CAREER: Embedded Computing and Authentic Inquiry in Middle School Science

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

We are investigating how beginning and practicing middle school science teachers perform their own inquiry-based science experiments, reflect on and make sense of their own experiences, and then bring these approaches to their students. We are studying the factors that support teachers in developing richer, more inquiry-based science practices in their classrooms.

Setting: 

We have conducted research with: pre- and in-service teacher enrolled as students in the Graduate School of Education at UMass Lowell; in-service teachers working in Lawrence, MA; educators in the countries of Japan, Ireland, and Germany.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is longitudinal and comparative, and is designed to generate descriptive evidence through the use of case study, design research and observation. The project includes an intervention, which is based on introducing teachers to microcontroller-based data collection tools and internet-based visualization software, and supporting them in developing their own approaches to experimental design and data analysis. This project collects original data using personal observation, videography, web logs, and survey research including self-completion questionnaires (both paper and pencil, and online), face-to-face structured interviewer-administered questionnaires, face-to-face semi-structured/ informal interviews, and focus groups. We developed a survey tool that measures teachers’ attitudes toward scientific inquiry, and their application of inquiry-based teaching in their own classroom practice.

There are multiple types of data collected and each employs an appropriate method. For survey data, statistical techniques are used. For transcripts of teacher activity (including researcher notes on teachers’ actions and transcription of conversation), data are entered into NVivo and analyzed by frequency of content. Narrative descriptions of teacher activities in their experimental design processes are also produced.

Findings: 

(1) teachers are unfamiliar with “messy” real-world scientific experiments, and find them deeply engaging;

(2) despite the fact that teachers in the United States and Japan both are concerned about inquiry-based teaching, they employ very different meanings of this concept.
 

Publications & Presentations: 

“Using Programmable Crickets to Help Beginning Teachers Experience Scientific Inquiry,” Fred Martin and Anita Greenwood, Association for Science Teacher Education annual conference, Clearwater Beach, FL, January 2007.

“Use of Portable Technology in a Teacher Preparation Program for the Purpose of Enhancing Teachers' Understanding of Scientific Inquiry,” Sachiko Tosa, in Annual Spring Colloquium Journal on Research in Mathematics and Science Education, Volume 13, Spring 2008, University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Other Products: 

We are developing an internet-based data acquisition and visualization system for use by teachers and students, along with instructional approaches for integrating activities based on this system into middle- and high-school science curricula.