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Collaborative inquiry in science education in Greek elementary classroom

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					   Collaborative inquiry in science education in Greek elementary
              classroom: An action research program
             Piliouras P., Kokkotas P., Malamitsa K., Plakitsi K., Vlaxos I.
                                 University of Athens

1. Introduction

Nowadays, the conventional pedagogical practices of the classroom have been
challenged by the notions of a community of inquiry, in which emphasis is placed on
collective meaning-making and socially shared expertise. Classroom discourse is
increasingly becoming a prominent area of research in education and in science
education in particular (Lemke 2001).
The “discursive” (Harre and Gillett, 1994) and “cultural” turn (Bruner 1996) in
psychology has involved a shift in focus away from viewing meaning-making in terms
of cognitive processes in the individual, towards viewing meaning-making of
individuals as they function in social and cultural settings. Furthermore, there has
been an increasing recognition of scientific reasoning as a social process that
involves conjecture and argumentation (Latour 1987) and a similar focus shift in
research into teaching and learning science (Newton et al 1999). The rhetorical,
argumentative and discursive aspects of teaching and learning scientific concepts
and practices have lead educators to define science as discourse. They also suggest
that schools should provide students with more opportunities to negotiate,
compromise, and appreciate each other’s opinions (Osborne et al 2001) when they
are engaging in inquiry-based activities (Wells 1999).
Therefore, it is important to conduct a research program that aims to (a) identify the
pedagogical strategies necessary to create a collaborative inquiry learning
environment in elementary science classrooms, (b) trial these pedagogical strategies
and (c) evaluate the extent to which properly designed lessons that adopt these
pedagogical strategies can change the nature, the type and the quality of dialogues
that take place during the science lessons.

2. Methods

Our research is based on a collaborative action research framework. Primary
purpose of action research is to simultaneously study and generate knowledge about
the very practice that it seeks to change. The adjective “collaborative” stresses that
this research methodology involves researching with teachers, rather than
conducting research on them or about them. In our approach, we assume that
teachers can acquire the expertise necessary for effective curriculum development
by refining and extending the practical professional knowledge they already possess
through critical collaborative activity supported by a team of researchers.
The research takes place in two phases. In the current first phase, initially, we
conducted a thorough review of literature in science teaching as collaborative inquiry.
Afterwards, we created a group of twelve teachers interested in collaborating with us
in order to develop their understanding of our theoretical approach to dialogic and
inquiry nature of learning science. Currently, we, in collaboration with the teacher-
researchers, use discourse analysis descriptive tools to evaluate classroom activities.
We also continue to study the relevant literature in order to track down, trial and
evaluate the pedagogical strategies necessary to promote student discursive and
collaborative inquiry skills. In the second phase we will apply the successful
strategies in order to create a collaborative inquiry environment.
For every teacher-researcher, we gather a large amount of data including video and
audio-recordings of classroom events. In addition, we, as a research team, visit twice
a month every participant in the research class, take field notes and conduct
interviews with students. The sociocultural and socioconstructivist perspectives of
interaction and learning inform the theoretical grounding of our analysis framework.
For analyzing the data among other research tools we use a three-dimensional
descriptive system of analysis proposed by Kumpulainen and Mutanen (1999) as well
as the “flow of discourse”, an analytical framework proposed by Mortimer and Scott

3. Results

In the initial project phase we focused our analysis on the recordings and transcripts
of the student discussions and the discursive patterns and strategies that are used by
teachers participating in the program. The analysis of data indicated that teachers,
before they get familiar with and develop the proper theoretical and practical
background, lacked the competency to cultivate a collaborative inquiry-based
environment. In most of the cases teachers determined exclusively the theme of
discourse, using a variety of control strategies to maintain thematic control. Also
student lacked the competency to cooperate and to work together.
The heretofore trial of the pedagogical strategies indicate that their implementation
enhances the quality of social interactions in science classrooms. The most of the
teachers use question-and-answer sequences not just to test knowledge, but also to
guide the development of understanding. The occurrence of restatements,
evaluations and explanations by students also indicate that they are getting to work
on each other’s ideas rather than the teacher’s ideas only.

4. Conclusion and implications

The results of our research, though they bring to light some persistent problems,
which have also been revealed by other researchers, (for example, the fact that when
students solve problems collaboratively tend to approach their tasks procedurally
rather than intellectually), are encouraging. Little by little student groups
communicate more effectively and improve their ability to reason and solve together
problem-based tasks. Also, teachers, who in initial phase lack the competency to
implement effective discourse and collaborative inquiry strategies, develop a first
critical “armory” of skills.
The ongoing evolution of our research program indicates that it is very important to
involve teachers in the research and provide them with analytic tools to evaluate
classroom activities and talk.
5. Bibliography

Bruner J. (1996). The culture of education. Cambridge, Massachsetts, London,
Enland: Harvard University Press.
Harre, R. & Gillet, G. (1994) The Discursive Mind. London: Sage.
Latour Bruno (1987) Science in Action. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard
University Press.
Lemke, J. L. (2001) Articulating Communities: Sociocultural Perspectives on Science
Education. Journal of Research on Science Teaching 38 (3): 296-316.
Newton, P., Driver, R., & Osborne, J. (1999). The place of argumentation in the
pedagogy of school science. International Journal of Science Education, 21, 553-
Osborne, Erduran, Simon, & Monk (2001). Enhancing the Quality of Argument in
School Science School Science Review,82 (301),63-70.
Wells G. (1999). Dialogic Inquiry. Toward a Sociocultural Practice and Theory in
Education. Cambridge University Press.

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