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School of Education Inquiry Projects

Kristin Bump

Subject: Science Biology

Steps to Doing Science: Structured Inquiry in the Chemistry Classroom to Promote Evidence-Based Conclusions

Research Questions:
How do structured inquiry laboratory investigations affect student ability to draw evidence-based conclusions about compound classification and reactions between compounds in the high school chemistry classroom?
Sub-questions:
* How do structured inquiry laboratory investigations affect student attitudes towards chemistry, lab investigations, and independent problem solving?
* How do structured inquiry laboratory investigations affect students’ level of participation in laboratory investigations?

Research Activities:
Context: This intervention took place with twenty-seven eleventh and twelfth grade students in a high school chemistry classroom. No students were classified as English Language Learners. The students in this class struggled greatly with completing lab reports, specifically the Results and Conclusion sections. Methods and Data: This intervention consisted of an Introductory Phase and an Application Phase that took place over the course of 10 weeks throughout various 52-minute class periods. In the Introductory Phase, the students were introduced to the basic principles of inquiry and science investigation in a scaffolded manner, starting with recording observations on a problem or demonstration, making inferences, and asking questions. Once students identified a question, they were given data to answer that question and practiced the basic skills essential to science inquiry and writing a laboratory report. Then the Application Phase began where students completed three entire structured-inquiry lab investigations and lab reports on the topics of Compound Classification, Double Replacement Reactions for Ionic Compounds, a Quantitative Study of a Double Replacement Reaction. Students were presented with a problem or demonstration and asked to write a procedure to determine how to investigate the problem identified. The students were required to have teacher approval on their procedures before they could begin collecting data. The number of teacher reviews needed for each student was recorded. After completing the lab, the class reviewed the required elements of an evidence-based conclusion and designed a rubric to score the Results and Conclusion sections of their lab reports and these sections were scored with this rubric . Likert-based attitude surveys targeting student attitudes about science investigations, problem solving, lab reports, and lab conclusions were administered after the Introductory Phase and after each laboratory investigation in the Application Phase. Observational notes were recorded throughout each phase of the intervention as teacher reflection notes. Results: Students improved in their ability to write procedures with the mean number of teacher reviews required decreasing from 2.75 to 2.4 and the distribution of reviews shifting so that no students required more than 3 teacher reviews by the end of the intervention. Students also improved in writing evidence-based conclusions with the combined mean scores on the Results and Conclusion sections increasing from 13.26 points to 15.55 points out of 24 possible points. Specifically, students improved more on their Results sections alone, especially in their ability to identify trends, increasing from a mean of 0.5 points to a mean of 2.2 points out of 3 possible points. Students tended to improve in areas of the overall lab conclusion that are less demanding cognitively. While this increase is slight, there was a noted increase in student dialogue and participation in the laboratory investigations based on observation data. More specifically, Low Performing students, those who had a D or F in the course before the study began, achieved at the same level as High Performing, especially on the Results sections of their overall lab conclusions, increasing from a mean of 6.8 points to 7.5 points out of 9 points. The maximum mean score of the High Performing students on the Results section alone was a mean of 7.4 points out of 9 points. Attitude data indicated a growth of almost 15% in students’ positive responses regarding lab investigations aiding in their understanding of science concepts while their attitudes towards writing lab reports and specifically conclusions became more negative, dropping from 4% to 0% agreeing that conclusions were easy to complete. Overall, structured inquiry benefited students in terms of increasing their abilities to write evidence-based conclusions on a simpler level, like identifying trends in data, but not in terms of more challenging cognitive demands like explaining the trends in the data. Structured inquiry requires increased teacher preparation and places high demands on instructional time, which may be a limiting factor in its implementation.

Grade: Multigrade

Research Methods:
Student work; Observation-Field notes; Survey-Attitude

Curriculum Areas:
Science-Chemistry; Writing-Writing in the content areas

Instructional Approaches:
Class discussion; Inquiry learning; Writing-Explicit instruction; Writing-Rubrics; Writing-Teacher response/feedback


The preparatory work for setting up the MA/Credential Teacher Research database was supported in part by the UC Language Minority Research Institute