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Problem-based Science Inquiry : : Challenges and Possibilities for Addressing 21st Century Skills


This dissertation is a mixed methods exploratory case study on the implementation of problem-based inquiry. The trend of technological changes have created a wave of global change, brought new understanding of learning, and requires a shift in education to develop and accommodate proficiency in 21st century skills and competencies. As a result, in many countries, including the United States, the push to benchmark educational standards is in place to prepare students for success in college and careers. The narrow nature of traditional teaching strategies that currently prevails in schools has been branded as one of the reasons for students' low performance. In particular, teacher-centered didactic instruction with the goal of preparing students for high stakes testing has led to a "teaching to the test" pattern rather than focusing on deeper understanding. This study argues that problem-based inquiry is a strategy that can help students gain and retain knowledge better and longer. Problem-based inquiry's promise of creating a rigorous academic environment in which all students can be engaged and involved, as well have the opportunity for a better understanding of learning materials and a fuller construction of knowledge is attained. Recognizing that knowledge is socially constructed, this study examined problem-based learning as the involvement of both teachers and students in the construction of their own knowledge. The overarching purpose was to examine if, by implementing problem-based inquiry, a school that followed a prescribed curriculum with a teacher-centered instruction approach was able to transform its teaching pedagogy to a more student-centered environment that focuses on students' success and prepares them for today's globalized high tech world. For this reason in Phase I eighteen teachers participated in semi-structured interviews, and in Phase II nineteen teachers participated in focus group interviews. Furthermore, selected classrooms and teacher collaboration meetings and classrooms were observed to explore the ease and benefits of its implementation, while probing its barriers. In addition, teachers' lesson plans and students' work were examined to corroborate with interviews and observations data. This study offers recommendations to policy makers and educators in taking steps towards meeting the requirements for the Next Generation Science Standards

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