Research In Science Education Utilizes The Full Range Of Investigative Methods

Research In Science Education Utilizes The Full Range Of Investigative Methods

While our understanding of the process of teaching, learning, and schooling has improved recently, more must be accomplished. Rapid societal changes are necessitating that we construct a new image of the process of schooling in general, and the process of teaching and learning science in particular.

An interdisciplinary cadre of researchers and educators is building an infrastructure from which new themes for research in science education are emerging.

Our research agenda must embrace collaboration and relevancy around a vision that celebrates not what is, but what can be!

A new image of the role of the teacher is emerging as well. In addition to possessing discipline specific knowledge and knowledge about effective pedagogy, teachers must be afforded the time to share ideas with colleagues, participate in professional development, and inquire about teaching and learning. Teachers must be active, reflective practitioners who engage in constructing a curriculum to enhance the development of all students. Similarly, science education research ought to be relevant and should inform the practice of science teaching. Research on teaching and learning should contribute new insights for both practice and future research.

Fundamentally, we believe that research should guide and inform policy formation and decision-making regarding science teaching, preschool through college. We wish to clarify the breadth of research and to identify key issues. Moreover, we wish to warn against policies and decisions governed by marketing concerns rather than by systematic study or reasoned analysis or information important to teachers.

A realistic view of the scientific enterprise is paramount both to the success of research on science teaching and as a goal for students studying science. For example, traditional science experiences often result in students constructing a distorted view of the scientific enterprise. Students believe that: (a) science is a collection of facts to be memorized, (b) all the information in the science textbook is true, (c) the sum total of scientific knowledge is known, (d) science is a quantitative, value-free, empirical discipline. Moreover, students often fail to understand that: (a) science proceeds by fits and starts, (b) ideas based on evidence are still fallible, (c) scientific ideas are enhanced through a process of sharing, negotiation, and consensus building, and (d) continual inquiry is a fundamental attribute of the scientific enterprise. Today’s science is more accurately portrayed as a value-laden discipline in which there are moral and ethical dimensions. The changing nature and ethos of science has led to the acceptance of more diverse investigative methods.

Research in science education utilizes the full range of investigative methods, embracing quantitative research and qualitative/ethnographic/naturalistic research to address either basic or applied questions. Innovative ideas can and should be generated from small scale research investigations focusing upon such issues as: new images of the nature of learning or characteristics of the learner, new images of the nature of teaching and the role of the teacher, or ideas regarding the development and implementation of innovative curricular materials or instructional strategies, including the use of existing and emerging technologies. Accordingly, effective science programs are likely to emerge when teachers become engaged in the process of developing or critically appropriating curricula to fit specific pedagogical concerns vs, merely serving as technicians who manage and implement “teacherproof” curricular programs; and when teachers become transformative intellectuals who combine scholarly reflection and practice in the service of educating students to be thoughtful, active citizens. These actions embrace the notion of teacher-as-scholar and acknowledge the importance of teacher-as-researcher.

We recognize that a broad range of expertise is required to incorporate new ideas into science teaching and to conduct investigations that have an impact on science education. We advocate the formation of collaborative research groups representing this broad range of expertise. Such groups would include teachers, discipline specialists, cognitive scientists, researchers, as well as members of the school/community science leadership, including administrators, supervisors, lead teachers, community members, representatives of local business and industry – all active participants in the process of school reform.

In light of the emerging goals for science education, it is imperative that we begin the process of researching and re-examining the relationships among the science curriculum, schools, colleges/universities, and society. Within the context of the new image of teachers and research being offered, teachers must assume responsibility for raising serious questions about what they teach and how they are to teach. Teachers must be collaborative partners in shaping the purposes and conditions of schooling. We must rethink and reform the traditions and conditions that have prevented teachers from assuming their full potential as active, reflective scholars and practitioners. Teachers must educate students to be active, critical thinkers in a rapidly changing scientific and technological society.

We anticipate that these investigations will go on in an environment involving much conjecture and discussion, serious analysis of evidence, considerable sharing of information, and a process of consensus-building. We envision, in short, the creation of an experimenting society. New advances and new ideas must be investigated in relevant settings and findings must be shared, discussed, refined and re-evaluated. Ultimately, we must meet the needs of individuals and groups of students in their various cultural, historical, socioeconomic, racial and gender settings. We realize that such a process is slow and that the process involves proceeding down blind alleys and trying out ideas that ultimately fail, as well as refining and institutionalizing ideas that have the possibility of success. There is no greater failure, however, than failure to address the critical issues of reform.

