connotes the ability to do the reasoning necessary to apply the concepts to new situations. Lillian’s story tells how the program is structured.
In Lillian’s story, we see the instructors’ decision to guide the learning process so that the college students are forced to confront difficult conceptual ideas and to go through the reasoning necessary to reach their own understanding. Generalizations and elucidation of general principles come after experience and in iterative fashion. They are not presented first as a base for students’ investigative work. The guided activities are purposely selected by the instructors based on years of prior experience with college students (including teachers) and extensive knowledge of students’ typical thinking about key ideas in physics. Carefully chosen questions are designed to elicit debates and hard thinking about these ideas based on guided investigations, related readings, and small group and individual work. Specific laboratory investigations have been selected by the staff — activities they know will cause the students to confront their existing beliefs about physics. This guided inquiry is essential at the introductory level so that the students can later use their developing knowledge and conceptual understanding to dig more deeply into the key ideas of physical science. The University of Washington program is based on the belief that both lecturing on basic principles and providing unstructured lab time are less effective strategies for bringing about student growth in conceptual understanding and reasoning skills.
Below, in Lezlie’s Story, we see the impact of this type of instruction on an elementary school teacher. Lezlie was at the beginning of her career when she first participated in the NSF Summer Institute for Inservice Teachers at the University of Washington. Today, more than 25 years later, she reflects on how her experience in the program has affected her professional development as a teacher.
An Elementary School Teacher Reflects on her Learning and Teaching Through Inquiry: Lezlie’s Story
In late spring of my first year of teaching, I was informed that a drop in enrollment would result in the elimination of the 2nd grade position that I held. The good news, however, was that I was welcome to take a newly-created position as the science specialist for grades K-4. Not wanting to relocate and not stopping to consider that my major in French might not have appropriately prepared me for this new position, I