Teaching Science as Inquiry

Teaching Science as Inquiry

The Teaching Science as Inquiry (TSI): Aquatic project is a collaboration with the Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program and the College of Education’s Distance Course Design Consulting (DCDC) Group. The TSI-A team is creating a professional development (PD) program for teachers that combines instruction in inquiry teaching with marine science content. The team is also creating a modularized middle and high school marine science curriculum, which forms the basis of the PD’s content. This project, funded by the US department of Education (USDOE) Institute of Education Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Services Center, serves as an ideal demonstration of the way CRDG works, in that it includes work in curriculum development, teacher professional development, learning technologies, and evaluation by CRDG staff as well as a range of collaborative partnerships with groups in both the university and the broader community.

Modular Professional Development for Science Teachers


A primary goal of the USDOE funding for the TSI Aquatic project is to research the framework and materials that contribute to a successful PD, which ultimately helps teachers teach aquatic science topics through scientific inquiry. The project is focused on developing a series of PD modules that consist of in-person training coupled with online learning support. The project is also carrying out a rigorous program of research into how the PD impacts both teacher quality and student achievement.

The purpose of the TSI Aquatic PD module series is for teachers to become successful facilitators of scientific inquiry, enabling them to create classrooms that function as a community of scientists—where students learn science by engaging in the practice of science. Other key components of the project include the creation of an online learning community, ongoing evaluation of the PD sessions, a study of teachers’ use of the online learning community (OLC), and development of a marine science curriculum website, Exploring Our Fluid Earth (EOFE), which comprises updated materials from the CRDG’s texts The Living Ocean and The Fluid Earth.The TSI Aquatic PD comprises an introductory meeting followed by a series of four TSI-A modules. Each of the modules consists of a two-day workshop, a three-hour evening mini-workshop, an asynchronous OLC experience, and a two-hour synchronous online follow-up component (approximately 22 contact hours per module). Teachers participate in two modules per semester for a total of four modules over the course of the school year. Each TSI Aquatic module focuses on a particular aspect of aquatic science: physical, chemical, biological, and ecological. Cohorts 1–3, on O‘ahu, Maui, and Hawai‘i Island, were completed in June 2012. Cohorts 4 and 5, on O‘ahu and Kaua‘i, began with the new school year in fall 2012. Content and delivery for cohorts 4 and 5 were modified based on feedback from the evaluation team, teacher participants, and external project consultants. Modifications have included an increase in the amount of time focused specifically on content and pedagogy, more attention focused on the use of TSI language in discussions with the teachers, and more time spent on content that teachers in the first three cohorts found difficult. Other changes have included more explicit discussion of TSI pedagogy before and after each activity as well as a new requirement that teachers teach both pedagogical and content lessons to their students.

Exploring Our Fluid Earth Curriculum Website

A primary goal of the NOAA funding and the collaboration with the Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program is to create an online marine science curriculum, EOFE, based on CRDG’s The Fluid Earth and The Living Ocean textbooks and NOAA science. The website, developed by the College of Education’s Distance Course Design Consulting (DCDC) group, comprises a set of online, inquirybased coastal and ocean science modules, each with corresponding materials and activities aligned to the national Ocean Literacy Principles (http://oceanliteracy.wp2.coexploration.org/). The modules will also be aligned to the upcoming Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The set of five modules relate in content to the NGSS practices of science and the physical, chemical, biological, and ecological elements of aquatic science for middle and high school students. The set is designed as a stand-alone course in marine science. However, the modular structure of EOFE allows teachers to add a marine science component to physics, chemistry, or biology classes if there is not a stand-alone marine science course in their school. Currently the website is password protected for use by PD teachers while the project is in active development. However, much of the content will eventually be available freely to the public, and teachers will be able to purchase additional instructional resources through CRDG.

Emerging Technologies

The CRDG Learning Technologies (LT) team has been a key part of the TSI Aquatic project, complementing the marine science content and pedagogy efforts to explore ways that emerging technologies can expand and enhance both PD and curriculum delivery. In addition to teachers presenting about their own classroom implementation (once per module) via the synchronous Blackboard virtual classroom, teachers interact asynchronously online through the online learning community. This year, the LT team began working collaboratively with DCDC to develop a generalized website to support the PD. The newly revised website integrates the EOFE curriculum and the OLC in a place where teachers interact in a private section for their PD cohort, while simultaneously being connected to the larger EOFE site where they can communicate with all five cohorts (and eventually other teachers) regarding the use of the EOFE online resources.

The LT team is primarily interested in the ways teachers interact in the OLC and how the OLC extends the PD experience, looking at teacher motivation and value-added elements of the EOFE website. Teachers are required to post their lesson plans to the private PD portion of the EOFE website as well as to comment and respond publicly to peers in the curriculum portion of the EOFE website. The LT team is tracking teachers’ navigation of the site as well as their patterns of conversation and information exchange (ideas, comments, and materials). Teachers provide feedback on the usability of the EOFE website and on their use of the website with their students and in their classrooms. This feedback informs the PD, the EOFE website development, and the LT team’s understanding of online communication and value for extending educational experiences and community building beyond the PD and the physical classroom.

Research and Evaluation Plays a Key Role

Image_008After extensive instrument development activities in the TSI Aquatic project’s first two years, the research team focused in large part this year on refining data collection instruments and gathering evidence supporting the validity of the data collected. A total of nineteen evaluation instruments have been used to collect data on contextual issues surrounding the development of the project and to help ensure that the research team was fully aware of aspects of the development that might have affected the implementation and outcomes.

The second major set of activities conducted by the research team had to do with providing formative evaluation feedback to the development team in a timely manner. The project developers reported that they particularly valued the feedback that the research team provided after observing the workshops, the followup training, and the Blackboard sessions. The developers used the feedback to make revisions in the training methods, and the research team noted improvements in the training as the year progressed.

As the project has progressed, the data collected have begun to serve, simultaneously, formative project evaluation purposes, formative teacher assessment purposes, and formative student assessment purposes. This is a result of the application of a multipurpose PD evaluation model, in which data are collected and used for multiple purposes. For example, the results collected for formative project evaluation purposes, such as teachers’ content assessment pretest results, were used not only for gauging pre-post gains but also for informing the project developers about teachers’ strengths and weaknesses. This expanded role of the research and evaluation tasks has thus helped served the project in multiple ways.