L. Whent, R. Gomez-Camacho, R. Manzo

University of California, Davis (UNITED STATES)
Science education research since the 1980s in the U.S. has focused on strategies to improve science education and develop effective school based science education programs. Despite these efforts, there has been a decline in science performance, especially in low-income school districts with high numbers of English Learners (EL) and minority students in the USA. Gagnon and Mattingly (2012) found that schools in rural, and racially diverse communities were more likely to have a higher concentration of beginning and less skilled teachers. High numbers of beginning teachers in schools with high levels of poverty creates even greater academic risks for minority students, as these low income schools do not have the resources to support the pedagogical development of these teachers. The fact that the least-qualified teachers are more likely to teach the least-advantaged students is particularly problematic for science achievement in these school districts. Studies have found that a difference in teacher quality may represent the single most important school resource differential of academic success for minority students.

In the last three decades, one program has been modeled extensively in the development of new curriculum materials and professional development experiences. This model is known as the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) 5E Instructional Model, lead by W. Bybee. The model whereby learners build or construct new ideas on top of previous experiences and knowledge. Each of the 5Es (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate) actively engage students in a series of learning phases that help them build their knowledge and experiences, construct meaning, and assess their understanding of new information.

This study examined the impact of the 5E Model in increasing science teachers’ knowledge of research methods, neuroscience and drug addiction during their participation in a 5-day summer science institute. Teachers were recruited into this study from the California Central Valley. The data for this study evolved from a four-year National Institute of Health funded science education project called Addiction Research and Investigation for Science Educators.

Findings were based on pre- and post-test evaluation data from three annual cohorts in 2010-13. Researchers found significant improvement in teacher science knowledge overall and on all subscales of the test. Similarly to previous literature, teachers with lower scores in the pre-test were more likely to teach science in classrooms with a higher concentration of EL/minority students. However, findings revealed that science teachers with lower pre-test scores, showed the greatest gains in post-test scores. A unique characteristic of the institute was the implementation of the 5E model to deliver the curriculum to the teachers and demonstrate how to incorporate the 5E model in their science classes. Through the use of the 5E teaching method, we found that teachers in our cohorts with the least skills had the highest rates of gain in knowledge. The 5E instructional model is a research-based strategy that has been used extensively to teach science to children, this model moves away from didactic methods of in-service pedagogy. These findings suggest that the 5E model could be an effective way to teach teachers as well as students, particularly to new and or less skilled teachers, who often tend to have higher numbers of EL/minority students in their classes.