Folk theories of ?inquiry:? How p...
JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN SCIENCE TEACHING VOL. 41, NO. 5, PP. 481���512 (2004) Folk Theories of ������Inquiry:������ How Preservice Teachers Reproduce the Discourse and Practices of an Atheoretical Scientific Method Mark Windschitl Curriculum and Instruction, 115 Miller Hall, Box 353600, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195 Received 1 October 2002 Accepted 12 June 2003 Abstract: Despite the ubiquity of the term ������inquiry������ in science education literature, little is known about how teachers conceptualize inquiry, how these conceptions are formed and reinforced, how they relate to work done by scientists, and if these ideas about inquiry are translated into classroom practice. This is a multicase study in which 14 preservice secondary science teachers developed their own empirical investigations���from formulating questions to defending results in front of peers. Findings indicate that participants shared a tacit framework of what it means to ������do science������ which shaped their investigations and influenced reflections on their inquiries. Some facets of the participants��� shared model were congruent with authentic inquiry however, the most consistent assumptions were misrepresentations of fundamental aspects of science: for example, that a hypothesis functions as a guess about an outcome, but is not necessarily part of a larger explanatory system that background knowledge may be used to provide ideas about what to study, but this knowledge is not in the form of a theory or other model and that theory is an optional tool one might use at the end of a study to help explain results. These ideas appear consistent with a ������folk theory������ of doing science that is promoted subtly, but pervasively, in textbooks, through the media, and by members of the science education community themselves. Finally, although all participants held degrees in science, the participants who eventually used inquiry in their own classrooms were those who had significant research experiences in careers or postsecondary study and greater science-content background. �� 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 41: 481���512, 2004 The current rhetoric of reform in science education has been crafted to draw teachers away from an exclusive pedagogical emphasis on content knowledge and to align instruction more with problem solving and inquiry���activities which characterize the pursuits of scientists (see American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993 National Research Council, 1996 National Science Teachers Association, 1995). Incorporating such authentic activities means that learners must assume new, more active roles in the classrooms���first those of apprentices, then later as legitimate participants in the canonical practices of science. This vision, however, is based on the assumption that within the science education community there is a shared, if not explicit, Correspondence to: M. Windschitl E-mail: email@example.com DOI 10.1002/tea.20010 Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). �� 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
notion of what these disciplinary practices entail. It is further assumed that individual teachers have developed functional models of what it means to ������do science������ and are capable and willing to act as mentors of inquiry. Unfortunately, none of these assumptions is well-grounded, and the negative impact on how learners come to understand science cannot be overstated. This study examines models of inquiry that are shared by preservice teachers and reinforced by various discourses in the science education community. I draw upon the idea of ������folk theory,������ taken from the field of cognitive anthropology, to ground participants��� conceptualizations of inquiry in this broader cultural context. Discourse, in this study, includes not only how language is used to engage in meaningful activities but also how people integrate language with thinking, acting, valuing, and using tools and conceptual frameworks to accomplish certain aims. Using the Idea of ������Folk Theories������ to Understand the Inquiry Practices of Preservice Teachers This analysis is based on the theoretical construct of folk theories1 (Boudon, 1986 D���Andrade, 1995), also known as cultural models (D���Andrade & Strauss, 1992 Holland & Quinn, 1987 Shore, 1996). Folk theories are presupposed, taken-for-granted theories about theworld that are widely shared by most members of a society (although not to the exclusion of alternative models) and play an enormous role in individuals��� understandings of the world and their behavior in it (Holland & Quinn, 1987). In everyday life people form, transform, and operate on ������theories������ of common ideas such as ������bachelorhood,������ ������going shopping,������ or ������patriotism.������ Take, as an example by Mitchell (1990, described in Gee, Michaels, & O���Connor, 1992, p. 238), a teacher of a college English as a Second Language (ESL) composition class. This teacher held to a folk theory that composition ought to be a ������discipline������ and that disciplines have their characteristic textbooks that define the boundaries of knowledge for which the discipline is responsible. The teacher took the Little Brown College Composition Handbook (1989) to be such a disciplinary text and saw it as her responsibility to teach its ������content.������ She was teaching, however, in a process-oriented writing program which was intended to downplay teacher authority in an attempt to foster student voice and empowerment. Her theory, much of it tacit, influenced her participation in the activity systems of both the classroom and the college. Such personal theories, models, or everyday explanations are largely subconscious, or at least not easily articulated in full detail, and are often incomplete. Some aspects of these folk theories reside in individuals��� heads while others are shared across members of a community, across texts and other media, and are embodied in various social and educational practices (Hutchins, 1995 Shore, 1996). According to Holland and Quinn (1987), from a pragmatic standpoint, folk theories help people to: . . . make sense of actions, fathom the goals of others, set goals for action, plan for attainment of goals, direct actualization of these goals, and produce verbalizations that may play parts in all the aforementioned projects as well as in interpretation of what has happened. (p. 37) Furthermore, institutions create forces (authoritative documents, apprenticeships, sanctions, and rewards) that ensure repetition and ritualization of many folk theories and the situations that sustain them. Just as there are folk theories for ideas such as what it means to ������be a discipline,������ there also are folk theories associated with science education. The idea of inquiry���the quintessential scientific endeavor���is arguably the most important subject of folk theory. The folk theory that 482 WINDSCHITL
