Dr. Renee' Schwartz | Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences
3139 Wood Hall | Phone: (269) 387-5660 | FAX: (269) 387-2909 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Overview of My Research Agenda
My primary research focus is the exploration of epistemological views of science, their development, and factors that influence development. I became interested in studying how people come to understand what scientific knowledge is and how it is developed because I see the area as a merger of my science and education backgrounds. There is a need to explore such questions as, “How can learners come to understand the creative yet empirical aspects of science?” Such understanding moves learners’ beyond memorization of isolated science concepts and can put the realm of science within reach of all learners. My research has focused on understanding conceptual and pedagogical developments in the teaching and learning of nature of science [NOS], especially through inquiry experiences. The context of inquiry, be it within the classroom or authentic science communities, provides a complex and dynamic venue for developing conceptual knowledge.
My research studies have targeted preservice teachers (K-12), inservice teachers (6-12), future science faculty, and scientists. The questions I pursue are largely addressed through a qualitative approach. Where a scientist has a laboratory or field area for data collection, my laboratory is the classroom and data collection comprises open-ended questionnaires, classroom observations, and interviews. I have been involved in the development and use of research tools that assess respondent’s understandings of the nature of science [Views of Nature of Science questionnaire (VNOS)] and the nature of scientific inquiry [Views of Scientific Inquiry questionnaire (VOSI)] My classroom-based research investigates effective teaching practices and contexts for enhancing NOS and inquiry views. I have established collaborative relationships with local middle school teachers. Over the past five years I have spent considerable time in middle school science classes to gain a better understanding of the local contexts and opportunities for inquiry and NOS enhancements. The aim of this line of research is to better understand contextual factors that enable effective NOS and inquiry instruction.
I seek opportunities to blend my research agenda with the work of MISE graduate students. Two of my current doctoral students are investigating issues related to epistemology. One is studying the relationship between world views and NOS conceptions; the other is studying language patterns found within classroom inquiry and authentic science contexts. Exploring issues related to epistemological views of science is the most prominent line of my research, and has been and continues to be an important area for understanding the needs of teachers and students to achieve science literacy.
Embedding nature of science and inquiry instruction in an undergraduate biology course
I have continued my epistemology research with undergraduates and graduate students at WMU to explore developments in their NOS and inquiry conceptions. I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to closely integrate my research and teaching. I engage in research on my own teaching as I employ research-supported strategies for teaching NOS in my undergraduate biology course. Through this process, I am studying the nuances of NOS conceptual change in a specific context. The biology course is designed for elementary/middle school education majors and encompasses the content areas of cell biology, genetics, and molecular biology. This work involves the continued development and implementation of inquiry-based lessons that are infused with nature of science and inquiry objectives relevant to the science content. Nature of science and the nature of scientific inquiry are themes that run throughout the semester, embedded within every topic. My own research supports this model, but my work at WMU has given me my first chance to actually implement the thematic approach in a science classroom and examine the implications from a teacher perspective as well as from a researcher perspective. Formal study of instructional effectiveness is underway. (manuscript in preparation; conference paper)
I am interested in examining how we prepare future science teacher educators and science faculty for engaging students in inquiry and reflective reasoning. The integration of my research into the teaching of my graduate courses has lead to a study of how graduate students develop conceptual and pedagogical knowledge of nature of science and inquiry (conference presentations; manuscript in preparation). Further explorations on the professional development of science teacher educators are needed. I have developed a methods course for college science teaching that emphasizes engaging students in active learning and investigative experiences, along with nature of science and inquiry aspects. From this course has emerged a collaboration with science faculty to examine how their views and teaching practices may develop to include nature of science and inquiry.
Scientists’ views of nature of science and scientific inquiry
By exploring scientists’ epistemological views, research practices, and teaching practices, I aim to better understand contextual-based influences of epistemological views. Scientists are the most authentic of inquirers, and studies within authentic contexts of inquiry will provide new insights into developments of epistemological views. Earlier related research is found in Schwartz, R. (2004). Epistemological views in authentic science practice: A cross-discipline study of scientists’ views of nature of science and scientific inquiry. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR. (Publication: Schwartz & Lederman, 2008)
A second line of my research involves elementary science instructional models, specifically the study of elementary science specialists. This work bridges one of my earliest studies with a most recent one. My work in this area involves empirical studies of existing science specialist models and their effectiveness. I was recently involved in a pilot study of current specialist models (Science Educator, 2008) and we are poised to conduct a larger study on model structures and effectiveness. (Call for Participation)
In addition to involving students with research on NOS and inquiry, I work with current graduate students who are interested in research in Biology Education. The focus of these studies is dependent on the mutual interest of myself and the graduate students. One line explores how preservice teachers understand connections and biological systems pertaining to the processes of photosynthesis and plant cellular respiration. This was a dissertation topic (Mary Brown), for which I was advisor (manuscript accepted for publication). Dr. Brown and I have continued our work to study the effects of a teaching intervention on preservice teachers’ conceptions of the processes and systems connections. I am also working with current graduate students on conducting action research of their inquiry teaching in an undergraduate biology course.
I am currently involved in two NSF- funded projects for which I am co-PI. One is a comparative study of 8th grade students’ learning physical science concepts in an inquiry versus direct instructional environment. This project is in its fourth year. The other project involves the development of an instrument to assess preservice K-8 teachers’ orientations toward inquiry science teaching. We are pursuing international collaborations to validate the instrument for use in Turkey, China, and Uganda. In the fall of 2008, I travel to Turkey to meet with teachers and researchers at Sakarya University about the project.