Date of Award

10-27-2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology

First Advisor

Lisa M. Martin-Hansen - Co-Chair

Second Advisor

Chara H. Bohan - Co-Chair

Third Advisor

Michael J. Dias

Fourth Advisor

Dennis N. Thompson

Abstract

Current curriculum trends promote inquiry-based student-centered strategies as a way to foster critical thinking and learning. Problem-based learning (PBL), a type of inquiry focusing on an issue or “problem,” is an instructional approach taught on the basis that science reform efforts increase scientific literacy. PBL is a constructivist approach to learning real life problems where understanding is a function of content, context, experiences, and learner goals; historical PBL situates the lesson in a historical context and provides opportunities for teaching NOS concepts. While much research exists on the benefits of historical PBL to student learning in general, more research is warranted on how teachers implement PBL in the secondary science curriculum. The purpose of this study was to examine the classroom-learning environment of four science teachers implementing a historical PBL instructional unit to identify the teachers’ understandings, successes and obstacles. By identifying teachers’ possible achievements and barriers with implementing a constructivist philosophy when executing historical PBL, educators and curriculum designers may improve alignment of the learning environment to constructivist principles. A qualitative interpretive case study guided this research study. The four participants of this study were purposefully and conveniently selected from biology teachers with at least three years of teaching experience, degrees in education, State Licensure, and completion of a PBL workshop. Data collection consisted of pre and post questionnaires, structured interviews, a card sort activity in which participants categorized instructional outcomes, and participant observations. Results indicated that the four teachers assimilated reform-based constructivist practices to fit within their preexisting routines and highlighted the importance of incorporating teachers’ current systems into reform-based teacher instruction. While participating teachers addressed a few NOS tenets, emphasizing the full range of possible NOS objectives included in historical PBL is warranted. This study also revealed the importance of creating a collaborative classroom culture and building positive student-teacher relationships when implementing PBL instruction. The four teachers agreed that the historical PBL instructional unit provided a context for learning state standards, and they positively viewed their experiences teaching the lesson. Thus findings from this study suggest that teaching science in a historical context using PBL can be effective.

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