Teaching Science as Inquiry (TSI): Aquatic


The Teaching Science as Inquiry (TSI): Aquatic professional development (PD) project was conducted by researchers and curriculum developers at the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education, University of Hawai‘I at Mānoa from 2011–2014. The project, Accessible Professional Development for Teaching Aquatic Science Inquiry, was funded through a U.S. Department of Education Institute for Educational Sciences (IES) grant (No. R305A100091). The project was an inquiry-based, year-long, modularized professional development (PD) for middle and high school teachers focused on aquatic science. The evaluation of the project was an eclectic, mixed-method study, which used instruments for collecting both formative-evaluation and summative-evaluation information.

Final Report

Purpose & Goals

We developed and evaluated a series of four PD modules, each consisting of in-persontrainings coupled with online learning support. The purpose of the module series was for teachers to become successful facilitators of scientific inquiry within the context of aquatic science, enabling them to create classrooms that function as a community of scientists—where students learn science by engaging in the practice of science. The PD modules were based on the unique Teaching Science as Inquiry (TSI) pedagogical framework. TSI, developed at the University of Hawai‘i’s Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), emphasizes multiple modes of inquiry learning and teaching. Our PD modules were grounded in TSI and focused on aquatic science content. The goals of our project were to (a) increase teachers’ content knowledge in aquatic science, (b) improve teachers’ science process and pedagogical knowledge, and (c) improve student content knowledge and nature-of-science (NOS) understanding.


Our PD focused on inquiry instruction in the practices of science. The TSI Aquatic PD material was organized into four thematic modules, including (a) physical, (b) biological, (c) chemical, and (d) ecological aquatic science. The four TSI Aquatic modules were spaced throughout the school year, resulting in a temporally accessible PD format that allowed teachers to work together in a learning cohort with sustained interaction. The modular structure of our TSI Aquatic PD project also allowed us to scaffold inquiry pedagogy and strategies over the span of a school year and allowed us to assess teachers’ inquiry understanding over time.

Setting & Population

We developed and implemented all four of our TSI Aquatic PD modules with each of five cohorts: Cohort 1 (O‘ahu), Cohort 2 (Maui County), Cohort 3 (Hawai‘i Island), Cohort 4 (O‘ahu II), and Cohort 5 (Kaua‘i). Our PD targeted teachers of heterogeneous groups of students in middle and highschools throughout the state of Hawai‘i. Over the course of the PD, 63 teachers completed the TSI modules and evaluation components of the course. Over our PD series we iteratively developed, tested, evaluated, and refined our intervention and instruments. Our final year of the project, with cohorts 4 and 5, represented the PD in its final form.

Key Measures

We measured the effects of the TSI Aquatic PD on the participating teachers’ aquatic science content knowledge, understanding of the nature of inquiry-based science teaching, perceptions of their pedagogical practice, and implementation of the pedagogy and content of the TSI Aquatic PD. We also measured the effects on the teachers’ students’ understanding of the NOS and on knowledge of aquatic science content. To evaluate these key measure, we developed and pilot-tested a total of 15 formal formative and summative instruments.


The evaluation findings showed that the teachers perceived the PD to be valuable and relevant to their teaching practice—particularly the science content and the community building features of the PD. There were diverging opinions among the teachers about the value of the TSI pedagogical features. Teachers reported that they would continue to use the Exploring Our Fluid Earth curriculum website after the PD for activities and content and that they would continue to use the online learning community aspect of the website to interact with each other. Teachers’ self reports suggested that the PD helped them improve on their pedagogical content knowledge for teaching science (effect size = 0.24, p = .21), self-efficacy in teaching science through the process of inquiry (effect size = 1.50, p < .01), and metacognition in teaching (effect size = 0.18, p = .38). Teachers felt the PD was helpful in improving their ability to teach the science content, but some teachers found parts of the pedagogy to be difficult to implement. The teachers’ gains on the aquatic science content knowledge module-level assessments were consistently significantly higher in the post-test than in the pre-test (effect sizes ranged from 0.66 to 1.01; all p < .01); indicating the PD was successful in delivering content that was accessible to the teachers. Teachers reported having success implementing the content aspects of the target activities in their classrooms, and they improved in the quality of their implementation of TSI pedagogy as the project progressed. Teachers also improved in their understanding of the nature of inquiry-based science teaching (effect size = 1.24, p < .01); indicating that teachers matured in their breadth and depth of knowledge about teaching science through the process of inquiry. Students gained in their understanding of the nature-of-science (NOS) while participating in the project (in typical classrooms, effect size = 0.13, p < .05). Students of teachers who reported adhering more closely to the PD gained significantly more than the students in classes taught by teachers with lower adherence ratings (effect size = 0.21, p < .01); supporting the tentative conclusion that the PD had an effect on students’ NOS understanding. Students also gained in their content understanding (in typical classrooms, the effect size = 0.45, p < .01; in classrooms with teachers adhering more to the PD, there was an added effect size of 0.25, p < .01). High-school students did not gain as strongly in content as middle-school students (effect size = -0.34, p < .01). Students of teachers with little prior science PD experience showed significant gains in content knowledge (effect size = 0.18, p < .01), suggesting that the project benefited students in contexts with teachers that had less science PD exposure.


Overall, the TSI Aquatic PD project was a success. The students improved in theirNOS understanding and in their content knowledge. The teachers improved in theircontent knowledge, their self-efficacy in teaching science, and in their understanding of teaching science through the process of inquiry. The positive accounts in the interviews and in teachers’ responses on multiple instruments also suggested they perceived the PD to be valuable, relevant, and to be an overall worthwhile experience.

For More Information

PI: Kanesa Duncan Seraphin  |  kanesa@hawaii.edu

Co-PI: Paul R. Brandon  |  brandon@hawaii.edu

Co-PI: Thanh Truc T. Nguyen  |  nguyen@hawaii.edu

Selected Publications

pdf document Harrison, G. M., Vallin, L. M., Brandon, P. R., Seraphin, K. D., & Philippoff, J. (2015). Comparing models of nature of science dimensionality based on the Next Generation Science Standards. International Journal of Science Education, 37, 1321–1342.

pdf document Nguyen, T. T., & Jumawan, F. (2013). A social network analysis of a Teaching Science as Inquiry online learning community. In T. Bastiaens & G. Marks (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2013 (pp. 2017–2025). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

pdf document Seraphin, K.D., J. Philippoff, L. Kaupp, & L. Vallin. (2012). Metacognition as means to increase the effectiveness of inquiry-based science education. Science Education International, 22: 366–382.

pdf document Duncan Seraphin, K. (2012). Improving ocean literacy through targeted professional development. NSTA Reportshttp://www.nsta.org/publications/news/story.aspx?id=59238

pdf document Jumawan, F. V., Nguyen, T. T., & Liebengood, F. D. (2012). Teachers’ self-perception versus actual use: A science online learning community. Proceedings of the 2012 International Society for Technology in Education conference. San Diego, CA: ISTEhttp://www.isteconference.org/2012/uploads/KEY_70233986/2012_ISTE_TeacherPerceptionvUse_ScienceOLC_RP.pdf

pdf document Nguyen, T.T.T. & Jumawan, F.V. (2011). Online learning community development expectations: A science story. In Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2011. Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

pdf document Duncan Seraphin, K. & E. Baumgartner. (2010). Your students as scientists: guidelines for teaching science as a discipline. In: NSTA Exemplary Science Programs Series #7: Science in Social and Societal Contexts (ed. Yagar, R.), pp. 33–50. National Science Teacher’s Association (NSTA).