Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.2, 132-142
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciR e s .
Teachers’ Transformation to Inquiry-Based Instructional Practice
Jeff C. Marshall1, Julie B. Smart2
1School of Education, Clemson University, Cl emson, USA
2Presbyterian College, Clinton, USA
Received December 6th, 2012; revised January 8th, 201 3 ; accepted January 21st, 2013
This collective case study examines secondary science teachers’ responses to a professional development
program designed to assist in the transformation of inquiry belief structures and inquiry instructional
practices. These teachers were participants in a year-long professional development institute that focused
on increasing the quantity and quality of inquiry in secondary science classrooms. This multi-case design
examines multiple data sources in order to answer the following research question: How do the beliefs
and practices of teachers regarding inquiry-based instruction evolve over the year of intervention? Par-
ticipants were selected using the data from an inquiry observational protocol to represent a variety of
abilities and beliefs regarding inquiry instructional practice. The results provide insights into teachers’ be-
lief structures and classroom structure related to inquiry instruction. Further, we detail the role of the pro-
fessional development experience in facilitating transformation of classroom practice. Implications for
how professional development programs are developed and led are provided.
Keywords: Beliefs; Collective Case Study; Conceptions; Instructional Methods; Inquiry-Based Instruction;
Inquiry Instruction; Science Education; Teacher Transformation; Transition in Practice
With years of counterexamples to guide their own learning,
science teachers often find it difficult to transform their instruc-
tion to more inquiry-based practice. Reform documents such as
the National Science Education Standards, NSES, have defined
inquiry-based practice (National Research Council, [NRC],
1996) and articulated what it looks like compared to non-in-
quiry approaches (Llewellyn, 2005, 2000). Yet, the goal of
high-quality, frequent inquiry-based instruction in science
classrooms is far from being achieved. Further, professional
development (PD) experiences have largely fallen short of the
desired transformation in practice (Bybee et al., 2006, 2000).
Part of the challenge exists because multiple viewpoints seem
to exist for how inquiry-based instruction should be imple-
mented in the classroom. Anderson notes, NSES (NRC, 1996)
leaves readers to create their own image of inquiry-based in-
struction (Anderson, 2002). Paradoxically, we are left with an
inquiry challenge regarding inquiry-based instruction.
Other reasons why teachers may have difficulty successfully
implementing inquiry-based instruction include: 1) difficulty
“creating a science classroom that causes students to be per-
plexed without being overly confused” (McDonald, Criswell, &
Dreon, 2008: p. 42); 2) lack of linearity found in other methods;
and (3) insufficient time to unravel the complexities and ambi-
guities inherent to inquiry. Despite the challenges, many op-
portunities exist for teachers to scaffold instruction so that
learning improves, thus addressing the multifaceted and com-
plex nature of inquiry (Vanosdall, Klentschy, Hedges, & Weis-
baum, 2007; Windschitl, 2008).
Our study focuses on teacher implementation of content-rich
inquiry-based instruction where state and national science con-
tent standards are explicitly linked with inquiry-based practice.
Specifically, how do the beliefs and practices of teachers re-
garding inquiry-based instruction evolve over the course of a
year-long professional development (PD) program?
Theoretical Framework
Transformation of Practice via Pr o fe ssional
Development Experiences
In order to achieve transformation of practice, PD programs
need to be grounded, aligned, and implemented based on solid
research findings. The proposed research question seeks to
examine whether the expressed beliefs of experienced science
and math teachers are consistent with their practice in the
classroom (Van Driel, Beijaard, & Verloop, 2001). Some have
suggested that changing beliefs is necessary but not always
sufficient for changing practice (Briscoe, 1991; Johnston, 1991;
Mellado, 1998). PD programs that seek to achieve a belief
structure that mirrors actual practice often share three common
themes: 1) requires that participants engage in long-term sus-
tained involvement; 2) must be context-embedded; and 3) must
be content focused (Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon,
2001; Guskey, 2003; Smylie, Allensworth, Greenberg, Harris,
& Luppescu, 2001; Supovitz & Turner, 2000).
Time. First, considerable time is required, both in duration
and quantity, to build from current conceptions to a transformed,
sustained inquiry-based practice. While exact agreement has
not been reached on the quantity and duration of PD necessary
to promote transformation of practice, research indicates that at
least 80 hours of engaged, participant involvement that extends
throughout at least one academic year is optimal (Garet et al.,
2001; Loucks-Horsley, Love, Stiles, Mundry, & Hewson, 2003;
Supovitz & Turner, 2000).
Context and Environment. Sufficient time provides one
cornerstone, but how the time is spent is equally critical to en-
couraging transformation. Specifically, properly addressing the
context and environment help to facilitate transformation by
building on existing experiences. For effective PD, teachers
must interact in ways that bring their own learning context and
prior experiences into the transformative experience. Specifi-
cally, more reformed ideas of PD provide personalized social
networks for teachers to interact with others, peer coaching
opportunities, and case studies. These interactions and experi-
ences need to be embedded in ways that are directly transfer-
able to their classroom context and environment (Garet et al.,
2001; Lumpe, Haney, & Czerniak, 2000).
Content-focused. Content specificity of the PD experience is
critical. In science, this often requires that participants under-
stand and begin to shift belief structures away from their more
common positivist views of science, in which science is fixed
and unchangeable, to an understanding that science is complex,
often tentative, and a continually growing field (Abd-El-
Khalick & BouJaoude, 1997). When teachers are engaged in
the content and curriculum that is critical to their own class-
rooms through modeling, cases studies, and various other
methods, they are more likely to begin to transform their prac-
tice (Van Driel, et al., 2001). Further, reform documents in
science have suggested that greater emphasis needs to be placed
on inquiry-based forms of instruction that require students to
think deeper and more critically about learning. To be clear,
Inquiry is a multifaceted activity that involves making
observations; posing questions; examining… sources of
information…; planning investigations; reviewing… evi-
dence; using tools…; proposing answers, explanations,
and predictions; and communicating results. Inquiry re-
quires identification of assumptions, use of critical and
logical thinking, and consideration of alternative explana-
tions (NRC, 1996: p. 23).
