The Role of Teacher Guidance and Failure During Inquiry Based Labs in the Physics Classroom

Open Access
DeLone, Scott F
Area of Honors:
Secondary Education
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Scott Mc Donald, Thesis Supervisor
  • Gregory John Kelly, Faculty Reader
  • Scott P Mcdonald, Honors Advisor
  • Productive Failure
  • Inquiry
  • Science Education
  • Physics Education
  • Teacher Support
  • Practicum Labs
Recent national and state standards have called for more inquiry and authentic activities within the science classroom. The definition of inquiry activities is somewhat ambiguous and even more ambiguous is how these inquiry activities are created in the science classroom. Current research examines these inquiry activities and various aspects that impact the activities. This study continues this line of research by examining the role of teacher guidance in influencing the discourse patterns of the students. Additionally, the potential benefits of failure during a lab were examined. In order to examine teacher guidance (both the structure of the lesson and the support given by the teacher) and the role of failure, videos of both a traditional lab and an inquiry-based lab were analyzed. Both an honors section and an academic section were used for each type of lab. These videos were analyzed using a program known as Studio Code. The actions of the teacher were coded into procedural, conceptual and communicative support. The actions of the students were coded into procedural, conceptual and communicative actions. Each student action was given a label to indicate if it occurred before or after teacher support. In this way, the effect of the teachers support as well as the structure could be observed and described. The study provided three main results. The first is that the structure of the lab must align with the support given during the lab for the teacher to have an effect on the discourse patterns of the students. For example, if the structure has a procedural focus, but the support given is primarily conceptual, there will be little change in the discourse of the students. The second finding was that open support, meaning support where the teacher did not finish the interaction with a final evaluation, served to foster student-to-student discourse. Closed support (which included a final evaluation), on the other hand did not encourage discourse; it often gave the students tunnel vision and hindered the discourse. The last result was that under the correct conditions, a failure could be productive in the science classroom. In the context of this study, temporary failures lead to better discourse amongst the students. These results contribute to a theory of learning in that they further emphasize the need for teachers to be reflective about their practices. In this case, teachers must consider their learning goals and ensure that the structure of the lesson compliments the support given during the lesson. Teacher also must consider the potential benefits of fading out the support structure to allow for a failure. This may seem counterintuitive, but under the correct conditions these failures allow for learning opportunities. Further research needs to be done to examine the conditions under which a failure can be productive as well as the means by which the teacher can fade the support structure to allow for these failures.