CAREER: Creating Effective, Sustainable Inquiry-Based Instruction in Middle School Science Classrooms

The goal of this project is to improve the quality of middle school science in a select number of schools and to gain insight into effective science professional development practice more generally. The project will focus on the following objectives: (1) increasing the quantity and quality of inquiry-based instruction; (2) facilitating the development and implementation of inquiry-based instruction; and (3) improving student achievement in middle school science classrooms.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
0952160
Funding Period: 
Monday, February 15, 2010 to Saturday, January 31, 2015
Full Description: 

The goal of this project is to improve the quality of middle school science in a select number of schools within the Greenville County School District (GCSD) and to gain insight into effective science professional development practice more generally. To achieve this goal, the project will focus on the following objectives: (1) increasing the quantity and quality of inquiry-based instruction in the classroom of participating teachers; (2) facilitating the development and implementation of inquiry-based instruction that is tailored to the unique needs of each cohort school; and (3) improving student achievement in middle school science classrooms of participating teachers at cohort schools. In light of these objectives, long-term professional development (PD) will be the vehicle for transforming (and sustaining) inquiry-based instructional practices for more than 40 middle school science teachers. Through over 80 clock-hours of PD, teachers will engage in two major interventions. The first intervention will be a professional development institute (PDI-1) that will focus on classroom instruction, lesson development and refinement, assessment, and reflection. The second intervention will be another PD institute (PDI-2) that will provide advanced training and leadership opportunities for a select number of PDI-1 participants. The expected outcome is that teacher participation in these interventions will lead to changes in classroom instructional practices resulting in improved student achievement in science.

The main research questions include:

-What are the effects of the professional development experiences upon the quantity and quality of inquiry-based instruction in middle school science classrooms for participants in the first and second year PD experiences?

-Does the second year PD experience help sustain and continue to improve inquiry-based instructional practice within the participants? respective schools?

-Do students whose teachers participate in the program demonstrate greater academic growth in the science content and process knowledge? Is the growth different between students of first year and second year participants?

The study will build on several pilots administered through a longstanding partnership between Clemson University and GCSD. Classroom observations, surveys, review of lessons plans, interviews, focus group sessions, and scores from the Measures of Academic Progress tests will be used to collect data relative to the research questions. Approaches and instruments are in place to measure the impact of the interventions for teachers and students and both have been refined and/or tested for reliability and validity through a three-year pilot. Both approaches and instruments have the capacity to address and measure teacher change (e.g., overall lesson performance; constructs and individual indicators) as well as student growth (e.g., science content and process; weather, forces, systems) at the macro and micro levels, respectively. A quasi-experimental design will be used to study student growth using students taught by teachers participating in the study (more than 100 per teacher), a comparison group of students taught by teachers in the same district; and a virtual comparison group of students drawn from the Northwest Evaluation Growth Research Database. For both students and teachers, there are clear methods, instruments, and strategies for data collection and analysis.

The broader impacts of this study reside in the significance and importance of results that might show a clear link between the interventions and student performance in science. Few, if any studies have been able to clearly make this connection. Therefore, the fundamental issue that might be resolved through this study could be whether or not student performance in science can be directly linked to teacher interventions through PD institutes. This information could help policymakers make better decisions about science instruction at all levels. Lessons learned from this study will be disseminated through multiple channels and pathways available to education stakeholders nationally. Thus, this project could potentially add to research in this area, advance knowledge about science instruction, highlight the impact on student achievement, and provide tools for measuring inquiry-based science instruction.