Theoretical Overview

Theoretical Overview

Some activities in the unit are inquiry-based, beginning with
structured inquiry to introduce students to a topic and progressing to
a guided inquiry assessment task (Bell, Smetana & Binns, 2005). 
Others promote cooperative learning, with tasks designed to promote
positive interdependence and interpersonal skills while holding
students individually accountable for their work (Johnson, Johnson
& Holubec, 1994).  

In the unit, I try to connect the California standards on forces to
inquiry-based activities relevant to my student’s experiences, thus
expanding their ideas about the nature of science.  If, as I believe,
the goal of science education is improving the scientific literacy of
students, then learning scientific facts, while an important aspect of
science, is insufficient.  Although the body of information amassed by
scientists represents a significant part of science, lack of effective
instruction on scientific process can lead to students conflating facts
about science topics with the entirety of the subject of science.  True
scientific literacy requires an understanding of scientific processes. 
To that end, students must learn critical aspects of scientific

Selby (2006) explained science as “processes used in a scientific
inquiry, and products (ideas, information, laws) of the inquiry (What
makes it science section, para. 1).  Tinker (1993) suggested teachers
deemphasize the content of science in favor of the processes used to
gain scientific knowledge, saying, “Involvement in real science takes
time away from the curriculum so carefully designed to cover all the
relevant topics (pg.2).”  The current framework of state-mandated tests
dictates the focus of the unit, but through it, I expect to improve
student’s inquiry skills and understanding of scientific inquiry.

By connecting activities within the unit to the real-life experiences
of my students, I hope to both strengthen science literacy and lessen
educational inequity.  Barton and Yang (2000) saw the curriculum and
structure of science classes as unwelcoming to inner-city students. 
Greater emphasis on the human aspects of scientific inquiry might
promote inclusiveness of students with diverse perspectives and
cultivate an atmosphere which values their contributions (Selby,
2006).  My goal is to build a classroom community that models for
students the collaborative nature of science, as well as to build
student awareness of relationships between science concepts and their
personal experiences.

Tinker (1993) suggested that an ideal curriculum closely approximates
the work of scientists; students identify topics of interest and pursue
investigations, thus constructing their own knowledge.  Constructed
knowledge is richer than knowledge gained from lecture due to the
variety of experiences a student must relate when constructing
understanding of a concept.  A constructivist method popularized by
Karplus utilizes the learning cycle, linking a specific exemplar of a
concept to the main idea, and then inviting the student to apply the
concept to a new example (as cited in Tinker, 1993).  The learning
cycle helps me balance experiment with theory.  In the unit, I tried to
provide students a hands-on experience with each concept before
formalizing it and applying the ideas to new situations.

Moving the focus of science teaching toward inquiry-based lessons
providing a rich array of experiences with science would improve
student preparation to supplement their understanding of science
through reading.  As Tinker (1993) related, students remember new
material in a familiar subject better than in an unfamiliar one.  Their
existing framework of experiences with the familiar subject helps
improve comprehension of the new information.  Based on this research,
I placed lessons using the textbook after lessons which provide
students a common experience with the concept in question.  By doing
so, I hope to increase the effectiveness of the textbook as a learning

A true understanding of scientific ideas is grounded in a thorough
comprehension of the nature of science and the concurrent ability to
evaluate information.  While I do not expect that my students will gain
such an understanding by the end of the unit, I believe it will help
them progress toward a more complete conception of the discipline of

Barton, A., & Yang, K. (2000) The Culture of Power and Science Education: Learning from Miguel. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37(8), 871-879.
Bell, R., Smetana, L., & Binns, I. (2005). Simplifying Inquiry Instruction. The Science Teacher, 72(7), 30-33.
Berliner, D., & Casanova, U. (1996). Putting Research To Work In Your School. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T, & Holubec, E.J. (1994). Essential Components of Cooperative Learning. In The New Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom and School. (pp. 25-35). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T, & Holubec, E.J. (1994). Formal Cooperative Learning. In The New Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom and School. (pp. 36-48). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Martens, M. L. (1999). Productive Questions: Tools for Supporting Constructivist Learning. Science and Children, 36(8), 24-27, 53.
Selby, C. C. (2006). What Makes It Science? Journal of College Science Teaching, 35(7). Retrieved September 27, 2008, from
Tinker, R. (1993). Thinking About Science. Concord, MA: The Concord Consortium.
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.