Despite this detailed definition, inquiry is still inconsistently
applied in the classroom. Specifically, teachers often confuse
teaching science by inquiry with teaching science as inquiry
(Chiappetta & Koballa, 2006). The prevalent, teaching by in-
quiry, results in an “activity-mania” of short, often discon-
nected, entertaining activities at the expense of “minds-on”
content-laden inquiry investigations (Moscovici & Holdlund-
Nelson, 1998). A more desirable teaching science as inquiry
fuses content and process, thus resulting in scientific inquiry.
The need to separate “learning content” from “doing inquiry” is
unnecessary (Windschitl, 2008).
Measuring Transformation
For the purpose of measuring teacher transformation, many
belief and attitudinal surveys are available that have been tested
and standardized (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Pajares, 1996).
These are helpful for providing insight into the self-perceptions
of the teacher and his/her transition. In addition, it is helpful to
consider the actual observable practice in the classroom. Nu-
merous observational protocols (i.e., Inside the Classroom,
RTOP, EQUIP) are available to measure various components of
instructional practice (Horizon Research, 2002; Marshall, Smart,
& Horton, 2010; Sawada et al., 2000). Common among these
protocols is a focus on four key constructs associated with the
facilitation of student learning: 1) instruction; 2) curriculum; 3)
discourse; and 4) assessment.
Instruction. Uniting constructivist learning theory with in-
quiry-based instruction achieves learning that builds on prior
knowledge, addresses student preconceptions, and engages
students deeply in process and content (Abell, 2007; Bransford,
Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Bybee et al., 2006; Mortimer & Scott,
2000, 2003).
Curriculum. Instructional effectiveness is limited by the
quality of the curriculum. Critical curriculum components in-
clude depth of content studied, centrality of the learner in in-
struction, role of standards, and role of student in recording and
organizing information and (Luft, Bell, & Gess-Newsome,
2008; Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001, 1996; Schmidt,
McNight, & Raizen, 2002; Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).
Discourse. Some key components of discourse in science
classrooms include the level and complexity of questions, the
environment created for questioning, and the pattern of
teacher-student and student-student communication (Ball &
Cohen, 1999; Kelly, 2007; Moje, 1995; Morge, 2005; Van Zee,
Iwasyk, Kurose, Simpson, & Wild, 2001). Teachers’ question-
ing strategies are central to inquiry instruction yet often differ
from questioning in more traditional contexts (Duit & Treagust,
1998). Inquiry-based questioning seeks to elicit student thought
processes, encourages students to elaborate on their ideas, ad-
justs based on student responses in an effort to engage students
in higher-order thinking, and tends to be more open where
teacher responses are neutral rather than evaluative (Baird &
Northfield, 1992; Chin, 2007).
Assessment. Properly integrating formative assessment in in-
struction is central to effective science teaching practice (Mar-
shall, Horton, & Smart, 2009; Marzano, 2006). Further, effec-
tive instruction incorporates assessment that draws upon stu-
dent prior knowledge, develops solid conceptual development,
involves student reflection, and provides varied and appropriate
assessments (Bell & Cowie, 2001; Black & Wiliam, 1998;
Bransford et al., 2000; Driver, Squires, Rushworth, & Wood-
Robinson, 1994; Stiggins, 2005; White & Frederiksen, 1998;
Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).
Problem/Purpose Statement
This case study examines how sustained involvement in a PD
institute assists teachers as they transform to greater quantity
and quality of inquiry-based instruction. We sought to describe
a spectrum of teachers’ responses at various points during the
PD intervention. Specifically, we examined their belief struc-
tures and classroom practices associated with inquiry-based
instruction as transformation progressed.
Participants in the present study were part of a year-long PD
intervention with the goal of increasing the quantity and quality
of inquiry-based instruction in secondary science classrooms.
An initial two-week summer session focused on immersing
teachers in inquiry learning experiences, introducing the 4E × 2
Instructional Model for planning inquiry-based instruction
(Marshall, Horton, & Smart, 2009), and supporting the work of
teacher-teams in developing inquiry exemplar lessons. Fol-
low-up included four days during the academic year to provide
continuing support, feedback, and guidance regarding the de-
velopment, refinement, and implementation of inquiry-based
instruction. Additionally, program facilitators made visits to
participants’ classrooms several times during each semester in
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 133
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
order to provide personalized support for implementing exem-
plar lessons and to give regular feedback regarding implemen-
tation of inquiry lessons. This sustained PD model allowed
facilitators to provide on-going, individualized support for
teachers as they transitioned to more inquiry-based instructional
Instructional Model
The 4E × 2 Instructional Model (Marshall, Horton, & Smart,
2009), which forms the curricular foundation for the PD inter-
vention, builds upon the 5E Instructional Model (Bybee et al.,
2006) and other similar inquiry models (Atkin & Karplus, 1962;
Eisenkraft, 2003; Karplus, 1977). All of these models including
the original Learning Cycle (Atkin & Karplus, 1962) from
which most have been derived have at the core a belief that the
learner needs to be perturbed so that the mind becomes engaged
duirng learning—a Piagetian notion or constructivist approach.
The 4E × 2 Model incorporates three critical learning constructs:
1) inquiry instruction (NRC, 2000); 2) formative assessment
(Black & Wiliam, 1998); and 3) teacher reflection (2006). The
4E × 2 Model integrates these constructs into a single model to
guide transformation of practice and improve student learning.
The following sequence is foundational to the 4E × 2 Model:
Engage, Explore, Explain, and Extend. Specifically, Engage
incorporates some or all of the following in the instructional
sequence: activate prior knowledge, probe for misconceptions,
provide motivation/interest/relevance, and/or develop scientific
questions. During Explore, instruction is focused on getting
students to predict, design, test, collect, and/or reason. Explain
follows after student exploration, and the teacher helps students
resolve misconceptions, tie key concepts to ideas explored, and
has students communicated ideas through various means. In the
process, students interpret and analyze data, provide evidence,
communicate ideas, provide alternative explanations, and jus-
tify conclusions. During the Extend portion of instruction, stu-
dents are provided opportunities to elaborate thinking, transfer
learning to novel situations, and generalize to other settings.
