Chemistry Teachers’ Emerging Expertise in Inquiry Teaching: The Effect of a Professional Development Model on Beliefs and Practice

Feb. 15, 2011

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Volume 22, No. 1 (February 2011), 23–52.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study was to examine the influence a yearlong inquiry professional development program had on chemistry teachers’ beliefs and use of inquiry-based teaching practices.

Research Questions
This study addressed to the following research questions:
1. Was the professional development model effective in moving the teachers toward a more reform-based understanding of inquiry?
2. What elements of the professional development model did the teachers find to be the most influential to their implementation of inquiry instruction?
3. Were the instructional approaches advocated in the professional development model reflected in the teachers’ inquiry instruction as measured with the RTOP?

The participants in this study were seven high school chemistry teachers who took part in
a professional development program for science teachers.

Professional Development Model

The professional development consisted of a 2-week summer institute and academic year support. The summer institute was divided into four main segments: whole group inquiry instruction through handson activities and discussion, small group content instruction, practice teaching with high school students, and whole and small group reflection sessions.

This study used a phenomenological approach.
Data were collected through oral interviews, written reflections and class observations.

Discussion and Conclusions

The data indicated that the program led to the greatest changes in teachers beliefs about instruction.
Almost all the chemistry teachers in this study misunderstood the inquiry-based teaching.
Their misunderstanding inhibited them from using the student-centered practices that they believed would result in student learning. However, both academic knowledge and experiential knowledge were given priority during the daily reflection sessions, allowing the teachers to problematize and then reduce the gap between the proposed theory and the inquiry practice (Garcia, 2004; Loughran 2002).

Another important component leading to change in beliefs among the chemistry teachers was their questioning of their content knowledge only after experiencing the chemistry inquiry lessons as students. The practice teaching then helped them to realize that the same method would successfully help high school students learn chemistry.
The chemistry teachers also believed that using the POE model (Gunstone and White 1981; White and Gunstone 1992) allowed to increase their students’ engagement and thinking, while at the same time allowing them to safely conduct laboratories and efficiently teach the content standards.

Finally, all of the chemistry teachers implemented the ideas from the PD model into their classroom during the academic year.


Implications for Professional Development

This study demonstrates the importance of providing an opportunity for teachers to change their practice along with their beliefs (Guskey 1986). This PD program succeeded to change the ways teachers perceived their role in the classroom by the positive experiences in learning through an inquiry approach which engaged teachers to reconstruct their own chemistry content knowledge.

Furthermore, the professional learning community of teachers which created during this phase of the PD, was effective in increasing the teachers’ sense of self-efficacy towards using inquiry teaching approaches in their own classroom.

Garcia, A. R. (2004). The difficult relationship between theory and practice in an inservice course for science teachers. International Journal of Science Education, 26, 1223–1245.

Gunstone, R. F., & White, R. T. (1981). Understanding of gravity. Science Education, 65, 291–299.

Guskey, T. R. (1986). Staff development and the process of teacher change. Educational Researcher, 15, 5–12.

Loughran, J. J. (2002). Effective reflective practice: In search of meaning in learning about teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53, 33–43.

White, R. T., & Gunstone, R. F. (1992). Probing understanding. UK: Falmer Press.

Updated: Jan. 03, 2012