Andrea Eriksen

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Andrea Eriksen Mini-Course

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About me


Originally from Austin, Texas, I have been in upstate New York for the past six years. I live in a small town in the southern Adirondacks with my husband, seven month old little girl, and two cats. I have my initial certification in physics and chemistry and am employed by a school here in the Capitol Region as a high school physics teacher. Currently I am out on maternity leave to finish up my Master's in Curriculum Development and Instructional Design. I am also working part time for a skincare company called Rodan + Fields. One day I would love to open up a little coffee shop and sell my favorite southern breakfast food--breakfast tacos!

My Topic/Purpose

The purpose of this course is to give science teachers some very practical ways in which they can begin to transform their typical "cookbook styles" labs into lab activities which are more open-ended and inquiry-based.

Questions to be answered are:

-Why is inquiry important?

-How do I scaffold my lab activities?

-What are the benefits to using inquiry?

By the end of this course, teachers should be able to apply the tips and techniques given in the course in order to modify their own instruction.

Needs Assessment

1. Instructional Problem

Inquiry in a term used often in education today, especially in science education. New York’s Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) follow the guidelines set by A Science Framework for K-12 Science Education (2012) which states that “students cannot fully understand scientific and engineering ideas without engaging in the practices of inquiry and the discourses by which such ideas are developed” (p. 218). Many new teachers, however, are not sufficiently practiced implementing scientific inquiry in the classroom (Ozel & Luft, 2013). Many teachers are not adequately prepared in inquiry methods because they are not typically taught that way themselves. Additionally, as Hunter (2014) pointed out “inquiry often becomes secondary to survival during the first arduous years of practice” (p. 380). NGSS outlines eight essential practices for students that include asking questions, developing models, planning and carrying out observations, and constructing explanations—all components of inquiry (NGSS Lead States, 2013). As is often the case when new standards are implemented, teachers are left wondering how best to implement them. This seems to be the case with inquiry and problem based learning.

From my own experience, it has been difficult for me to learn how to implement inquiry learning into my own lab activities. According to the research above, this is not uncommon. I am a relatively new teacher, and I experienced mainly more traditional styles of teaching in my own education. Many studies show the gap that exists between inquiry-geared standards and actual classroom practices. DiBiase & McDonald (2015) conducted a study to gather information about science teacher attitudes toward inquiry learning. The results of the survey indicated that many of these teachers have concerns about using inquiry in their classrooms. For example, 65% of the teachers indicated that they were “concerned about their ability to teach using inquiry” and an even higher 84% of those surveyed believed that inquiry would not adequately prepare students for end-of-course testing (p. 32). Another concern that these teachers expressed was the time it takes to plan and implement inquiry based learning—79% thought inquiry learning would take up too much of their classroom time (p. 32). Interestingly, even though a majority of teachers responded that inquiry is effective and important, they also overwhelming believed that students have “difficulty constructing any meaning from the inquiry” (p. 32). Other similar contradictions were evidenced by the survey results. For example, while 86% of respondents believed collaboration to be a useful tool for students, 86% also believed that collaboration is a classroom management concern (p. 33). The results of this survey clearly indicated that although these teachers valued inquiry, they have been left not knowing how to implement it efficiently or correctly. This again speaks to the need for appropriate preservice instruction and professional development in preparing teachers to address the inquiry requirements of the NGSS.

This mini-course attempts to address such a need. It is aimed at helping teachers take labs they already use (many of which are "cookbook style" labs) and transform these labs into engaging and open-ended inquiry activities.

2. What is to be learned?

Throughout this course, participants will learn how to gradually acclimate their students to the practice of inquiry through scaffolding lab activities as the school year progresses. Participants will also explore what an inquiry lab really is and why it is important. Thirdly, participants will be given some practical tips on how to incorporate inquiry labs into their busy schedules while also brainstorming their own new ideas.