While the Model is dynamic and should adjust to the concept(s)
being taught, the critical portion of the Model requires that
students be provided an opportunity to Explore ideas, data, or
concepts before a formal Explanation occurs. Unlike the 5E
Model that places Evaluate at the end of the instructional se-
quence, the 4E × 2 Model explicitly embeds assessment within
each phase of the lesson. Although assessment may be part of
the 5E Model, it is not explicit in the model and left for teachers
to interpret as to where and when it should occur. In addition,
teacher reflection is also integrated into each phase of the les-
son, encouraging teachers to make intentional decisions re-
garding assessment throughout a lesson.
During the summer training and academic year follow-up,
guidance is given in how to move from what initially may seem
as prescriptive steps to follow (4E × 2 Model) to a new way of
thinking. For instance, teachers begin to grapple with how to
move from Explain-Explore progression in learning to Ex-
plore-Explain. Further, teachers learn to become more of a
facilitator, which includes beginning, when possible, with stu-
dent explanations instead of teacher presentation/lecture. Fi-
nally, during the two weeks of summer interaction, one day was
dedicated to experiencing, discussing, and troubleshooting each
“E” in the Model.
A purposeful selection (Creswell, 2008) of three high school
physical science teachers (Table 1) was drawn from the eight-
een teachers taking part in the year-long PD program. Selection
was based on their Electronic Quality of Inquiry Protocol
(EQUIP) scores (Marshall, Horton, Smart, & Llewellyn, 2008)
in order to represent an array of levels (high, medium, and low)
of implementation of inquiry as the school year began. For
example, Anne (high) was selected because her high initial
scores on EQUIP indicated a smooth transformation to in-
quiry-based instruction. Conversely, Carla (low) was selected
because her EQUIP scores show a teacher who was experienc-
ing more difficulty in transforming her instructional practices.
These observations were conducted at the beginning of the
school year, immediately following the summer portion of the
PD intervention.
EQUIP Details
EQUIP is a highly reliable and valid instrument that is used
to measure the quality of inquiry that occurs in a given class
period. The development and standardization of the instrument
have been previously addressed in detail this includes in-
ter-rater reliability (Marshall et al., 2010; Marshall, Smart, Lot-
ter, & Sirbu, 2011). Two reviewers (a professor in science edu-
cation and a doctoral student) scored the EQUIP and collected
the field notes. A weekly meeting was held to discuss the data
and findings. Further, numerous paired observations were held
throughout the academic year to insure that inter-rater agree-
ment remained consistently high. EQUIP measures 19 indica-
tors that are divided among four major learning constructs:
instruction, discourse, curriculum, and assessment.
Data Collection and Analysis
This multiple-case design (Yin, 2003) focused on the indi-
vidual responses of three distinct and unique perspectives, es-
pecially in the area of inquiry beliefs and transference of PD
experiences to instructional practice. True to Yin’s (2003) mul-
tiple-case, embedded design, used in this study, the with-in case
analysis (analysis of individual cases) preceded the cross-case
analysis (comparison of multiple cases) (Creswell, 2008; Mer-
riam, 1998; Yin, 2003).
Table 1.
Demographic details associated with the three teachers studied.
Participants1 Years teac hing Highest degree Race Teaching sche dule
Anne 2 Bachelor ’s Caucasian 90 minute 4 × 4 block
Beth 12 Bachelor’s Caucasian 50 minute
Carla 15 Master’s African American 90 minute AB block
Note: 1Pseudonyms used.
Data collection involved the following sources: 1) pre and
post survey data; 2) classroom observations using an inquiry
observational protocol; 3) field notes; 4) teacher interviews; and
5) transcripts of classroom recordings. Using multiple data
sources helped ensure triangulation (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994)
and construct validity within the case study design (Yin, 2003).
All data were checked for consistency. Pre and post survey
data and inquiry protocol ratings were triangulated, cross-
checked with the other qualitative data sources. Based on this
analysis, the following embedded units of analysis (Yin, 2003)
became the foci for this study: 1) teachers’ transformation of
belief structures regarding inquiry resulting from the PD ex-
perience and 2) teachers’ transformation of classroom practices
resulting from the PD experience.
Belief Structures
Teachers’ beliefs about and use of inquiry-based instruction
were determined via a pre and post survey that measured: 1)
self-efficacy (alpha = .87 for four-item sub-scale); 2) perceived
support (alpha = .87 for two-item sub-scale); and 3) value of
inquiry as an instructional strategy (Marshall, Horton, Igo, &
Switzer, 2009).
The self-efficacy scale was composed of items such as, Dur-
ing inquiry, I can manage my students behavior, and I can
effectively lead students in inquiry. The support scale items
included the following two statements: My schools admini-
stration is supportive of inquiry instruction, and The faculty at
my school is supportive of inquiry instruction. After each
statement, participants selected from a Likert-type scale (1 =
completely disagree, 2 = strongly disagree, 3 = somewhat dis-
agree, 4 = somewhat agree, 5 = strongly agree, and 6 = com-
pletely agree). Finally, value was determined using the follow-
ing two items: 1) Which value best represents the percentage of
instructional time your students are engaged in inquiry during
a typical lesson? and 2) Ideally, what percentage of instruc-
tional time should be devoted to inquiry?
Teacher interviews were conducted in order to examine
teachers’ conceptions and beliefs about inquiry throughout the
year-long PD. Interviews were transcribed, coded, and then
analyzed. Open coding was used to identify initial concepts.
Then, similar concepts were grouped to create categories re-
lated to teachers’ shifting belief structures. Multiple data
sources (interviews and survey results) allowed for triangula-
tion of teachers’ inquiry beliefs data.
Classroom Practices
Teachers’ inquiry belief structures represented contextual
factors that are mediating variables in transformation of actual
classroom practice. This transfer of PD experiences to teaching
practice was the principal focus of the case study. How and to
what degree inquiry-based instruction was implemented was
determined by using an observational protocol, field notes, and
a transcription of the audio taped observation.
