The focus of this basic qualitative research is student questions in an unstructured inquiry setting. Case and cross-case analyses were conducted (Miles and Huberman, 1984) of the questions posed by fifth grade students working in laboratory groups of size three to five students as they investigated pendulum motion. To establish the conceptual framework for the study, literature was reviewed in the areas of cognitive theory (constructivism, conceptual change, and other theories), approaches to science, and the importance of student questions in the learning process. A review of group work, related studies of student questions and activities and relevant methods of qualitative research was also undertaken. The current study occupies the relatively unique position of being about the questions students posed to each other (not the teacher) at the outset of and throughout an unstructured inquiry activity with a minimum of teacher initiation or intervention. The focus is on finding out what questions students ask, when they ask them, what categories the questions fall into in relation to possible models of the scientific method, student motivation, and what role the questions play as the students take part in an inquiry activity. Students were video and/or audio-recorded as they did the investigation. They wrote down their questions during one-minute pauses that occurred at roughly eight-minute intervals. The groups were interviewed the next day about their experience. The recordings, question sheets, and interview accounts and recordings were analyzed by the researcher. Accounts of the experience of each group were prepared, and reiterated attempts were made to classify the questions as the main themes and categories emerged. It was found that students posed their key research question (most typically related to pendulum damping effects) midway through the first half of their activity, after having first met some competence and other needs in relation to measurement procedures and basic information. The main research question typically emerged gradually in an implicitly shared form. It was found that Deci and Ryan's self-determination theory (2000) with the core needs of competence, autonomy, and relatedness, served as a useful tool for categorizing and understanding the role of the questions. Basic questions about procedures in relation to gaining competence with measurement were considered by the researcher to be most prevalent. When compared to, for instance, Lawson's hypothetico-predictive model of doing science (2003a) it was noted that puzzling observations were not necessarily made at the outset, and key questions took place much later in the investigative process than what typical scientific models might suggest.Further, more focused research in the areas of self-determination theory in relation to student questions as they engage in inquiry could be of benefit in determining the motivations behind student questions. Educational programs that have, as their goal, authentic student inquiry should take into account that student research questions evolve over time as they meet various needs in the process of initiating their investigations.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. February 2015. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Frances P. Lawrenz. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 232 pages, appendices A-I.
Tisel, James Michael.
Within-case and cross-case analyses of questions posed by fifth-grade students working in small groups to investigate pendulum motion.
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