Inquiry has been one of the most prominent terms of the contemporary science education reform movement (Buck, Latta, & Leslie-Pelecky, 2007; Colburn, 2006; Settlage, 2007). Practicing classroom inquiry has maintained its central position in science education for several decades because science education reform documents promote classroom inquiry as the potential savior of science education from its current problems. Likewise, having the capabilities of teaching science through inquiry has been considered by National Board for Professional Teaching Standards [NBPTS] as one of the essential elements of being an accomplished science teacher. Successful completion of National Board Certification [NBC] assessment process involves presenting a clear evidence of enacting inquiry with students. Despite the high-profile of the word inquiry in the reform documents, the same is not true in schools (Crawford, 2007). Most of the science teachers do not embrace this type of approach in their everyday teaching practices of science (Johnson, 2006; Luera, Moyer, & Everett, 2005; Smolleck, Zembal-Saul, & Yoder, 2006; Trumbull, Scarano, & Bonney, 2006). And the specific meanings attributed to inquiry by science teachers do not necessarily match with the original intentions of science education reform documents (Matson & Parsons, 2006; Wheeler, 2000; Windschitl, 2003). Unveiling the various meanings held by science teachers is important in developing better strategies for the future success of science education reform efforts (Jones & Eick, 2007; Keys & Bryan, 2001). Due to the potential influences of National Board Certified Science Teachers [NBCSTs] on inexperienced science teachers as their mentors, examining inquiry conceptions of NBCSTs is called for. How do these accomplished practitioners understand and enact inquiry?
The purpose of this dissertation research study was twofold. First, it investigated the role of NBC performance assessment process on the professional development of science teachers. Second, it examined the meaning of practicing classroom inquiry for National Board Certified Science Teachers [NBCSTs]. Based on the specific cases of four NBCSTs, this naturalistic inquiry study was conducted to answer to those questions with the involvement of the following qualitative data sources: classroom observations, in-depth teacher interviews, and document analyses of teacher portfolios.
The specific cases in this study indicated that undergoing the performance assessment process of NBC played an affirmational role for National Board Certified Science Teachers [NBCSTs] in their professional development. Their successful completion of the portfolio assessment process created a sharpened confidence into their existing notions and ways of teaching science. In the study, not all teachers were equally open to science education reform ideas. This meant that NBC experience strengthened the conventional notions of teaching science held by some teachers rather than generating a higher affiliation with the reform ideas. The teacher cases presented in this study denoted that teachers’ conceptions of classroom inquiry were driven both by scientific and constructivist rationales. However, NBCSTs failed to create broader operational definitions of classroom inquiry. They tended to reduce the meaning of classroom inquiry into empirical investigations of students. The conventional representation of the scientific method as a stepwise linear process influenced teachers’ understandings and practices of classroom inquiry. NBCSTs used inquiry in their classrooms to introduce their students to the cognitive processes and the actions of practicing scientists but not necessarily to teach scientific principles. Their reluctance to teach scientific principles through inquiry developed in parallel to their tendency of associating classroom inquiry with the highest levels of student autonomy. Participant teachers’ particular understandings of scientific literacy produced a tension between embracing inquiry more in their teaching practices of science and educating scientifically literate students. The teachers in the study attributed the hurdles that kept them from using more inquiry with their students to external factors. In the final chapter of the dissertation study, these findings were discussed in connection with the education literature.