ERIC Identifier: ED463944
Publication Date: 2000-10-00
Author: Feldman, Allan - Capobianco, Brenda
Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Action Research in Science Education. ERIC Digest.
This introduction to action research in science education includes examples
of how action research has been used to improve teaching and learning, as well
as suggested resources for those seeking to incorporate action research into
their own practice of teaching or research. Many have attempted to define action
research or categorize its many variants. For example, Noffke (1997) has studied
personal, professional and political purposes of action research, while McKernan
(1988) has focused on the ways that ideology shapes its design. Rearick and
Feldman (1999) have studied other dimensions of action research, including
purpose, theoretical orientation, and type of reflection used. Here we draw upon
these and other reviews to define action research as "systematic inquiry by
practitioners to improve teaching and learning." Our definition assumes that the
products of the inquiry are made public, adding to the knowledge bases of
teaching and learning, and open to critique by peers.
ACTION RESEARCH IN SCIENCE EDUCATION
Action research has
been utilized in three domains of science education: teacher education and
professional development; research on science learning; and curriculum
development and implementation. In all cases teachers are in the role of
researcher, either studying their own methods of instruction and assessment;
examining the cognitive processes of learning; or participating in the process
of curriculum research and development.
ACTION RESEARCH IN SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATION
research has been used in both preservice and inservice science teacher
education, and as a way for teachers to collaborate with one another to improve
practice. Hewson and colleagues (1999) use action research to help prospective
teachers become reflective about what it means to teach for conceptual change.
Prospective teachers designed, conducted, and presented research projects, used
reflective journals as research notebooks, and participated in seminars. The
process was found to help participants focus more on student conceptions and
explanations, important aspects of teaching for conceptual change.
In a Science Inquiry Group (van Zee,1998). beginning and experienced teachers
meet monthly to share experiences and insights about science teaching. Teachers
present their findings through research festivals, Web pages, presentations at
local and national conferences, and submission of case studies for publication
in practitioner-based journals.
Science FEAT was a three-year teacher enhancement project (Spiegel, 1995)
funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in which middle school science
teachers studied their own teaching. University faculty members provided a
course on research methods and guided teachers through individualized action
research studies. The teachers met regularly in groups to discuss the progress
of their research, and in the third year they presented their research in a
colloquium. The research projects have been published (Spiegel, 1995) and serve
as examples of how action research can be a viable, effective method of change
for classroom teachers. This and other professional development programs for
inservice science teachers have resulted in increased teacher knowledge and
improved instructional practice (Feldman, 1996; Madsen & Gallagher, 1992),
as well as more inquiry-based, problem-based learning, and constructivist
science teaching (Staten, 1998).
ACTION RESEARCH AND THE STUDY OF SCIENCE LEARNING
Project for Enhancing Effective Learning (PEEL) was an action research program
aimed at improving the teaching and learning of science by encouraging teachers
to inquire into how their students learn (Baird & Mitchell, 1987). Teachers
designed action plans that incorporated the use of innovative pedagogy in
targeted classes. With support from school administrators, the teachers met as a
group throughout the school year to share the progress of their research.
Through reflection on their own practice in collaboration with other teachers
and university researchers, the teacher researchers came to new understandings
of how students learned science.
Solomon and colleagues (Solomon, Duveen, & Scot, 1992) used action
research as a means of collaborating with middle school science teachers to
gather data about classroom learning. The research focused on the effects of
incorporating historical studies into the science curriculum on students'
understanding of the nature of science and their learning of scientific
concepts. Five classrooms located in three different schools were involved, and
in each classroom a university researcher worked alongside a teacher on a
regular basis both to observe and to assist the teachers in improving practice.
Minstrell has for more than 20 years researched in his classroom how students
learn physics. By paying close attention to his students and his own teaching
through the use of audiotape, videotape, and interviews, he has uncovered common
misconceptions and devised methods for helping students develop deep conceptual
understanding of physics concepts (Feldman & Minstrell, 2000; Minstrell,
1992). Minstrell's efforts demonstrate how a classroom teacher who is part of a
community of researchers can add substantially to the knowledge base on science
ACTION RESEARCH FOR SCIENCE CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT AND
Scope, Sequence and Coordination (SS&C) was an NSTA
project aimed at transforming the ways science is taught by making instruction
more student-centered and inquiry based, and by changing the curriculum sequence
so that all students study all domains of science each year. During two years of
the project in California, teachers engaged in action research on the local
development of SS&C curriculum and the struggle to implement it in their
schools (Feldman, Mason, & Goldberg, 1992; 1993; Feldman, 1995).
The transformation of science curriculum through a focus on issues of
science, technology and society (STS) was the goal of several collaborative
action research groups facilitated by Hodson and others (Pedretti & Hodson,
1995; Hodson & Bencze, 1998). Action research assisted participating
teachers in knowing how to learn about educational issues, how to formulate
their own views on curriculum, and how to critique and develop their own
Teachers of writing and other literacy skills have been actively engaged in
action research through local and National Writing Projects (Smith, 1996) and
other efforts (e.g., Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993; Hollingsworth, 1994). Saul
and Reardon (1996) directed an action research project in which elementary
school teachers studied ways to integrate the teaching of reading and writing
RESOURCES FOR ACTION RESEARCH
Resources for those who want
to use action research in science education include "how-to-do" books
(Altrichter, Posch, & Somekh, 1993; Calhoun, 1994; Mills, 2000; Sagor,
1992), a chapter in the "Handbook of Research Design in Mathematics and Science
Education" (Feldman & Minstrell, 2000), and published examples of science
teachers' action research ( e.g., Feldman et al., 1992; 1993; Minstrell, 1992;
Saul & Reardon, 1996; Saurino, 1994; Spiegel, 1995)
Altrichter, H., Posch, P., & Somekh, B.
