An inquisitive approach to science education

March 7, 2013

By Margaret Cipriano ’15

To prepare the next generation of science teachers Bradley University has created a suite of classes that develop the critical thinking skills and competency of education majors through inquiry-based teaching methods.

The Science for Inquiry courses promote an inquiry-based, interdisciplinary curriculum for Bradley’s education majors where they learn physical and life sciences by asking thought-provoking questions rather by pushing rote memorization.

Biology Lecturer Michelle Edgcomb-Friday said the suite—which includes classes on environmental science, evolution, energy and more—is designed to bridge the gap between how future teachers usually learn science content and how they are asked to teach in their classrooms.

“Research shows you tend to teach the way you are taught. Especially if you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the subject,” she said.

The classes are co-taught by two instructors with class sizes of 20 students or less. Students meet twice a week for three hours to allow for more hands-on work in laboratories. The format of the classes encourages student interaction and builds their confidence regarding the material they will one day teach at any level from pre-kindergarten through high school.

“These courses were unique because you were able to do exactly what your students would be doing,” said Amy Truchon, a senior elementary education major with a concentration in social studies.

The classes are also writing intensive, incorporating reasoning and math skills along with a biological component. “[Science for Inquiry classes] acknowledge a growing concern when talking about general education: How do you bring in ideas and reasoning from more than one disciplinary background?” said Edgcomb-Friday.

Bradley is one of few universities where lab work and classroom lectures are integrated with an inquiry approach. The result, Edgcomb-Friday said, is that students boost their competence as science teachers and enthusiasm for the subject matter.

“I think we have something cool here,” she said. “We are trying to break down barriers. Science is not solitary; in fact, science is a very collaborative process. It’s most gratifying when I hear: ‘I thought I hated science and then I took this class.’ That is what I consider a real win.”

Several students underscored how the suite of classes has improved their teaching methods.

“I have already used one of the lessons I created in a fourth and third grade classroom, as well as kindergarten, and I plan to implement these skills in any future classroom,” said Anna Strubhar, a senior special and elementary education major with a concentration in science.

Joey Philipp ’11 who received a degree in biology-secondary education and is now teaching at New Tech High at Zion-Benton East in Zion, Ill., added, “I would recommend that any secondary education science major take the course to gain experience using inquiry in the classroom.”