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Teachers' and researchers' beliefs of learning and the use of learning progressions




Clapp, Francis Neely, author
Balgopal, Meena, advisor
Graham, James, committee member
Korte, Russell, committee member
Weinberg, Andrea, committee member

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In the last decade, science education reform in the United States has emphasized the exploration of cognitive learning pathways, which are theories on how a person learns a particular science subject matter. These theories are based, in part, by Piagetian developmental theory. One such model, called Learning Progressions (LP), has become prominent within science education reform. Science education researchers design LPs which in turn are used by science educators to sequence their curricula. The new national science standards released in April 2013 (Next Generation Science Standards) are, in part, grounded in the LP model. Understanding how teachers apply and use LPs, therefore, is valuable because professional development programs are likely to use this model, given the federal attention LP have received in science education reform. I sought to identify the beliefs and discourse that both LP developers and intended LP implementers have around student learning, teaching, and learning progressions. However, studies measuring beliefs or perspectives of LP-focused projects are absent in published works. A qualitative research is therefore warranted to explore this rather uncharted research area. Research questions were examined through the use of an instrumental case study. A case study approach was selected over other methodologies, as the research problem is, in part, bound within a clearly identifiable case (a professional development experience centering on a single LP model). One of the broadest definitions of a case study is noted by Becker (1968), who stated that goals of case studies are "to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the groups under study" and to develop "general theoretical statements about regularities in social structure and process." (p.233). Based on Merriam (1985) the general consensus in the case study literature is that the assumptions underlying this method are common to naturalistic inquiry with research conducted primarily in the field with little control of variables. Beyond this similarity, different researchers have varying definitions to case studies. Merriam's (1985) provided a summary of the delineations and varying types of case studies. Merriam divided the various case study methods by their functions, with a marked divide between theory building and non-theory building methods. Non-theory building case studies are generally descriptive, and interpretive methods that apply theory to a case or context allow researchers to better understand the phenomena observed (Lijphart, 1971; Merriam, 1985). Conversely, theory building case studies focus on hypothesis generation, theory confirming, theory informing, or theory refuting (Lijphart, 1971; Merriam, 1985). Though there are many definitions and methods labeled as "case studies,' for the purpose of this study, Yin's (1981) definition of a case study will be used. Yin (1981) defined a case study as a method to examine "(a) a contemporary phenomenon in its real-life context, especially when (b) the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident" (p. 59). My study seeks to apply theory and study phenomena in their context, as I will examine teachers' practice in context of their respective classrooms. This study focuses on the lived experiences of both teacher and research stakeholders within the study. Specifically, I interviewed teachers who participated in a year-long teacher-in-residence (TiR) program. In addition, researchers/content experts who conceptualized the LP were also interviewed. Because the TiR experience was a form of professional development, I propose to study the impact that it had on participants' perceptions of the LP and any teacher-reported changes in their respective classrooms. However, because beliefs influence the language that we use to describe phenomena (such as learning and teaching), it is informative to also describe patterns in how LP developers explain learning and teaching. Subsequently, the results of this study will inform literature on both science teacher professional development and LPs theory to practice.


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learning progressions
teacher beliefs
teacher systemic reform model
researcher beliefs
cognitive learning pathways
teachers in residence


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