(1993). Teachers investigate their own work: An introduction to the methods of
action research." New York: Routledge.
Baird, J., & Mitchell, I. (Eds.). (1987). "Improving the quality of
teaching and learning: An Australian case study - The Peel Project." Melbourne,
Australia: Monash University Printery.
Calhoun, E. (1994). "How to use action research in the self-renewing school."
Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. (1993). "Inside/Outside: Teacher research
and knowledge." New York: Teachers College Press.
Erzberger, A., Fottrell, S., Hiebart, L., Merrill, T., Rappleyea, A.,
Weinmann, L., & Woosnam, T. (1996). A framework for physics projects. "The
Physics Teacher," 34(1), 26-28.
Feldman, A. (1995). The Institutionalization of Action Research: The
California "100 Schools". In S. Noffke & R. Stevenson (Eds.), "Educational
action research: Becoming practically critical." New York: Teachers College
Feldman, A. (1996). Enhancing the practice of physics teachers: Mechanisms
for the generation and sharing of knowledge and understanding in collaborative
action research. "Journal of Research in Science Teaching," 33(5), 513-540.
Feldman, A., Mason, C., & Goldberg, F. (Eds.). (1992). "Action research:
Reports from the field, 1991-92." San Diego, CA: Center for Research in
Mathematics and Science Education.
Feldman, A., Mason, C., & Goldberg, F. (Eds.). (1993). "Action research:
Reports from the field, 1992-93." San Diego, CA: Center for Research in
Mathematics and Science Education.
Feldman, A., & Minstrell, J. (2000). Action research as a research
methodology for the study of the teaching and learning of science. In E. Kelly
& R. Lesh (Eds.), "Handbook of research design in mathematics and science
education." Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Hewson, P. W., Tabachnick, R. B., Zeichner, K. M., Blomerk, K. B., Meyer, H.,
Lemberger, J., Marion, R., Park, H., & Toolin, R. (1999). Educating
prospective teachers of biology: Introduction and research methods. "Science
Education," 83(3), 247-73.
Hodson, D., & Bencze, L. (1998). Becoming critical about practical work:
Changing views and changing practice through action research. International
"Journal of Science Education," 20(6), 683-694.
Hollingsworth, S. (1994). "Teacher research and urban literacy education:
Lessons and conversations in a feminist key." New York: Teachers College Press.
Madsen, A. L., & Gallagher, J. J. (1992). "Improving learning and
instruction in junior high school science classes through the role of the
support teacher." (Research Series No. 212). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State
University, Institute of Research on Teaching.
McKernan, J. (1988). The countenance of curriculum action research:
Traditional, collaborative, and emancipator-critical conceptions. "Journal of
Curriculum and Supervision," 3(3), 173-200.
Mills, G. E. (2000). Action research : A guide for the teacher researcher.
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
Minstrell, J. (1992). "Facets of students' knowledge and relevant
instruction." Paper presented at the International Workshop: Research in Physics
Learning - Theoretical Issues and Empirical Studies, University of Kiel (IPN),
Noffke, S. (1997). Professional, personal, and political dimensions of action
research. "Review of Research in Education," 22, 305-343.
Pedretti, E., & Hodson, D. (1995). From rhetoric to action: Implementing
STS education through action research. "Journal of Research in Science
Teaching," 32(5), 463-485.
Rearick, M., & Feldman, A. (1999). Orientations, product, reflections: A
framework for understanding action research. "Teaching and Teacher Education,"
Sagor, R. (1992). "How to conduct action research." Alexandria, VA:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Saul, W., & Reardon, J. (Eds.). (1996). "Beyond the science kit."
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Saurino, D. R. (1994, April 4-8, 1994). "Evaluation formats: A teacher's
action research look at tracking." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the
American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.
Smith, M. A. (1996). The National Writing Project after 22 Years. "Phi Delta
Kappan," 77(10), 688-692.
Solomon, J., Duveen, J., & Scot, L. (1992). Teaching about the nature of
science through inquiry: Action research in the classroom. "Journal of Research
in Science Teaching," 29(4), 409-421.
Spiegel, S. (Ed.). (1995). "Perspectives from teachers' classrooms. Action
research. Science FEAT (Science for Early Adolescence Teachers)." Tallahassee,
FL: SERVE, Math/Science Consortium,
Staten, M. E. (1998). "Action research study: A framework to help move
teachers toward an inquiry-based science teaching approach." Milwaukee, WI:
Milwaukee Public Schools.
van Zee, E. H. (1998). Fostering elementary teachers' research on their
science teaching practices. "Journal of Teacher Education," 49(4), 245-254.