Analysis of the Learner and Context

The learners:

  • The course is designed to appeal to secondary science teachers of all experience levels. Although the class is more geared to those who have little to no training on inquiry learning, all experience levels can both find and contribute something useful to this course. Participants will have varying degrees of familiarity with conducting inquiry activities in addition to varying technological abilities.
  • The inquiry activities course participants will be creating are aimed at classroom use. Although many of the same principles will apply to online learning, the focus audience of this course is teachers who teach face-to-face labs.
  • No pre-requisite skills needed.

The context:

  • Participants will learn content within this mini-course, in an asynchronous online environment. Delivery of the content will require the use of a computer and a stable Internet connection. Although the course can be taken at any point in time, ample opportunities are provided for student-teacher and student-student interaction.

Performance Objectives

After completion of this course, participants should be able to:

  • Reflect on why inquiry is important
  • Demonstrate a positive attitude and increased comfort levels of implementing inquiry-based activities through self-assessments
  • Share idea & resources on how to incorporate inquiry-based lab activities after individually brainstorming/researching ideas
  • Develop their own inquiry lab activity based on an existing step-by-step lab

Task Analysis

Course participants will be able to:

1. Reflect on why inquiry is important

1.1 Explain the properties of inquiry

1.2 List some benefits of inquiry-based learning

2. Demonstrate a positive attitude and increased comfort levels of implementing inquiry-based activities

2.1 List some of the common drawbacks to an inquiry-based approach

2.2 Share personal experiences with inquiry-learning

3. Share idea & resources on how to incorporate inquiry-based lab activities after individually brainstorming/researching ideas

3.1 List current classroom activities that might lend themselves well to inquiry

3.2 Find 1-2 online resources for inquiry-based science activities or tips

4. Develop their own inquiry lab activity based on an existing step-by-step lab

4.1 Familiarize yourself with a good example of an inquiry activity

4.2 Create a draft & get feedback

Curriculum Map

Instructional map.png

References and Resources

Resources used in my mini-course:

Darling-Hammond, L., Barron, B., Pearson, P., Schoenfeld, A., Stage, E., Zimmerman, T., . . . Tilson, J. (2008). Powerful learning: What we know about teaching for understanding. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

DiBiase, W., & McDonald, J. R. (2015). Science teacher attitudes toward inquiry-based teaching and learning. Clearing House, 88(2), 29-38. doi:10.1080/00098655.2014.987717

Fay, M. E., & Bretz, S. L. (2008). Structuring the level of inquiry in your classroom. Science Teacher, 75(5), 38-42.

Gormally, C., Brickman, P., Hallar, B., & Armstrong, N. (2011). Lessons learned about implementing an inquiry-based curriculum in a college biology laboratory classroom. Journal Of College Science Teaching, 40(3), 45-51.

Hermann, R. S., & Miranda, R. J. (2010). A template for open inquiry. Science Teacher, 77(8), 26-30.

Hunter, J. C. (2014). Reflecting on lab practices. Education, 134(3), 380-383.

Kang, N., DeChenne, S. E., & Smith, G. (2012). Inquiry learning of high school students through a problem-based environmental health science curriculum. School Science & Mathematics, 112(3), 147-158. doi:10.1111/j.1949-8594.2011.00128.x

National Research Council. (2012) A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next generation science standards: For states, by states. Appendix F. Washington, DC: National Research Council. Retrieved from

Ozel, M., & Luft, J. A. (2013). Beginning secondary science teachers' conceptualization and enactment of inquiry-based instruction. School Science & Mathematics, 113(6), 308- 316. doi:10.1111/ssm.12030

Power, B. (2012). Enriching students' intellectual diet through inquiry based learning. Libri: International Journal Of Libraries & Information Services, 62(4), 305-325. doi:10.1515/libri-2012-0024

Volkmann, M., & Abell, S. (2003). Rethinking laboratories: Tools for converting cookbook labs into inquiry. Science Teacher, 38-41.