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The IERI Research Community :: Projects

An Inquiry-Based Approach to Professional Development: Using Prototypes to Help New Teachers Reflect on Project-Based Learning

Matthew Keefer

Math, Science

Background: The objective of our research project into teacher education is to document the collaborative development and reflection on tools to support implementing a project-based learning program. The purpose of the tools is to provide practitioners with cases, commentaries on cases and scoring guides that provide clear criteria for proficiency in problem-based teaching.

Objectives: This project has both research and professional development objectives. The practical objectives include the design of research-based materials and formats for the transmission of knowledge to less experienced teachers.

Setting: The context of this inquiry is a middle school in St Louis, the Compton-Drew Investigative Learning Center (C-D) affiliated and adjacent to the St. Louis Science Center. As part of the St Louis Public School district (SLPS), this inner-city math and science magnet school serves an ethnically, racially, and socio-economically diverse population of 510 students.

Research Design: The methods used in the study were mixed including descriptive, observational, and quasi-experimental.

Findings: The major finding for this project was the creation of tools for teachers collaborative reflections on instruction, curriculum development, and assessments in a PBL setting. In the first year of the project structured interviews aimed at identifying crucial issues in implementing project-based learning were conducted followed by the collection of case examples. In the second year we worked collaboratively with teachers to construct our templates, formats, scoring guides, and applied these tools to the analysis of teaching activities, curricular content, and student assessments. We refer to these sessions as constituting a first level of reflection. In the following year, we presented the detailed analyses of the teachers instruction, curriculum, and assessments for further reflection and commentary. Templates, dialogue formats, and scoring guides are revised based on the results of the analyses and assessments. We refer to these sessions as the second level of reflection. One of the most useful tools we crafted that was predictive of teachers success in a PBL context was an adaptation of Bereiter s description of epistemological stages in teachers approaches to knowledge. In depth descriptions of these tools and research findings can be obtained from the author or found in references.

Keefer, M. W. (2002). Designing reflections on practice: Helping teachers apply cognitive learning principles in an SFT - inquiry-based learning program. Interchange: A Quarterly Review of Education, 33(4), 395-417.

Keefer, M. W., & Henderson, F. (1999). An inquiry based approach to professional development: Assisting teachers' reflection on practice. Paper presented at American Educational Research Association April 19-23rd, Montreal, Canada.

Keefer, M. W., & Klein, C. (1998). Reflecting on Teachers Practice: Creating Cognitive Tools for Inquiry-based Teaching. Paper presented in a symposium "Building a culture of reflective practitioners: Cognitive science research and the educational reform movement" at American Educational Research Association April 13-18th, San Diego, CA.

You can learn more about this project by visiting