.
The authors addressed to the following research question: “How can we support teachers in their endeavors to design and carry out action research designed to track their students’ understandings of NOS?”

The authors used Kirkpatrick’s (1994) levels of evaluation as a framework .
Level 1 is reaction—or what did the participants think about the training?
Level 2 is learning—did the participants learn a new skill or change an attitude?
Level 3 is behavior—did they change how they taught?
Level 4 is results—how has the training changed the participants’ practices in the future? (Kirkpatrick 1994).

In using this model, the lower levels are more easily measured, and many evaluations may only address on one or two of the levels. In this study, the authors addressed the first three levels in depth, leaving the fourth level as a follow-up study.


The teachers in this study had already been engaged in a year of professional development where they learned about NOS and inquiry and were encouraged to implement it in their classrooms. They had already completed a 2-week summer workshop, and seven school year workshops as part of the professional development program (Akerson et al. 2007).
The teachers represented three school districts near a Midwestern university. One district was rural, another was a university community and the third was in a suburb to the university community. Teachers ranged in age and experience. All teachers had developed informed views of NOS by the end of the professional development.

Their understandings were measured using the Views of Nature of Science Form E (VNOS-E) instrument (Lederman and Khishfe 2002) several times throughout the professional development program (beginning, after a summer workshop, again after one school year, and at the end of the program) and using qualitative methods to compare participant responses over the course of the professional development.


The authors found that teachers’ reaction (Level 1) to the action research was relatively positive. The teachers identified benefits to doing action research that included improving their view of themselves as teachers and their abilities to advocate for themselves and their students within the school environment. They used their experience to help them reflect on their teaching, and to share those results with other teachers, administrators and in some cases parents. These teachers were asking important questions about their data, instruments, collection techniques, analysis procedures, and teaching and assessing NOS with elementary students. This data suggests that action research can be a valuable tool to engage classroom teachers in inquiry and to promote NOS instruction and assessment, thus changing how they taught.

Teachers showed their learning when they recognized that they were doing an inquiry on their own teaching that was similar to inquiries that scientists do to answer their research questions. The action research projects continued to foster these teachers’ development as science teaching leaders in their schools.
The action research projects provided great opportunities for the professional development team to learn and change our facilitation behaviors, while staying connected with K-12 classrooms.

Akerson, V. L., Hanson, D. L., & Cullen, T. A. (2007). The influence of guided inquiry and explicit instruction on K-6 teachers’ views of nature of science. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 18, 751–772.

Kirkpatrick, D. L. (1994). Evaluating training programs. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Updated: May. 19, 2011