Empowering teacher collaboration to promote scientific thinking through inquiry: towards lessons for initial teacher education

Colin Smith, Allan Blake, Fearghal Kelly, Peter Gray, Sinclair MacKenzie, James Mcnally, Daryl Stanfield

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The Science-Teacher Advanced Methods (S-TEAM) Project aims to enable more teachers effectively to adopt inquiry-based methods through support and access to innovative methods and research-based knowledge, so leading to increased science literacy and uptake of science careers (NTU, undated). This sub-project project aims to contribute through the following rationale. First, through using inquiry-based approaches in science education, we with to facilitate the ability of learners to develop scientific thinking, since being able to think scientifically underpins scientific literacy generally and makes science careers more attractive. Therefore, we need to theorise, in pedagogically useful ways, the connections between investigation in school science and scientific thinking. Third, this theory has to be applied, tested, developed or modified in schools in cooperation with science teachers using inquiry-based approaches to science education. Fourth, lessons from this can be taken to ITE. Following the first two parts of this rationale, a five dimensional model of investigations has been developed (Smith, 2010). Based on Feist (2006), the fifth dimension comprises a sub-model of scientific thinking. Although not aimed at science education, Feist’s work provides powerful arguments for identifying certain cognitive activities as constitutive of scientific thinking. These cognitive activities are (currently, at least) here called aspects of scientific thinking to avoid the over ready assumption that they are skills that can be practiced in isolation. Some aspects of scientific thinking, Feist argues, are found in both the implicit scientific thinking of children and adults, and the explicit scientific thinking of scientists – for example, observation, hypothesis formation and cause and effect thinking. These are fundamental to both everyday and scientific thinking. That is not to say that the thinking of children, adults and scientists is the same in all respects. Other factors differentiate scientific thinking from everyday thinking, including the ability to separate and co-ordinate evidence, forms of visualisation (e.g. models and diagrams), controlling one’s thinking by making it explicit, and using metaphors or analogies. Along with language, these enable thinking to become ‘less and less immediate and sensory-bound and more and more consciously represented, explicit and metacognitive’ (Feist, 2006, p71). The other dimensions of the model allow teachers to ask pedagogical questions concerning the range of investigations they are using – 1) Which form of pupil understanding (Folk or developing scientific) does the investigation relate to? 2) Does it originate from learners’ or teachers’ goals? 3) What issues of control are there for the teachers and pupils? 4) How open or closed is the investigation in terms of breadth of possible outcomes and/or their certainty. The model has been used by the author and two teachers in analysing various examples of investigative activity and found useful in highlighting what aspects of scientific thinking are supported, pedagogical issues that arise and possible improvements (Smith, 2010). The next steps are to work with a group of teachers to apply and develop the model in solving pedagogical issues in making science teaching more inquiry-based within Scotland’s curriculum framework and to take lessons from this to ITE.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
Publication statusUnpublished - 23 Aug 2010
EventThe European Conference on Educational research 2010 - Helsinki, Finland
Duration: 23 Aug 201027 Jun 2011


ConferenceThe European Conference on Educational research 2010


  • science teaching
  • teacher collaboration
  • scientific thinking
  • inquiry
  • initial teacher education


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