EQUIP was used to assess the following four constructs: 1)
instruction; 2) discourse; 3) assessment; and 4) curriculum
(Marshall et al., 2008; Marshall et al., 2010). The current ver-
sion of EQUIP contains the same constructs and indicators as
the one used in this study. The difference being that we have
switched from the 5-point Likert scale (1 = not at all to 5 = to a
great extent) used in this study to a 4-point descriptive rubric.
In addition to the EQUIP ratings and field notes, audio re-
cordings of classroom sessions were transcribed to allow
in-depth analysis of instructional interactions. All qualitative
data were analyzed using the constant comparative method
(Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Collectively, the protocol, field notes,
and transcripts allowed for triangulation of multiple data
sources to better understand how teachers implemented and
facilitated inquiry instruction. We begin the data analysis ex-
ploring each of the three within cases.
Within-Case Analysis
Case One: Anne
Belief Structures. Anne reflected on her beliefs, specifically
the challenges, central to her emerging inquiry practice: “Phys-
ics came easy to me… everything I did was inquiry, and then I
got to chemistry and I was stuck again. I didn’t know what to
do.” Anne’s challenges of bridging content domains were fur-
ther complicated by her feeling that she often lacked a solid
engage component and was thus not able to adequately lead the
development of scientific questions. Anne further discussed the
challenge of helping students transfer new understandings
through inquiry investigations to mandated “test” items: “Stu-
dents had a difficult time transferring their inquiry learning…
to a more concrete form on a written test.” For her, any solution
must involve providing ways to make the abstract more con-
Anne’s pre and post survey responses remained consistently
high for both the typical percentage time devoted to in-
quiry-based instruction (40%) and the ideal percentage of time
that should be spent on inquiry instruction (80%). Furthermore,
her motivation to use inquiry instruction remained high despite
a drop in perceived support for inquiry. Table 2 details all the
above scores relative to the other case study participants and the
district teachers (N = 71).
Classroom Practices. Anne’s primary growth in inquiry
practice occurred in the areas of discourse (questioning strate-
gies and instructional interactions) and instruction (redefinition
of her role as a teacher) observed from the observational proto-
col, field notes, and transcripts.
Using the observational protocol as a framework, Anne’s
questioning strategies consistently received 4’s and 5’s (on a
scale where 1 = not at all and 5 = to a great extent) in the fol-
lowing areas: “The teacher asked questions that foster concep-
tual understanding,” and “The teacher asked questions that
stimulated higher level thinking.” As the school year progress-
ed, Anne transitioned from closed-ended questioning strategies
to ones that encouraged higher levels of cognitive engagement.
Anne scaffolded questions to move students to more thought-
provoking responses as seen in the following activity on
chemical bonding:
Teacher: Look at the two elements... How might they bond?
Do you know anything that would make you choose one ele-
ment over another to bond with?
Student: I think there is something about where they are on
the periodic chart.
T: What do you know about elements on the periodic chart?
How are they organized?
S: Some are grouped together because they have some of the
same properties. Right?
T: What kind of properties are we talking about here?
S: Like, the number of electrons? (transcript, ob4)
Through her questioning, Anne encouraged students to pro-
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vide explanations and justifications for their conjectures and
hypotheses. Anne also restated student ideas and “used fol-
low-up questions to provide opportunities to clarify and expand
on student thinking” (field notes, ob3).
Furthermore, Anne discussed how she practiced these new
questioning strategies by using effective questioning to guide
student understanding; “Well, it helps me to know if they truly
understand what they’re talking about or if they’re just using
words they’ve heard before.” For Anne, effective questioning
allowed her to “push students to really think…, not just repeat
what they think I want to hear.” Follow-up questioning allowed
Anne to help students elaborate publicly on their conceptions in
order to help struggling students improve their understandings.
Regarding instructional interactions, Anne averaged 5’s on
protocol items involving creating a climate of respect for stu-
dents’ ideas and building positive relationships between teacher
and students. Anne demonstrated respect and value of student
conjectures thus increasing the intellectual rigor. Throughout
instruction, Anne “encouraged students to listen to each other
and discouraged negative comments from other students during
class discussions” (field notes, ob2) and demonstrated her be-
lief that her students are capable of exploring scientific content
in a challenging manner. The following discussion on speed
and velocit y il l ustrates this point:
S: I thought that speed and velocity were the same thing.
T: Well, tell me why you thought that?
S: When you’re dealing with velocity, … you are talking
about how fast something is going, and when you’re talking
about speed, it’s the same thing. So velocity would be faster.
T: Remember that velocity has direction. With speed, it
doesn’t matter which way things are moving. Does that make
S: No, not really.
T: Let’s talk about this more while the class begins the next
activity (trans , ob2).
Anne’s interactions with students were consistent, stable, re-
spectful, and fair, contributing to an overall classroom envi-
ronment where students were expected to evaluate scientific
conjectures and to respect the ideas of others. This respect
translated into “student respect for each other and a willingness
to share openly with peers without fear of being wrong” (field
notes, ob1).
Finally, protocol ratings increased from 2’s in the Fall to 4’s
in the Spring on facilitating “using evidence to formulate con-
clusions,” “justifying conclusions,” and “extending learning to
new contexts.” She more frequently facilitated student explora-
tions instead of disseminating information via lecture. The fol-
lowing field notes show Anne’s transformation in her role:
Fall: Anne writes the formula for velocity on the board and
has students copy the formula and work sample problems in
their notebooks. While students are working the problems,
Anne walks around helping students who are having difficulty
with computations, often pointing out their errors in calculating
velocity (ob2).
Spring: Students are given elements and hole-punch paper
circles, and students must arrange the Lewis Dot Structures for
each compound. Walking around, Anne questions them about
their work and provides some guidance but allows students to
grapple with the activity on their own and through interaction
with other students (ob5).
