Effective Urban Elementary Teachers of Inquiry Science: Beliefs, Knowledge, and Resources Shaping Teacher Planning

Elaine M. Silva Mangiante, Rhode Island College


One understudied area in science education is the planning for science inquiry practices by urban elementary teachers despite limitations they face such as accountability pressures or resource availability. This multi-case study examined the planning for inquiry science lessons by two upper elementary teachers identified as effective in inquiry science instruction in urban schools. The conceptual framework employed for the study included teachers’ beliefs, knowledge, and agency with resources as contributing factors to urban teachers’ planning decisions for inquiry science. Through interviews, observations, and document analyses over the course of a science unit, the findings indicated that these effective urban elementary teachers of inquiry science were committed to providing their students with student-centered learning experiences in order to grow their scientific literacy skills. From analysis of the themes that emerged from the individual cases as well as the patterns held in common between the cases, the evidence suggested four key components that describe the nature of the inquiry science planning by these effective urban elementary teachers. The components included the macro level of teacher preparation in (a) making sense of the inquiry process through social processing with colleagues and experts and integration of professional development initiatives, and (b) establishing the mission of inquiry learning for students involving critical thinking skill development and opportunities for success. The results also indicated the micro level of (c) planning lessons daily, weekly, and for the unit considering a complexity of factors including knowledge of students, content, pedagogy, the standardized science test, as well as the roles of the teacher and students while (d) navigating obstacles of the accountability climate, restricted time, and limited resources. Recommendations were made for how to apply the results of the study to professional development, human resource development, and social networks to support urban teachers in their inquiry science teaching practice.