Learning to observe: Unpacking teachers development of expertise in scientific observation
Effective Years: 2022-2025
Scientific observation is a ubiquitous discipline-specific skill that has been overlooked in contemporary science instruction. Instructional materials often treat scientific observation as a simple skill or a minor pedagogical challenge to be overcome. For secondary science teachers, challenges compound as they themselves are often emergent learners of this skill. Furthermore, the field has yet to develop explanatory frameworks for the development of expertise in observation. Existing research using disparate theoretical frameworks has offered only an incomplete picture of the development of this essential skill. To address these issues, this research will study how teachers develop their observational skills in a disciplinary context, and to examine how these skills are shaped by their knowledge systems, social interactions, and the cultural contexts in which they are practiced. Results will advance the field through generating knowledge about how learners develop observational skills and an explanatory framework to foster these skills. By focusing on the cognitive, interactional, and cultural dimensions of learning to observe, the instructional paths to be identified to support scientific observation will inherently attend to equity issues that emerge in group learning. The resulting shift in our collective understanding of scientific observation will improve K-12 science instructional materials and teacher professional development.
The goal of this research study is to deepen research-based knowledge about how expertise in scientific observation develops as a multidimensional skill. To achieve this goal, the researchers will design and implement high quality science professional learning experiences (PLEs) that forefront scientific observation as a learning opportunity in a discipline where observation is of utmost importance and where secondary teachers typically have little training: field geology. This study will unpack how secondary science teachers learn to generate scientific observations by using a novel approach that integrates three complementary theoretical frameworks: cognitive, interactional, and cultural dimensions of learning. The researchers will analyze teacher learning in two rounds of a year-long PLEs. The PLEs will be designed to enable teachers to build understanding of the geologic record using a three-dimensional (3D) approach that foregrounds field-based scientific observation. Following a semester of virtual instruction and a week-long field trip, teachers will apply their newfound skills to develop field-based experiences for their science students. The structure of the PLEs will enable researchers to use three theoretical frameworks to analyze how teachers’ developing expertise in scientific observation relies on their1) knowledge systems, 2) social interactions, and 3) cultural contexts and backgrounds. Applying these theoretical frameworks to produce complementary case studies from a single dataset and using mixed-methods to integrate findings will produce a holistic picture of the multidimensional nature of the development of expertise in scientific observation. Results will advance our understanding of scientific observation and its role in 3D science learning by offering a new, research-based framework to explain learning and expertise development within this important but understudied skill.
This project is supported by NSF's EHR Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development. The program supports the accumulation of robust evidence to inform efforts to understand, build theory to explain, and suggest intervention and innovations to address persistent challenges in education.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.