These examples show Anne’s transformation from “keeper
of knowledge” to instructional guide. By year’s end, Anne
guided students to develop their own conceptual understandings
and helped them to explore scientific questions instead of
memorizing science content.
Throughout the year, Anne reflected on her evolving role as
teacher. Before, Anne “presented formulas or scientific ideas
and then allowed students to do activities relating to the infor-
mation I gave them.” Thus, she typically explained ideas before
allowing students to explore. Aligned with the 4E × 2 Model,
Anne now often allows students to explore scientific ideas be-
fore she explains the underlying concepts. Anne stated, “[The
students] ask scientific questions, and the only thing I really do
is to find a way to construct the classroom set-up in a way that
allows them to investigate these questions.” After students ex-
plore, the explain phase allows students to discuss findings and
create meaning to support student understanding.
Anne’s transformations in her inquiry beliefs and related
classroom practices demonstrate the transition to inquiry-based
instruction. She increased her knowledge about inquiry during
the year-long PD institute and has subsequently improved im-
plementation of inquiry instruction. This growth has motivated
Anne to “continue developing inquiry activities, especially in
the area of chemistry.” Obstacles are frequently negated by the
value she places on inquiry as an effective instructional method:
“It just is a very logical way of going about things. You ques-
tion, let them learn on their own, and then go back and expand
on what they’ve le a r ned.”
Case Two: Beth
Belief Structures. Beth’s perspective of inquiry-based in-
struction was concise both pre and post. Her pre-conception
addressed two key issues: 1) what inquiry is—“cause student to
think”, and 2) what inquiry is not—“just filling in worksheets.”
Thus, she emphasized critical thinking associated with inquiry
instead of supporting procedural, completion type activities
associated with non-inquiry. Beth’s post conception of in-
quiry-based instruction focused on two completely different
aspects: 1) the importance of prior knowledge and 2) learning
by mistakes. This begins to demonstrate her unstable, almost
amorphous view of inquiry.
Beth’s conception of inquiry-based instruction, “Using past
knowledge to learn something new,” lacks the specificity seen
in the NSES definition. Other than “examining… what is al-
ready known,” cited by NSES there is little correlation between
the two views. Her response shows an overly simplistic view of
inquiry, letting students “make mistakes” and causing them to
“think.” Missing was any mention that science uses a system-
atic approach to inquire about problems.
Beth’s survey results indicated a relative contentment in her
instructional practice regarding inquiry-based instructional
practice. Her pre percentage of time spent on inquiry matched
her ideal percentage of time that should be spent on inquiry
(40%). A drop in her post typical percentage of time being
spent on inquiry reported might be attributed to a better under-
standing of her actual classroom practice that now aligns with
the mean for science teachers previously surveyed (Table 2).
Her motivational score was slightly higher than the district
average and remained unchanged from the pre and post meas-
ure. Beth’s perceived support was also higher than the district
average and remained stable throughout the school year.
Some growth in understanding of inquiry practice was seen
with Beth. Specifically, she realzed that inquiry is more than i
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Table 2.
Pre- and post-interventio n scores for participants rela tive to district norm.
Typical % of inquiry Ideal % of inquiry Mean for self-efficacy scale (4-24 possible) Mean for support scale (2-12 possible)
Districti 28.5 (SD 15.4) 44.8 (SD 20.4) 18.8 (SD 2.58) 9.3 (SD 1.56)
Anne 40, 40 80, 80 18, 18ii 10, 8ii
Beth 40, 20 40, 40 19, 19 10, 10
Carla 20, 40 40, 60 19, 24 11, 9
Note: iN = 71 high school science teachers (sampled from entire district population); iiPre intervention, post intervention scores.
just hands-on activities for students; she realized the importance
of using student prior knowledge to guide instruction; she noted
that her understanding of inquiry has expanded to include a
focus on “relating science content to real life and finding a way
to make it meaningful to the students”; and, her understanding
of her role as a teacher during inquiry had expanded. She real-
ized the need to actively facilitate learning during inquiry in-
struction. She stated: “With inquiry, you have to lead it more
and have to be in the middle of it and that leaves less time to
finish paperwork and other work I have to do.”
Reflecting on her emerging inquiry pedagogy, Beth saw the
need to default to a more teacher-centered approach when
things became challenging: “When the school year started, I
was trying to do more inquiry, but as the year went on I fell
back on my old ways of teaching.” Beth typified these “old
ways of teaching” as giving notes, using worksheets, and giving
activities from the textbook. She perceived a lack of curricular
support for inquiry: “The supplements that you get for text-
books, it’s all fill-in-the blank and worksheets. Everything you
do with inquiry, you have to come up with on your own.”
However, she noted that exemplar lessons, designed by teams
during the summer PD, were helpful in her transformation to-
ward inquiry instruction. Additionally, Beth noticed her inter-
actions with students evolved during the year. Beth noted,
“They will come to me asking, ‘Is this right?’ I try to get them
to ask the other people in their group. I also learned to have
them rely on each other, not just on me.”
During the year-long PD experience, Beth increased her un-
derstanding of inquiry and reflected on her emerging pedagogy
in relation to inquiry-based instruction. She became aware of
the challenges of implementing inquiry when peers are gener-
ally aligned with non-inquiry approaches. Beth also discovered
that transitioning to inquiry is a process: “You start, but I
know I’ve got so much more to learn. It’s so easy to go back to
what you know.” She noted that students also experience a
parallel transformation as they learn through inquiry-based
Coming from middle school, they are so used to having
worksheets… reading straight from the book and answer-
ing questions… just memorizing. They’ve been spoon-fed
the information, so once they get in here and it’s not that
way, they have to adjust.
Classroom Practices. Beth’s instructional practices during
the school year were distinguished by her use of formative as-
sessment, attention to student prior knowledge, and reliance on
non-inquiry based forms of instruction.
