We spent the next day in the laboratory testing water and soil samples and working with our descriptions, maps, and calculations to address the primary question (as well as many other questions that arose over the course of the day in the field). With input from the geologists and a laboratory chemist, we formulated answers to the question about the impact of dumping. We made predictions about where runoff from the site would go, how fast it would move, and how we could test our predictions. In this way, I feel that we developed a keen understanding of the scientific ideas behind our observations, analyses, and conclusions.
Gabe was introduced to a nearby resource, a federal energy research laboratory, where scientists cared about education and made it possible for teachers (and, in other programs, students) to participate in the actual research being conducted. The professional development gave him an opportunity to actually “do” science, which neither his preservice program nor previous inservice programs had given him. In this situation, he was introduced to his local environment in a way that he had not known it before. It also taught him a variety of ways to inquire about this environment. In sum, it equipped him to think about how the inquiry process and inquiry abilities could interweave with science subject matter and how he could use the local environment as a primary locale for his students’ learning.
Professional development often suffers from being piecemeal and fragmented. Preservice programs are often simply a collection of courses. Great rifts exist between science courses and education courses and between courses within both science and education. New teachers are often placed in the least desirable teaching positions, with full teaching loads, many preparations, difficult-to-teach students, and little or no support to ease the challenging transition from student to full-time professional. Similarly, professional development for in-service teachers is generally fragmented, consisting primarily of short workshops that are neither connected to each other nor to the teachers’ classroom work (National Commission for Teaching & America’s Future, 1996).
Professional development that is supposed to improve inquiry-based teaching can have all these ills, and in addition, it often does not explicitly help teachers learn inquiry abilities and understandings. Programs are needed that explicitly attend to inquiry — both as a learning outcome for teachers and as a way for teachers to learn science subject matter. Furthermore, these programs need to help teachers learn how to teach through inquiry.
The vignettes in this chapter