Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name



Science Education

First Advisor

Maria M. Ferreira


A number of reports have raised a concern that the U.S. is not meeting the demands of 21st century skill preparation of students, teachers, and practitioners in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In 2005 and 2006 five reports were released indicating a need for improvement in science and mathematics education in the U.S. The reports were: Keeping America Competitive: Five Strategies To Improve Mathematics and Science Education (Coble & Allen, 2005); National Defense Education and Innovation Initiative: Meeting America's Economic and Security Challenges in the 21st Century (The Association of American Universities, 2006); Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future (National Academies Press, 2007); Tapping America's Potential: The Education for Innovation Initiative (Business Roundtable Taskforce , 2005); and Waiting for Sputnik: Basic Research and Strategic Competition (Lewis, 2005). Consensus of data in these reports indicates that the U.S., as compared to other industrialized nations, does not fare very well in science achievement and STEM degree attainment. For example, on the 2003 Program for International Assessment (PISA), 15-year-old students in the U.S. ranked 28th in math and 24th in science literacy (Kuenzi, Matthews, & Mangon, 2006). Furthermore, the U.S. ranked 20th among all nations in the proportion of 24-year-olds who earned degrees in natural sciences or engineering (Kuenzi, 2008). As a result, if the U.S. is to remain scientifically and technologically competitive in the world, it is necessary to increase our efforts to incorporate scientific practices associated with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into the science classroom.

Middle school is a critical point in students' science education and it is in middle school that they begin to dislike science. Research indicates that when students learn science through inquiry their interest in and understanding of science increases (Akkus, Gunel & Hand, 2007; Gibson, 2002; Liu, Lee & Linn, 2010). As a result, it is important to explore middle school science teachers' definition of science as inquiry because of its importance in how their understandings are reflected in their practice. Researchers must witness, first- hand, what is taking place in middle school science classrooms with respect to the teaching of scientific inquiry before recommendations for improvements can be made. We must also allow opportunities for middle school science teachers to broach, examine, explore, interpret and report implementation strategies when practicing the elements of scientific inquiry as a science content area. It then stands to reason that more research needs to be done to: (1) assess teachers' knowledge related to reform-based teaching, (2) investigate teachers' views about the goals and purposes of inquiry, and (3) investigate the processes by which teachers carry out SI and motivation for undertaking such a complex and difficult to manage form of instruction.

The purpose of this study was to examine middle school science teachers' understandings and skills related to scientific inquiry; how those understandings and skills were translated into classroom practice, and the role the school district played in the development of such understandings and skills.