Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 40, No. 5, 855–878, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This study aimed to explore professional development participants’ individual and collective experiences, thoughts, reflections and evolving beliefs, attitudes and knowledge within the context of a two-week summer research apprenticeship program for secondary science teachers.
The participants included 20 high school science teachers (17 female and three male) from across the state with various years of teaching experience. The morning sessions (the focus of a separate manuscript) were devoted to pedagogy, while during the afternoon sessions teachers, either individually or in teams of two or three, spent several hours in science faculty’s research settings in an effort to gain experience and a better perspective on the process of scientific inquiry. Along with the application material, participants were supplied with a list of science faculty and their respective areas of research. Participants’ preferences and areas of teaching were utilized to determine their placement in various science laboratories.
Participants were asked to keep a daily log of their experiences in the laboratory and their reflections about these experiences. The authors analyzed the written reflection through the constant comparative method.
This study sought to explore teachers’ experiences in the laboratory setting of a two-week PD program on inquiry-based teaching and learning.
Four profiles of teachers emerged based on their type and level of involvement in the science laboratory in which they were placed. The analysis of data indicated that teachers from all four profiles enjoyed their laboratory experiences. Teachers in profiles A and B, who had a greater involvement in the laboratory activities in comparison with the other two groups, expressed high levels of initial and ongoing excitement about the laboratory projects they participated in and the procedures and equipment they learned about and were able to work with. The findings indicated that participants in profiles A–C reported learning extensively from the PD experience, feeling more equipped and possessing an increased sense of confidence in doing and teaching science.
During the time that they were involved with varying degrees of authentic science experience, participants in profiles A–C underwent various levels of personal, social and professional development. Participants’ personal development initiated with the recognition of the problematic nature of the discrepancies between classroom science and authentic science. The participants learned that doing science involved the need to reconsider, revise or repeat procedures and reanalyze data in light of new information or peer feedback. Finally, for profile A and B teachers, this reinforced the idea that there are no quick and predetermined answers in science, in contrast to their classrooms where the overwhelming focus is on completing brief laboratory activities that are mainly confirmation labs with predetermined and quickly achieved results.
Throughout their PD journey, participants, in particular those in profiles A and B, gained a better understanding of science as a discipline and its core practices, and in doing so gained an improved level of scientific literacy, which based on their own account, would impact their teaching.
Furthermore, this level of personal development in recognizing the discrepancies served as a catalyst for teachers to search for ways to address these discrepancies and resulted in teachers feeling a sense of empowerment. One of the discrepancies recognized by the teachers was the social isolation of learners during the learning process as well as teachers from their peers and experts in their fields.
Through their experience, they underwent social development as they began to value collaboration as an important component of science and science learning, which they felt must be incorporated in the classroom setting. They witnessed and recognized the significance of continual communication, collaboration and peer evaluation. They were able to form collaborative partnerships with their peers and the scientists they worked with. This partnership among educators, scientists and science educators has been cited as an important component of teacher PD and ultimately the development of scientific literacy.
Throughout the process, the profile A–C participants gained knowledge and skills, and more importantly became aware of discrepancies between their inaccurate or incomplete understanding and portrayal of science in their classroom and what they experienced in the authentic laboratory settings, they began to formulate many ideas for translating their learning into actual experiences in their classrooms. Their ideas mainly focused on providing students with exciting learning experiences similar to their own summer authentic experiences and more accurately portraying science in their classrooms through: the adoption of inquiry-based teaching practices; development of thematic and long-term units; placing more emphasis on the process of science rather than obtaining correct answers; and providing students with opportunities for continuous collaboration and communication as witnessed in the scientific community.
Overall, participants’ authentic laboratory experiences resulted in increased science content knowledge, enhanced understanding of the process of scientific inquiry, more positive attitude toward and confidence in learning and teaching science, and generation of ideas for transferring their experiences to their classroom teaching. However, the findings also suggest that the nature of the authentic experience and the level of involvement in the process of scientific inquiry corresponded to varying degrees of transformation.
The authors conclude that it would be beneficial for PD programs to include a meaningful discussion session, at the conclusion of the program or during any follow-up workshops, in order for the participants to have an opportunity to discuss and share their experiences, reflections and ideas.