goes with inquiry (as practiced by scientists) includes the idea that people conduct inquiries to ������find something out,������ but that there are different forms of scientific inquiry that are more or less scripted, more or less social, directed to different ends, and enacted in different situations. Different ������theories������ of inquiry then, encapsulate viewpoints on who conducts inquiry, how it unfolds, and for what purposes. Just as with other folk theories, the meaning of science inquiry does not reside in any dictionary and cannot be reduced to symbolic representations in people���s minds. Rather, it is situated in specific cultural and disciplinary practices and is continually transformed through these practices. Every day, thousands of science teachers enact their favored models of scientific investigations and, in doing so, reinforce various dimensions of a folk theory of inquiry (or ������doing science������) as they plan classroom lessons, interact with colleagues, adopt textbooks, talk about their work at conferences, host science fairs, draft local standards for learning, write about their practice for publication, and supervise beginning teachers. Classroom inquiry has been associated with a wide range of intellectual activities, including hypothesis testing, practical problem solving, modeling, thought experiments, library research, and engaging in Socratic dialogue. It has been equated with hands-on activities, discovery learning, and projects. Of these activities, hypothesis testing is perhaps most closely associated with inquiry, due to its place within the virtual institution of the ������Scientific Method.������ The Scientific Method2 (making observations, developing a question, constructing hypotheses, experimenting, analyzing data, drawing conclusions) is often portrayed in textbooks as a linear procedure however, this characterization and even the label itself are misrepresentations. The process of hypothesis testing in science is not a linear one in which each step is a discrete event whose parameters are considered only after the previous step is complete. In authentic scientific practice, multiple steps or phases are often considered in relation to one another at the outset of the investigation. The particulars of hypothesis generation, investigative design, data collection, and analysis are mutually interdependent considerations. The simplicity of the Scientific Method obscures the complex methodological strategies (e.g., developing laboratory situations analogous to real-world conditions), and involved logic (e.g., coordinating theoretical models with multiple sets of multifaceted, partially conflicting data) of authentic science. Furthermore, analyses of practice in scientific communities have shown that there is no universal method and that science inquiry can take a variety of forms (Alters, 1997 Knorr-Cetina, 1999 McGinn & Roth, 1999). Procedurally, some scientists do formulate and then test hypotheses however, other scientists construct their hypotheses only after data analysis, and still other scientists such as field biologists, astronomers, or anatomists conduct descriptive research in which hypotheses may not be explicitly tested (Latour, 1987, 1999). In contrast to the explicit protocol of the Scientific Method, the broader concept of ������inquiry������ has had less well-defined contours in classroom practice. As with all folk theories, ideas about inquiry are partly ������in the head������ (with different people understanding different aspects), partly embodied in the practices of the classroom, and partly codified in various community-wide discourses. Some of this discourse is enacted through official documents such as Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 2000) or Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993), which offer guiding principles for classroom investigations and prototypical examples of inquiry. Another component of public discourse about inquiry is the science textbook, which often uses the term ������inquiry������ in arbitrary ways. In one teachers��� edition of a popular physical science text (McLaughlin & Thompson, 1999), pages are occasionally marked with problems labeled ������Inquiry Questions������ for students. Many of these, however, require no more than one- or two-step algorithms to solve a basic mathematical problem that has no obvious connection with scientific phenomena. For example, one such question asks: ������Early cartoons required 16 drawings for each FOLK THEORIES OF ������INQUIRY������ 483
second of action, how many sketches would be required to make a five-minute cartoon?������ (p. 11). Even when textbooks describe inquiry as investigations, these bear little resemblance to authentic science. Chinn and Malhotra (2002) examined 468 inquiry tasks in nine textbooks written for upper elementary and middle schools none of the activities required students to develop their own questions, only 2% of these activities required students to select their own variables, and there were few opportunities to think about controlling variables. These results are similar to those from an analysis of 90 high-school texts by Germann, Haskins, and Auls (1996). Science curricula, especially those that are widely adopted, also can reinforce particular images of inquiry. The National Curriculum for England and Wales, for example, portrays inquiry as multiple variable problems where students identify which independent variable affects a given dependent variable in a range of physical and biological contexts (Driver, Leach, Millar, & Scott, 1996). This view of scientific investigation ignores theoretical models and fails to portray the much wider variety of forms of inquiry scientists undertake. There are still other kinds of public discourse which influence how people make sense of, enact, and reproduce certain forms of pedagogical inquiry. A recent broadcast by National Public Radio (2002) told the story of a high-school biology class that had adopted an inquiry approach to learning. The segment opened with the sounds of students���voices as they roamed the halls of their school with cotton swabs and petri dishes testing different surfaces for bacteria. One student remarked that they were ������doing a different activity every day������ (suggesting that at least some inquiries can take place in the course of one class period). The radio story then cut to the teacher who asserted that inquiry was ������allowing students to ask their own questions and giving them the tools to find their own answers.