This five-year research project has as its central aim the testing of the Target Inquiry (TI) model of teacher professional development with secondary school chemistry teachers. This model emphasizes the importance of the inquiry process in teaching and learning science by combining a research experience for teachers (RET) with curriculum adaptation and action research.
Inquiry is the foundation of teaching and learning and is therefore at the center of the TI model. The features of the TI model are designed to encourage and improve inquiry instruction by impacting teachers’ beliefs and attitudes, and content and pedagogical knowledge, as well as providing adequate resources and materials. The model integrates the core experiences (research experience for teachers (RET), materials adaptation, action research) with the central characteristics of high-quality PD programs (duration, cohort participation, active learning, coherence, and content-focus (Garet, et al., 2001)) in alignment with the National Science Education Professional Development Standards (NRC, 1996) (see TI model on website).
Although many teachers associate inquiry with research scientists, the underlying habits of mind by which one actively acquires new knowledge are the same for a scientist in a research laboratory, a student in a science classroom, or a teacher assessing student understanding (Llewellyn, 2005; AAAS, 1993). The RET will allow teachers to further develop habits of mind central to inquiry such as curiosity, persistence, reflection, skepticism, and creativity while gaining firsthand experience in how chemistry research is conducted. However, research has shown that affecting instructional change requires clear connections to classroom practices (Gess-Newsome, 2001), and many teachers have difficulty translating the laboratory research experience to classroom instruction that promotes inquiry habits of mind. Thus, the other core experiences and supporting features of TI are designed to build upon the RET, facilitating connections between the research laboratory and classroom practices, so that teachers can effectively engage their students in authentic inquiry activities.
At GVSU, the TI model has been translated into seven graduate chemistry education courses to be taken over three years, with a majority of work to be carried out over three summers. A five year study of the program, consisting of data from two cohorts shows that teachers beliefs about science inquiry become more aligned with those of practicing scientists following the RET experience; both the RET and materials adaptation experiences are required for significant gains in reformed teaching practices as measured by the RTOP instrument; teachers feel they have developed the skills to help them continue to reform their teaching practices; teachers believe that the use of inquiry instruction engages more of their students and results in better student confidence and retention; and student outcome measures show overall improvement in student content gains as teachers progress through the program.