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The Nature of the Teacher’s Role in Supporting Student Investigations in Middle and High School Science Classrooms: Creating and Participating in a Community of Practice

Abstract

"This paper addresses the roles that teachers must play in middle and high school science classrooms to effectively engage students in investigations that raise questions in students' minds, unveil the exciting, often messy, and negotiated enterprise we call science, and help students better understand both what and how we know about natural phenomena. In moving students beyond a "rhetoric of conclusions" and toward a more three-dimensional science learning experience (National Research Council, 2012), teachers play an integral and complex role. For some teachers, this role is made more difficult by confusion within the field about such conflated terms as labs, inquiry, and investigations. Furthermore, many science teachers' own experiences have been "cookbook" in nature, experiences exacerbated by organizational and institutional constraints that can prevent their on-going development in facilitating effective investigations.

Drawing on the conceptual and empirical literature, this paper argues that while multiple models for investigations exist that align with a three-dimensional framework of science education, each model places at its center the necessity for the teacher to create a community of practice within the classroom. The paper is organized into three main sections. The first section clarifies similarities and differences among the often-conflated concepts of inquiry, labs, and investigations. The second section - the central focus of this paper - frames the teacher's role as an expert embedded within a community of practice. This section identifies key elements of an investigative community and highlights several existing models. Finally, the third section outlines the needs for preparing preand in-service teachers to facilitate investigations in light of this framework."

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