������ A few moments later, however, a second biology teacher in the school is asked for her opinion she describes her more traditional instructional philosophy and cites key contrasts with the featured inquiry approach of her colleague. As the story unfolds, inquiry (as opposed to didactic methods) is characterized by the first teacher as a ������thinking rather than a memorizing������ approach. The second, more traditional colleague, questions thewhole notion of ������slipping content into inquiry������ and claims that content in an inquiry classroom is only addressed when it is ������disguised as essays������ during assessments. The point of the story seems to be about irreconcilable differences between inquiry instruction and direct teaching methods��� inquiry is left characterized as activity rich, but lacking in content. The previous examples are not meant to be part of an in-depth analysis of cultural discourse around inquiry teaching rather, they provide evidence that different ideas about inquiry exist not only ������in the heads������ of science teachers, but are codified in authoritative documents, reinforced by textbooks, broadcast in the media, and embodied in the practices of educators who promote the use of inquiry as well as those who favor more traditional methods. Inquiry Experiences and Preservice Teachers Preservice teachers develop a host of ideas about doing science, constructed over years of schooling, and prepare themselves to continue various aspects of this legacy with their own students. The most recent and most involved of these science experiences often come from their years as undergraduates. What then is the model of inquiry that preservice science teachers are exposed to in college science classes? Generally, they are not unlike the confirmatory laboratory experiences found in high school. Trumbull and Kerr (1993), for example, found that much of what went on in a typical undergraduate biology laboratory class was highly scripted and tightly controlled: Students were given questions to answer and the methods to answer them. Lab assistants in this study reported that because of this approach, students lacked the focus necessary to carry out the inquiry or even understand the reasons for collecting data. In addition to the 484 WINDSCHITL
problem of being subjected to models of highly structured inquiry, preservice teachers are rarely exposed to discussions about science as a discipline at the college level and do not participate in discussion of how new knowledge is brought into the field (Bowen & Roth, 1998). There have been calls to integrate more authentic inquiry experiences into not only undergraduate science courses but into teacher education courses as well (Tamir, 1983 van Zee, Lay, & Roberts, 2000 Welch, Klopfer, Aikenhead, & Robinson, 1981). Studies of inquiry in teacher education programs indicate that preservice teachers need such experiences to develop their understandings of authentic scientificinvestigations. In a study of 25 preservice teachers with science degrees who were asked to conduct independent inquiry on an ecology topic, Roth (1999) found that they had considerable trouble creating research questions. Many developed questions that were correlational in nature, but believed that they could use the results as proof of cause-and- effect relationships. Several of the students were unable to operationalize variables in a way that would allow unambiguous measurements. Almost half of the final reports contained claims that either did not relate to the original question or did not logically extend from the data collected. Involving preservice teachers in inquiry experiences, however, may not be enough to develop their conceptions of inquiry or their disposition to use it in the classroom. For example, in studies on inquiry projects with preservice science teachers, Windschitl (2001, 2002) found that the experience refined the inquiry conceptions of those participants who already had more sophisticated understanding of scientific investigations. Participants with simplistic notions of inquiry (based on their image of a one-dimensional Scientific Method) seemed to do little more than confirm these beliefs through the course of investigative activity. Perhaps most importantly, the participants who eventually used inquiry during their student teaching were not those who had more authentic views of inquiry or reflected most deeply about their own inquiry projects rather, they were individuals who had significant undergraduate or career experiences with authentic science research. Purpose of the Study From a constructivist perspective,the only way to influence the eventual practice of beginning teachers is to first understand how educational and broader cultural experiences have shaped their thinking about scientific inquiry. And, because terms such as ������inquiry������ derive meaning from the context of their use, an effectiveway to reveal the existing understandings of participants is to have them perform and reflect upon their own empirical investigations. This study has two distinct, but related, parts. Part I is an examination of how preservice teachers reference folk theories of ������inquiry������ within independent investigative experiences. The research questions are: 1. How is the idea of science inquiry being constructed (or reconstructed) by preservice teachers? 2. What folk theories are being invoked in this situation, and how are they being stabilized or transformed in the process? 3. What are preservice teachers��� emerging models of pedagogical inquiry as they project how their future students will participate in ������doing science?������ Part II of the study examined the use of inquiry instruction by participants during their student teaching. One question was investigated: 4. What conceptions of and experiences with inquiry are linked with preservice teachers��� use of inquiry in their own classrooms? FOLK THEORIES OF ������INQUIRY������ 485