Beth scored mostly 4’s throughout the year on formative as-
sessment issues such as: “The teacher adjusted instruction
based on students’ level of understanding.” On one occasion,
Beth “presented students with several chemical formulas to
balance that included polyatomic ions” (field notes, ob1). As
students worked, Beth recognized student confusion about the
role of oxidation numbers in creating neutrally charged mole-
cules. Instead of proceeding with instruction, Beth adjusted and
reviewed oxidation numbers for the remainder of the period. In
another class, Beth’s use of questioning to check for student
understanding showed students exploring classification of liv-
ing things:
T: We’ve talked about animal life, plant life, parasites, and
decomposers. Which one survives from a live host?
S: Well, I think it would be decomposers.
T: Why would you choose decomposers over the other
S: Well, they eat dead thi ngs, right? So c ouldn’t they al so eat
things that are alive?
From this questioning sequence, Beth realized that students
did not have an accurate understanding of the distinction be-
tween parasites and decomposers. Instead of progressing to a
new activity, she reviewed and clarified the differences be-
tween parasites and decomposers. Beth demonstrated a propen-
sity for “checking the status of her students’ understanding of
science concepts before moving on to new material” (field
notes, ob1).
Beth averaged 4’s on the protocol items that measured the
degree that the teacher assessed and then used student prior
knowledge during the lesson. She used pre-assessments and
class discussions to check for prior knowledge. Before begin-
ning a lab, Beth “led a class discussion of the major body sys-
tems of animals to see what information students already knew
or had previously encountered” (field notes, ob3). This discus-
sion helped Beth incorporate prior knowledge into her facilita-
tion of the dissection lab. During the lab, Beth provided a vari-
ety of resources including anatomical diagrams and detailed
descriptions to support students with varying degrees of prior
knowledge regarding anatomy. In a post observation discussion,
Beth added, “Finding out what students already know helps me
to build on that and avoid just re-teaching things that students
already understand.”
While Beth showed several solid characteristics of being able
to facilitate inquiry-based instruction through her use of forma-
tive assessment and attention to student prior knowledge, she
also tended to default to teacher-centered modes of instruction.
On the observation protocol, Beth typically scored 2 or below
on items relating to the following constructs: exploring scien-
tific questions, student justification, use of scientific evidence,
and extension of learning to new concepts. She earned many
low scores based on of her use of many non-inquiry approaches
such as lecture, her use of worksheets for practice, and her
teaching content in isolation from process. Lessons often pro-
gressed sequentially through presenting information or formu-
las, working examples as a class, and practicing independently
(field notes, ob2 and 3).
Case Three: Carla
Belief Structures. Carla’s summer conception of inquiry-
based instruction had two components: 1) teacher engage-
ment—“teacher introduces a concept”, and 2) student explora-
tion—“students will explore the concept”. Her spring inquiry
conception was greatly revised and began with a “student-
driven” focus where students are engaged before they explore a
concept. Her final statement reemphasizes the student-cen-
teredness, “Students are allowed to design their own experi-
ments based on a problem or question which they want to in-
vestigate that came up in assessing prior knowledge and ad-
dressing misconceptions.” Perhaps the PD experience spurred
by her prior desire to excel with National Board Teacher Certi-
fication was responsible for some of her new conceptions.
Carla’s post conception of inquiry instruction from the sur-
vey clearly illustrated how to facilitate the process of an inquiry
investigation. Students are “engaged” often by a “discrepant
event” and then students are allowed to “explore” the concepts
collaboratively. Further, “students are allowed to design their
own experiments based on a problem or question.” This vision
supports how inquiry defined by NSES is achieved. Carla’s arti-
culation aligns with multiple definitions of inquiry (Donovan &
Bransford, 2005; Llewellyn, 2005; NRC, 1996; NRC, 2000).
Carla grew in her pre to post view of the percentage of time
spent on inquiry from 20% to 40%. Similarly, her pre and post
reporting of the ideal percentage of time that should be spent on
inquiry increased from 40% to 60%. The motivational compos-
ite for Carla showed a pre score of 19 and a post score of 24.
This post view is more than one full SD above the district av-
erage (see Table 2). This optimism is present despite a lower
perceived support for inquiry instruction (pre score of 11 and
post score of 9). It is notable to see increased beliefs regarding
and motivation for inquiry instruction despite a decreased level
of perceived support for inquiry instruction.
During the PD experience, Carla developed a new under-
standing of inquiry. “I thought that science inquiry was just
having students do hands-on things. But then I could start see-
ing what it was that I was doing wrong” (interview). Then Carla
elaborated on the process of inquiry that must distinguish be-
tween student activity and student engagement, “… they [stu-
dents] have to be actively involved. I just present the thought,
and they have to decide how to approach it. They have to put
ownership into it.” This belief in student ownership was seen as
Carla gave students opportunities to explore scientific questions
by designing and conducting their own experiments.
Carla also reflected on her emerging pedagogy and described
her teaching practices prior to the PD as “traditional.” By year’s
end, she mentioned still relying on many traditional, non-in-
quiry methods but placed a priority on integrating inquiry
slowly into practice. She described her transformation as “a
process” adding, “I still do some traditional teaching. But this
[inquiry] just … adds a new dimension to what I’m doing.”
Carla also noted that her planning changed as she implemented
more inquiry. Previous planning involved developing notes and
practice problems, but now Carla engages more intentionally
with content when planning inquiry experiences. She describes
the planning process, “I had to do more research to try to an-
ticipate their questions… It took more time, but I think it was
worth it.”
Classroom Practices. Carla’s instructional practices during
the year were distinguished by her questioning during inquiry
and non-inquiry instruction, engaging students in designing
inquiry-investigations, and displaying an “all-or-nothing” ap-
proach to inquiry instruction.
Carla’s instructional practices, specifically her questioning
techniques, modeled the two extremes by either showing strong
inquiry instruction or none at all. When using a non-inquiry
approach, Carla’s questioning became single response, right-or-
wrong questions or statements such as: 1) “What’s the atomic
mass for K (potassium)?” 2) “The atomic mass is the molar
mass in grams. So the unit here is going to be in grams.” (trans,
ob3)? When Carla’s instruction was inquiry-based, her dis-
course became more open-ended, placing less emphasis on the
correctness of the answer and more focused on the process: 1)
“Is there something in the gum that helps you blow bubbles?” 2)
“Choose an ingredient and describe how you would find the
percent composition in the gum” (trans, ob2).
