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A Study Of Inquiry Based Informal Science Education In An Urban High School Physics Class

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Technological Literacy and K-12 Engineering

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.96.1 - 15.96.14

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Paper Authors

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Adam Wathen Georgia Institute of Technology

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William Hunt Georgia Institute of Technology


Donna Llewellyn Georgia Institute of Technology

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Dr. Donna C. Llewellyn is the Director of the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL)at Georgia Tech. Donna received her B.A. in Mathematics from Swarthmore College, her M.S. in Operations Research from Stanford University, and her Ph.D. in Operations Research from Cornell University. After working as a faculty member in the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Georgia Tech, she changed career paths to lead CETL where she works with faculty, instructors, and graduate students to help them teach effectively so that our students can learn.

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Peter Ludovice Georgia Institute of Technology


Marion Usselman Georgia Institute of Technology

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Dr. Marion C. Usselman is Associate Director for Academic Outreach at the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC) at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Marion received her Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University and taught biology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. She focuses on equity and access issues in education and K-12 educational reform. She is the co-PI of the STEP program.

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A Study Of Inquiry-based Informal Science Education In An Urban High School Physics Class Introduction Inquiry is a fundamental component of science, research, and learning. Inquiry-based learning in the sciences is modeled in such a way to follow the process of formal scientific practice and, as such, can be an effective educational tool in all levels of education. Allowing students to ask questions about a new topic engages them in an active learning process. Although students generally know that they do not know something about a newly introduced topic, Van der Meij has suggested that “knowing that you do not know” is not adequate for the formulation of a sufficient inquiry1. Edelson, Gordin, and Pea outline the five challenges associated with inquiry-based learning2. These include motivation, accessibility of investigation techniques, background knowledge, management of extended activities, and the practical constraints of the learning context. Our study of the effect of informal science education (ISE) on inquiry-based learning aims to tackle many of those challenges. The metric of evaluation is the level of questioning by the students on a given topic based on a modified Bloom’s Taxonomy3. Methods This paper studies the effects of inquiry-based informal science education on the level of questions asked by students in an urban high school physics class. This particular 99% African- American, low income, urban high school was selected to be paired with the Georgia Institute of Technology through the NSF GK-12 program to foster teaching partnerships between Atlanta area high schools and Georgia Tech. In an exercise on inquiry, the students were asked to ask questions about a science-related topic. An introduction to gravitation and astrophysics is typically taught within the formal constructs of a high school physics class, and as such was chosen as the topic of investigation for this study. A baseline of knowledge of the topic and level of questioning was taken by asking the students to write down one item about gravitation that they remember from the formal instruction and one question they have remaining about gravitation. For the items remembered, the assigned Bloom’s category corresponds to the level of question for which the answer would suffice. For the students’ remaining questions, the Bloom’s categories were assigned as usual as if they were assessment questions by an instructor. Although there were fundamental and obvious misconceptions about the topic in several of the responses, a category was assigned assuming there was no misconception present. Bloom’s taxonomy is a categorization of levels of learning. Learning at higher levels within the taxonomy is predicated on the knowledge or skills gained at the lower levels. The taxonomy is typically applied to three domains of learning: affective, cognitive, and psychomotor. We are concerned here only with the cognitive domain. The levels within the cognitive domain are knowledge (1), comprehension (2), application (3), analysis (4), synthesis (5), and evaluation (6). The Bloom’s categories used to describe the entries are the modified Bloom’s categories reflecting active thinking3: Remembering (1), Understanding (2), Applying (3), Analyzing (4), Evaluating (5), and Creating (6). For analysis, each category is ranked from 1-6 in the order of increasing complexity. Table 1 is a summary of the descriptions of each category along with examples of students’ responses corresponding to the various categories.

Wathen, A., & Hunt, W., & Llewellyn, D., & Ludovice, P., & Usselman, M. (2010, June), A Study Of Inquiry Based Informal Science Education In An Urban High School Physics Class Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky.

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