"Collaborative inquiry in science education in Greek elementary classroom"
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 Greece 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 (2000). 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- 576. 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.