During inquiry-based instruction, this use of questioning al-
lowed Carla to “help her students think beyond the obvious
answers and to explore topics on a deeper level” (field notes,
ob2). Even though the discourse pattern is more open-ended
only statement two was an attempt to scaffold understanding of
specific content knowledge. When students were given the
opportunity to respond to follow-up questions, they were more
likely to expand on their thinking and address science concepts
at a higher cognitive level. In contrast, student responses to the
closed questioning “were evaluated simply against a standard of
‘right or wrong.’” Carla reflected on her use of questioning
strategies to engage students with scientific concepts: “If I ask a
student a question now, I say, What do you think about it? in-
stead of me just answering the question or directly giving them
the information. I solicit input instead of me being the one on
During her instructional practice, Carla also engaged her
students in conceptualizing and carrying out an investigation to
explore a scientific question. During a lesson on percent com-
position, Carla’s students developed a plan for studying the
scientific question, the percent composition of sugar in bubble
gum. During this two-day investigation, Carla allowed students
to grapple with the challenges they encountered in carrying out
the experiment. Further, the following illustrates how she scaf-
folded their development: 1) “Think about the materials you
have. Could you use any of these to help you?” 2) “Why would
you want to weigh it? What would that tell you?” (trans, ob2).
In just a few minutes, this group had figured out that they
needed to weigh the gum, chew it to remove the sugar, and then
weigh it again in order to perform the computations for percent
composition. By acting as a guide, Carla engaged her students
in active inquiry that challenged them to “explore science con-
cepts instead of just memorizing facts” (field notes, ob2).
Carla continued to exhibit an “all-or-nothing” approach to
inquiry-based instruction throughout the school year. Consid-
erable differences were noted between Carla’s inquiry and
non-inquiry teaching on the section of the observation protocol
that addressed concepts such as student engagement with scien-
tific questions, justification and communication of ideas, and
transfer of concepts to other contexts. When Carla adopted an
inquiry-based approach, her students were engaged, explored
scientific questions, provided evidence to support and justify
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 139
their conclusions (thus earning her 4’s and 5’s on relevant pro-
tocol items). Further, peer-peer and teacher-student interactions
increased during these inquiry lessons, and greater flexibility
encouraged students to explore open-ended scientific questions.
In contrast, during a non-inquiry lesson, students “copied notes,
worked examples from the board, and reviewed their answers
as a class” (field notes, ob3). Additionally, “student interactions
were almost non-existent, as student verbal responses were
limited to single responses to teacher-initiated closed ques-
tions” (field notes, ob3). Thus, scores dropped to mostly 2’s
during non-inquiry approaches.
Carla’s PD involvement contributed to her growth and im-
plementation regarding inquiry instruction. Though daunting to
some teachers, Carla maintained a realistic vision for trans-
forming instruction to greater quantity and quality of inquiry-
based teaching and learning; “I know I’m still doing some
things wrong, but it’s a process.” Carla recognized for her that
the transformation is and should be a gradual one. After 15
years of teaching science, primarily through “traditional”
methods, Carla indicated her intention to continue her growth
regarding inquiry instructional practices. Carla stated, “When I
first went into the class [PD], I didn’t think it would be a huge
deal, but it ended up being a huge thing. It was a big thing per-
Cross-Case Analysis/Discussion
Considerable differences in beliefs and practices were ex-
pected among the participants based on the selection method.
Tables 3 and 4 respectively provide a condensed view of the
belief structures and the classroom practice of each of the three
teachers featured in this collective case study. In viewing the
tables, the data indicate that Anne is thriving in terms of inquiry
practice; Beth now seems stuck but showed some evidence of
growth; and Carla, who was previously stuck, is now growing
With years of counter experience and with a desire to excel
on the inquiry portion of National Board Certification, Carla
experienced an awakening to inquiry and what it could mean
for her students’ learning. This “learning year” for Carla pro-
vided opportunities to practice and reflect on this new strategy.
During the year, Carla’s conception of inquiry shifted to align
with the NSES definition, her motivation for implementing
inquiry increased, and her ideal percentage of time that should
be devoted inquiry increased. This growth occurred despite a
decreased perception of support from peers and administration.
Now possessing a solid understanding of inquiry-based instruc-
tion, Carla needs additional support to spur these conceptions
into practice.
Only Anne and Carla seemed developmentally ready to tran-
sition to a more inquiry-focused culture. Anne’s multiple pre-
vious exposures to inquiry-based instruction assisted her to
transform her practice more quickly. Carla began her transfor-
mation but will need continued support over the next few years
before this will become an integral part of her instructional
practice. Although receptive to the idea of inquiry instruction,
Beth will need something more significant than this PD ex-
perience before inquiry instruction becomes a regular part of
Table 3.
Summary of belief structures for cross-case.
Category Anne Beth Carla
Conceptions of inquiry Solid understanding: consistent,
well-aligned with NSES definition. Surface understanding: pre- and post
responses lacked any specificity.
Developin g underst anding: solid
growth see n to ward deeper
understandin g, which included
understanding of Nature of Science.
Beliefs in inquiry practice
Maintained high belief: motivation
and implementation remained high
despite lower pe rceived a dministrative
Decrease d o r stable belief: reported
amount of inquiry pra ctice decreased,
but practice remained consta nt suggestin g
better understanding not decreased amount.
Increased belief:
both actual and ideal a mount
of inquiry in creased, which
was supported by observations.
Table 4.
Summary of classroom practices for cross-case.
Category Anne Beth Carla
of teacher
Facilitator of lea rni ng: I need to truly
understand what theyre talking about
and to see if theyre just using words
theyve heard before without any
true understanding of t he science content.
Shifting role from giver of knowledge
to facilitator: inquiry teaching has helped
me not to just give students all the
Developing facilitator: If I ask a stude nt a
question now, I w ant to say, What do you
think about it ?” Instead of me just expecting
an answer or answering the question or
giving them too much information.
