Instruction for discovery learning : levels of implementation exhibited by a sample of algebra I teachers
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One type of instruction that is of particular interest in STEM education is instruction that actively engages students in inquiry and discovery. The author develops an operational definition of instruction for discovery learning (IDL) that adopts some of the fundamental commonalities among many reform-oriented instructional frameworks such as inquiry-based and project-based instruction. Four teachers—who received their bachelor’s degree in mathematics and teacher certification from the same undergraduate teacher-preparation program—and their Algebra I classes were observed with the focus on how particular features of IDL were being implemented in their classrooms. To gain further perspective on classroom practices and interactions, student surveys were administered to a total of 142 students and each teacher was interviewed. The student surveys focused on student orientations toward IDL, attitudes toward mathematics, and their perspective of IDL implementation in their class. Student survey data was analyzed through ANOVA, post hoc tests were used to identify significant pair-wise differences between teachers for which the ANOVA identified significance, and a factor analysis was used to evaluate the component loadings for the survey questions. The surveys revealed significant differences between perceived activities in the classes (p<0.05), but did not show very significant differences between student orientations toward IDL. All four teachers expressed familiarity with and commitment to reform-oriented frameworks such as inquiry-based and project-based instruction, and certainly experienced inquiry-based learning as students themselves in their undergraduate program. However, only one teacher—the one teaching in a New Tech high school that was structured on the framework of project-based instruction (PBI)—showed consistent differences in both student perspectives of IDL and observed implementation of IDL. The author discusses the levels at which these teachers implemented IDL, the differences among student perceptions across the classes, teacher orientations toward mathematics and learning, and the importance of a supportive school culture and administration in order to fully implement IDL and influence both student and teacher orientations toward reform-oriented pedagogy.