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Promotion of Inquiry-Based Science Education: One Teacher’s Story The trials and tribulations of a hopelessly inquisitive mind.

Justin A. Kraft Florida International University, Miami, FL Every time I meet scientists, I like to ask what got them

interested in their field. So far, of all the myriad reasons I have heard, not one has said “I always enjoyed doing problems and answering multiple choice questions.” A few years ago, I returned to teaching at a small private

school in West Palm Beach, Florida, aſter several years of running my own business. I was extremely lucky, having been given a tremendous amount of latitude in my classroom. My first class, of both sixth and seventh graders, was an absolute delight to teach in every way. Although I was supposed to teach all subjects, I naturally gravitated towards the sciences. Lessons in social studies, English, and math were all based around scientific inquiry. One day, we went out to a nearby canal and collected pond

water. Tey first used some of the old, dirty microscopes that we had available. Te students identified what they saw based on a printout I had provided. Teir second task was to write a story using one of their “critters” as the main character for a creative writing exercise, fulfilling their daily English requirement. Finally, we discussed the role that bacteria played in spreading the plague in Europe in the 1400s and 1500s. Aſter my first year, I was promoted to the high school team,

teaching science full-time. An empty 15- by 25-foot room was both my classroom and my lab. It would hold about 28 students at a time. Looking at the bare walls and the sole desk chair that surely could have launched a plague of its own, I asked my principal the fateful question, “What’s my budget?” My principal snickered as he walked off, chuckling. Teachers wear many hats over the course of their careers,

and at this point mine was that of a purchasing agent/beggar for equipment. I purchased a lot of glassware using my own money and managed to secure donations for furniture and other major items. By the summer’s end, I had amassed enough materials and equipment to teach a quality physical science class. Because there was no budget for books, I created a course, using state standards as a guide, that was inquiry-based. Te first lab was the classic “Does peanut-buttered toast land

butter side up or down when dropped” lab. Te students were apprehensive at first. I wrote the question on the board and asked the students what the answer was. Te first five minutes were filled with conversation, but no real answers. Sensing that they were ready, I pointed to the loaves of bread and peanut butter in the back of the room and told the students to figure it out. For many of them, this was the first time in their lives that they had to figure something out on their own, without the security of


the Internet or step-by-step instructions. Labs progressed in this manner—students devising experiments to develop the laws of physical science based on their own observations. All that was given to them was a demonstration or a question. Te students were then encouraged to discuss and dissect the concepts to gain an in-depth understanding of not only what the concept was, but why it was. At the year’s end, my students showed a minimum of

three grade levels of improvement in the science section of the SAT-10 standardized tests, used for progress tracking. I also had a well-equipped teaching lab filled with enough materials to do many simple labs. In addition, I also had $8,600 of personal expenses incurred for equipment out of my meager $24,000 salary. I then attended the National Science Teacher’s Association

convention the next year in St. Louis, Missouri, at my own expense. Tis, plus my previous success, inspired me further. By then a for-profit educational company had purchased the school, so I was finally given a budget for textbooks, but not for materials. I chose a textbook emphasizing hands-on experimentation and continued to use my methods that I had developed previously. My goal was to give these students an experience similar to what I had growing up. When I was in seventh grade in New Orleans, I was always

bored with my classes. Tey weren’t enticing enough for my inquisitive mind, so one day I decided to walk over and introduce myself to some of the professors at Tulane and Loyola Universities. One of them took me under his wing, allowing me to observe his research on bat tongues. He allowed me to bring in my own specimen to put in the SEM, and I was actually allowed to play with the controls! (Tank you, Dr. Hood!) Naturally, given this experience, when I learned that a JEOL

JSM-840 was available for donation, I took the opportunity to share this with my students. I hoped that they would no longer take a grain of sand for granted and realize that even the most common things can be immensely interesting. I spoke with my principal, and although wary, he was impressed by my methods and my proven success rate with hands-on teaching. Te microscope was delivered a few days before spring break. I chose two student “interns” to help me move it into my second floor classroom. Because there was no elevator, we dismantled the SEM in

the first floor cafeteria, breaking it down into parts that could be carried up stairs. When we got the parts upstairs, before just putting it back together, we went over the functions of every part in

doi:10.1017/S1551929510000842 • 2010 September

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