Consistently engaging and challenging:
Utilized questioning to scaffold student
learning, asse ss student kno wledge, and
challenge students to interact with
science content at higher cognitive leve ls.
Old habits hard to break: Defaulted
primarily to closed, lower-level
questioning strategies during inquiry
All-or-none: adopted an “all-or-nothing”
approach to inquiry and her questioning
patterns demonstrated that idea.
Role of
Students must think and justify responses:
Students desires to alw ays be right made
it challengi n g to get them to think on
their own during inquiry learning.
Students ne ed to become independe nt :
She felt student independence is necessary
for inquiry-based instruction to be effective.
Students must engage collaboratively:
She saw students began thinking and
actively seeking information from
their peers during lab exploratio ns .
Inquiry best in content forte’: all three cl early acknowledged, agre ed, and displayed better inquiry in content area where most teaching
experienc e and cont ent knowledge exists. Inquiry success not limited to specific domain of science. Anne wa s best in physics; Beth in
biology; and Carla in chemistry.
instruction. Part of Beth’s difficulty is that she possesses an
inaccurate conception of inquiry according to any of the avail-
able definitions. Since this intervention, the presentation of the
4E × 2 Model during the summer has become more interactive
with numerous attempts made to reference specific lessons that
were taught. The goal is to get teachers like Beth who seem
“stuck” in their current instructional approaches to see that it is
possible to begin to change instruction so as to improve student
achievement and critical thinking. Specifically, more emphasis
is given to discussing, role-playing, and reflecting how to move
Exploration of ideas ahead of Explanation. The intention is not
to make the 4E × 2 Model a prescribed path to follow for in-
quiry; rather, the Model provides a means for conversation and
common language.
Conclusion and Implications
The challenge of raising the quality of inquiry in science
classrooms has been at the forefront of discussions in science
education since before the NSES was written. Teachers are
clearly aware of the need to teach using inquiry-based methods.
However, they are generally very uncertain how to bridge from
awareness to competent practice. The uncertainty stems from
many things. Specifically, there is discrepancy in teachers’
conceptions of inquiry (Anderson, 2002), and inquiry’s com-
plex, multifaceted nature can make inquiry a challenging me-
thod to implement (Vanosdall, et al., 2007; Windschitl, 2008).
So, how successful are sustained PD experiences in trans-
forming teacher practice to inquiry-based instruction? For the
highlighted PD experience, the answer seems to be one of par-
tial success. All three teachers came with an awareness of in-
quiry-based instruction; all increased their understanding; all
translated new knowledge regarding inquiry instruction into
practice; all practiced these new strategies; all reflected on
emerging pedagogy; but only Anne created a classroom culture
of inquiry. On the surface, it may seem that all three teachers
were nearly equal in their proficiency to implement inquiry.
However, the degree of each teacher’s growth and proficiency
relating to each of the above stages varied considerably. These
variances were largely evidenced through the observation pro-
tocol (Marshall et al., 2008) and the final interview with each
Perhaps growth was influenced by some or all of the follow-
ing factors: beliefs toward inquiry-based instruction, motivation
to implement inquiry, support received to encourage its imple-
mentation, knowledge in the subject being taught, and exposure
and practice using the method. Anne possessed all of these and
was the only one to demonstrate a consistent classroom culture
of inquiry.
When teachers teach science as inquiry, they create a sus-
tainable instructional method that simultaneously fuses learning
content and process. Since teachers are typically not recalcitrant
to inquiry instruction—29% of their time is self-reported doing
so with an ideal of 45% (Marshall, Horton, Igo et al., 2009), the
question becomes how to scaffold development so that the ideal
is realized. A critical key seems to be helping teachers to be-
come more intentional in moving from mere activities that just
address a topic to more meaningful investigations that unite the
content with inquiry in ways that develop critical thinking and
conceptual understanding.
Although all teachers do not under go the same transforma-
tion in their teaching, our PD experience showed that teachers
had a difficult time transitioning from the lessons and units
developed during the summer and implemented during the year
to the remainder of their instructional practice. This challenge
has largely been resolved in subsequent PD experiences by
targeting teacher cohorts from a few schools instead of teachers
over several districts; this additional support network provides
a collaborative means to create a school inquiry culture in fea-
sible and realistic ways. Further, a new dynamic web-interface
(Marshall, Horton, & Smart, 2009) allows teachers to develop,
implement, and share content-rich inquiry lessons. This inter-
face has not only provided support for the teachers, but it also
extends the social environment of the PD. These modifications
now provide additional resources and support for teachers as
they develop and refine inquiry-based instruction in their sci-
ence classrooms. Since all teachers begin from a unique base-
line in their teaching proficiency in terms of inquiry-based in-
struction, the hope is that the online resources will provide an
array of experiences so that individual needs can be addressed.
For instance, some may just need to view video samples to
improve their questioning skills. While others may need to see
how a lesson looks that flips the traditional paradigm so that
Explore now precedes Explain.
Finally, if we hope, as leaders of PD experiences, to assist
teachers in transforming toward greater quantity and quality of
inquiry-based practices, then it needs to be a sustained experi-
ence that provides sufficient support in the areas of greatest
need (Supovitz & Turner, 2000). Based on this study, the sus-
tained experiences that appear to support transformation of
practice include differentiating to accommodate varied prior
knowledge, unique understandings, and different beliefs of the
participants. This can be partially achieved by providing group
interactions that provide sufficient time for reflective practice to
bridge the current PD experience with the individual classroom
needs. Also, by providing individual classroom support during
the academic year, teachers can be supported enough to en-
courage transformation of practice. Although the three cases
provide a nice broad spectrum of teachers that are seen across
the country, it is impossible for these teachers to represent all
teachers at all grade levels. However, what can be generalized
is the importance that the factors involved in transformation
play in teacher success that include, among other things: sig-
nificant time dedicated to support transformation, support for
inquiry from administration, ability to engage students in effec-
tive discourse and questioning, and their role as a teacher. Cer-
tainly other factors contribute to this to success and transforma-
tion that have not been mentioned or even studied in this
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