Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Dissertation


Science--Study and teaching--Methodology; Inquiry (Theory of knowledge); Teachers--Training of--Evaluation; Student teachers--Training of--Evaluation;


Student conducted inquiry is an essential component of the Next Generation Science Standards and considered to be a core goal of teaching science methods. Teachers need to understand what student inquiry entails, to be able to successfully conduct their own inquiry investigations, and to understand this process well so as to guide original student inquiry investigations. Some suggest that, as a result of No Child Left Behind legislation, an entire generation of students have missed out on inquiry-based elementary science instruction. Research indicates that many preservice teachers find it difficult to bridge knowledge of subject matter with pedagogy – making use of content knowledge in ways that help all students learn. Many are quite unfamiliar with authentic forms of inquiry, having only experienced confirmatory lab activities while in school. Additionally, preservice teachers often find it difficult to understand how scientific arguments are constructed, transformed into written reports, and published for a wider, authentic audience.

Scientific inquiry is a process of finding answers to questions based upon observation and investigation. Student-centered scientific inquiry is much more than just doing prescribed experiments or letting students “run wild.” There is a process that must be understood and followed by the teacher. A lack of inquiry understanding by the teacher may lead to incomplete student learning. The purpose of this study was to describe preservice and practicing teachers’ understanding of the scientific inquiry process. These projects were analyzed to: (a) determine the successes and problems students encountered in their presented inquiry projects; (b) to compare the projects made by preservice teachers to those of practicing teachers to determine the strengths, weaknesses, and the participant’s general understandings of the inquiry process between these two groups; and (c) to recommend improvement to this sort of project for greater student growth in science inquiry understanding.

The study used mixed methods: descriptive content analysis design and descriptive statistics and analyzed data from undergraduate and graduate students projects completed in ELEMECML 3161 Teaching Elementary School Science course and ELEMECML 6242 Analysis and Improvement of Science Instruction in Elementary Schools from 2012-2015. The projects were analyzed using an instrument that was designed by the investigator to reflect recommendations from the professional literature. The instrument included six categories of the main phases of the inquiry process: Orientation, Making Observations, Gathering Evidence, Considering New Evidence, Conclusion, and Communication. The data analysis used descriptive statistics, inter-rater reliability, and qualitative analysis. The researcher classified and analyzed 141 projects.

The 141 projects that were evaluated had a mean score of 74.7%, based on the points earned on the inquiry project evaluation instrument. This average indicates that these groups of teachers do not fully understand the many intricacies of the scientific inquiry process. The scores within these 141 projects ranged 99.2% to 40.8%. When analyzing specific categories of the scientific inquiry process, the category that scored highest on average was Gathers Evidence, with a mean score of 83.0% of the possible points earned. The category with the lowest means scores was Considers New Evidence., with 43.0% of the points earned. Five of the six inquiry categories showed strong positive correlations between category scores and the final overall score for the project, indicating that proficiency in each of the categories of inquiry is important to overall success in the process.

Practicing teachers consistently scored higher than preservice teachers, though not always statistically significantly different. When compared between the two groups of teachers, the category of Orientation had p value of 0.034, Makes Observations had a value of 0.007, and Communication showed a significant difference of 0.007. The total score comparison yielded a p value of 0.021. The other three inquiry categories did not show significant differences, indicating that practicing teachers were not significantly better at demonstrating their understanding of the inquiry process than preservice teachers.

Eight themes emerged when describing positive indicators. The most vital process of scientific inquiry was the synthesis of multiple information sources and among the different phases of inquiry. The results guide suggestions for better use of scientific inquiry related to the use of direct, concrete instruction of each phase of the inquiry process, along with concentrated effort to model and emphasize synthesis within the entire inquiry process.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Department of Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Audrey Rule, Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (xii, 171 pages)



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