The many perceived problems in science education do not stem from our inability to discover in laboratory or controlled settings what is effective or what should be occurring in the science classroom. While much knowledge has been accumulated from such basic research, we have only begun to ensure that the needed innovations are integrated into the culture of schooling. Much of our recent progress, however, can be attributed to the fact that more research is being conducted by and with teachers in relevant environments, and attention is being paid to the social context of the process of schooling. We must continue to synthesize our research finding and put our research to work in real educational settings. The role of research in science teaching is to increase our understandings of teaching and learning to ensure that all students, preschool through college, acquire the scientific literacy requisite for lifelong learning.

To increase our understandings of science teaching and learning, we offer the following recommendations:


Research on science teaching and learning should involve the collaboration of preschool through college teachers, the school/community science leadership, researchers, discipline specialists, and others concerned with science education.

Teachers play a special role in these collaborations because they have far more experience regarding educational principles and practices than others. Teachers should be afforded opportunities to be active participants in identifying the key questions, establishing the research agenda, and interpreting the findings.

Partnerships between schools, communities, colleges, and universities offer a mechanism for achieving more robust and cohesive research conclusions by means of investigations in environments that are likely to be credible to a broad range of individuals. The purpose of collaborative alliances is to achieve what could not otherwise be achieved through individual inquiry, knowledge constructed in different contexts and from different perspectives, perhaps with different goals in mind, can be synthesized and what emerges may be very unique and revealing.


Action-research focuses upon the problem of understanding our own and others’ understanding of schooling, teaching, and society. Reflective thinking is the most central element in this process. The goal is to improve practices and our understanding or practices. Action-research is dynamic and participatory, allowing the inquiry into one’s own practice and subsequent reflection-in-action to become the basis for curricular and instructional reform.

Teacher education programs should provide prospective teachers with the research skills to engage in action-research. In particular, teacher education programs should emphasize and afford prospective teachers the opportunity to engage in critical thinking of a theoretical and practical nature. Schools need prospective teachers who can combine theory, imagination, and techniques. In fact, school systems should sever their relationships with teacher preparation institutions that fail to prepare teachers able to assume their full potential as active, reflective scholars and practitioners. The process of schooling in our society can no longer afford the reproduction of critical illiteracy and incompetency.

Teachers should initiate personal and professional development action-research programs. At the pre-college level, these professional development activities should be sponsored by school districts and supported by the school/community Science leadership. Colleges and universities must begin to encourage, support, and reward faculty who engage in research and development activities related to science teaching and learning. Schools, colleges, and universities should value creative, reflective, action-researchers.


Research close to classrooms has great potential for influencing science education. Advances in science education are likely to be realized when investigations, in real educational contexts, are conducted by research teams collaborating to improve science education.

Research organized by collaborating teams should engender and encourage investigations involving much larger entities than has typified past research endeavors. These investigations should contrast educationally defensible alternatives to instruction, rather than creating artificial control groups that receive no treatment thereby demonstrating that treatments are better than none at all.

Researchers have begun to realize the need to study learning and teaching by closely observing teachers and learners in real settings. Teachers have a wealth of knowledge and insights to make research findings more realistic, reliable, and generalizable. In addition, the insights of researchers are likely to be relevant to preschool through college science programs, especially as teachers and researchers work jointly to achieve common goals.


An experimenting society should be created for the improvement of science teaching. Research is an on-going dynamic process. We call for the creation of a culture of schooling in which educators are much more inquiry oriented than they are now. Practitioners must change their general lack of belief in the practical value of research. Researchers must better formulate research questions, design studies, and translate findings into images that challenge and change policymakers’ and practitioners’ cognition. Moreover, all members of society must enhance their attitude toward the value of doing research as part of everyday behavior.

By viewing the improvement of science education as the result of efforts of an experimenting society, we will be most likely to incorporate effectively curricular innovations and technological advances into the schooling process. The creation of such a society would serve as a good model for students as they acquire the skills for active, critical citizenry.


Research in science education should inform science education policy decisions. We call for a research-driven rather than a market-driven approach to science curriculum design, science teaching and the assessment of students/understandings of science.

Research should have an impact on state legislative directives and mandates, the development of curricular materials, as well as the assessment of student performance. Yet, a widening gulf has emerged between research regarding effective teaching and the nature of learning and the proliferation of state/legislative mandates, curricular materials, and assessments that are market-driven and to the contrary. In general, the efforts of policy makers, publishing companies, and evaluation specialists fail to integrate appropriate research findings regarding the processes of teaching and learning.

It is ultimately the responsibility of preschool through college teachers and the school/community science leadership to ensure that the science education that students receive is the best that can be offered. Ensuring the congruence between what is needed and what is offered can be accomplished through rigorous adherence to policies that are research supported. A more reasoned and reasonable approach to curricular, instructional, and evaluative decisions must be undertaken.


Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.



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