Inquiry-based, Hands-on Classroom Learning Modules

Elizabeth McCormack, Bryn Mawr

As an F21 member, I have been benefiting from PKAL sponsored events since 1996. While I have limited formal experience in the area of assessment, I am interested in this Roundtable particularly for the sessions on faculty use of assessment to increase student learning and gaining confidence in using novel types of assessment. Also, at our institution assessment has emerged as an important area for improvement because of its connection to many different educational activities, some of which go beyond assessing learning in a classroom.

Assessment tools that are integrated into a learning process can have many advantages over other types of assessment that occur separated in time and structure from the learning process. I tried to use this principle as a guide when I was thinking about how I could assess the effectiveness of the outreach activity I directed last summer. The activity was a two-week summer institute for K8-12 educators called: Science as Exploration: Developing Inquiry-Based Methods. Sponsored by Bryn Mawr College with a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, it provided selected teachers with an intensive workshop aimed at developing inquiry-based, hands-on classroom learning modules. A series of modules were proposed by a diverse group of college-level faculty and presented with appropriate background, while modeling the inquiry-based methods. Participating teachers were asked to reflect on the module experiences and conceive of ways to adapt them to a variety of classroom settings, both in traditional science curriculum and in non-science contexts. Several aspects of the workshop were particularly effective. They included: immediate, critical written assessment of and recommendations for adapting more than 10 modules spanning the physical sciences; 2) a day-long symposium devoted to exchange between educators at college, middle and high school levels providing the seeds of a regional network among K-16 educators for future collaborations; and 3) discussions of ideas to motivate broader conversations about what science is and its place in our society.

The written assessment of the modules done by the teachers immediately after experiencing each of them served as an effective assessment of the success the modules had in addressing the goals we had for them. Below, the provided template for the written feedback is reproduced. There were four areas that defined a successsful module. Did it address significant science content ? (i.e. with regards to state SMET standards), did it make a connection to societal concerns and the practice of science?, did it include an assessment component for evaluating learning?, and finally, could it be effectively adapted to a particular classroom context? Assessing the effectiveness of the presented module by asking the participants to evaluate it on how well it met these goals, we integrated the evaluation of the modules with an assessment of the teachers as learners. We did this specifically by asking them to extend what they had learned to their own teaching contexts. Considering ways to extend the module to different age levels and classroom settings revealed strengths and difficulties and numerous suggestions for improvements. The extention of the ideas in the format of discovering what works also reinforced the inquiry-based method. Thus, attempts to extend what they had learned in both process and content into their own classrooms assessed how much was learned from the modules and simultaneously provided a meaningful step in the learning process and increased the potential implementation of the module.

Module Report and Assessment

Your Name__________________________

Module Title_________________________

Module Presenter______________________

I. Science Content

Summarize what you reviewed or learned for the first time in the content of this module. What new questions have arisen as a result of your new knowledge? What of the subject area is still confusing and what would you like to know more about?

II. The "So What?" Question

What is interesting about this subject area? Give three example of where this science content is important in everyday life.




How is this science related to societal issues?

III. Assessment

Give two ideas for types of evaluation and assessment that you could use to get feedback on the effectiveness of this module for student learning:



IV. Adaptation

What changes would you make to adapt this module to your teaching environment and your level?

What barriers might need to be addressed to adapt this module to your teaching environment?

What are possible solutions to those difficulties?