Insights from the Enhancing the Quality of Undergraduate Investigations in Physical Science (EQUIPS)

Frederick Nelson
Associate Professor
California State University, Fresno

Need: Prospective elementary teachers are often provided little to no opportunities to both plan and carry out their own scientific investigations during their teacher preparation or to develop an integrated understanding across disciplines such as Chemistry and Physics. As such, it becomes challenging for them to facilitate and explain scientific investigations in their future classrooms. The EQUIPS project introduced a re-designed laboratory in place of a conventional laboratory in a Physical Science course to provide greater ownership to pre-service elementary teachers (PSETs) and to support their scientific explanations and understanding of scientific practices. Further, the project investigated what components of the new laboratory structure were evident in select future courses and classroom practice, and the factors underpinning transfer from the re-designed laboratory. Guiding Question: Guided by the constructivist knowledge integration (KI) framework, the research questions for this study were:How do PSETs explain a scientific phenomenon using different science disciplines and how integrated are these explanations?How can we design laboratories to support experimental practices and what impact does this have on PSETs’ explanations of scientific phenomena compared to the previous conventional laboratory structure?What impact do our redesigned laboratories have on PSETs’ views about experimental practices and Physical Science?What are features of the EQUIPS laboratory that align with practicing teachers’ engagement with Physical Science?Outcomes: Our findings illustrate that, on average, PSETs consistently enter the Physical Science course with non-normative scientific ideas and exit the course with partial scientific ideas across Chemistry, Physics, and Integrated (Chemistry and Physics) assessment items (RQ1). Compared to the conventional laboratory, PSETs in the re-designed course show similar outcomes on conceptual items (RQ2). PSETs in the re-designed laboratory described themselves as active learners taking ownership and identified instructors as their guides/facilitators, while PSETs in the conventional laboratory described passive participation reflecting a lack of ownership often describing the instructor as the expert (RQ3). It should be noted that findings for RQ1-RQ3 are heavily instructor dependent, that is, a confounding variable. For future courses and practice, PSETs express a strong desire to teach Physical Science and model experiences from their science courses, but are limited by existing elementary school practices toward science (RQ4).Broader Impacts: The EQUIPS project has developed a new NGSS aligned PSET laboratory curriculum that better supports authentic scientific practices experiences, illustrating how such curriculum can be implemented through collaboration across Education, Chemistry, and Physics departments. We have developed a 12-item open-response assessment of student conceptual understanding based on the KI framework that produces consistent pre-test results across semesters and that can be applied in other PSET Physical Science courses. Our course is taken by 150 PSETs every semester (900 over the course of the project) taught by 4-6 laboratory instructors, and thus had a substantial impact on modeling authentic science practices. In addition, our PSETs are underrepresented in STEM and/or in teaching positions (90% female; 80% People of Color) and thus our findings illustrate what aspects of the laboratory structure these PSETs find engaging.


Dermot Donnelly-Hermosillo, California State University, Fresno, Fresno, CA