Inquiry-Based Instruction and Teaching About Nature of Science: Are They Happening?

Apr. 02, 2013

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Volume 24, Iss. 3, April 2013, p. 497-526.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The aim of this study was to investigate the views and actual practices related to inquiry and nature of science (NOS) of a group of highly motivated and well-qualified teachers from classrooms across the United States.
Specifically they asked:
1. What was the nature of teachers’ instruction?
2. What were these teachers’ views of inquiry and NOS?
3. What was the relationship between teachers’ views of inquiry and NOS and their teaching practice?

The authors used a mixed-methods approach consisting of quantitative and qualitative data.
They analyzed teachers’ written descriptions of an exemplary lesson, observations of classroom instruction, videotape data, an open-response questionnaire of views of inquiry and NOS, and interviews to assess teaching practice and views of inquiry and NOS of these teachers.
They also determined the relationships between teachers’ views and their teaching practice.
The participants were 26, well-qualified and highly motivated 5th–9th-grade teachers from across United States.


The findings indicated a range of understandings across the 26 teachers.
However, most of these teachers held fairly limited views and misconceptions on inquiry and NOS.
In particular, many of these teachers believed that scientists follow a uniform series of steps that are experimental in nature, allowing little or no room for creativity.

Data analyses indicated an association between teachers’ views and classroom practice. That is, teachers with more robust views were more likely to teach science as inquiry, whereas teachers who held more limited views were less likely to teach science in this way.

Furthermore, elements of inquiry including abilities, understandings, and essential features were observed or described in less than half the classrooms.
The authors found that a small number of the classrooms, many of these aspects of doing inquiry were present, whereas in the majority of the classrooms, there was little or no evidence of abilities or features of inquiry.

The most common aspects of doing inquiry were the basic abilities, such as using tools and mathematics in science class.
Instruction related to understandings about inquiry was not observed or described in any of these teachers’ lessons.
Moreover, we observed very little evidence of instruction related to NOS across the 26 teachers.
However, when aspects of inquiry were present, they were generally teacher-initiated.
There was also little evidence of aspects of NOS in teachers’ instruction.


This study provides empirical evidence for the claim that although reform documents in the United States highlight the importance of inquiry and NOS and refer to inquiry as a central teaching strategy, some of the best teachers currently struggle to enact reformed-based teaching.
The authors conclude that we need to gain a better understanding of how reform documents impact what teachers’ know and how they teach.
Furthermore, we need more empirical research into the ways teachers receive and interpret information from reform-based documents.

Updated: Aug. 05, 2014