Using Inquiry to Improve Pedagogy through K-12/University Partnerships

Huziak-Clark, T., Van Hook, S. J., Nurnberger-Haag, J., & Ballone-Duran, L. (2007). Using inquiry to improve pedagogy through K-12/university partnerships. School Science & Mathematics, 107(8), 311-324.


STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is currently a buzzword in the world of education, with inquiry skills being a considerable component of improving the pedagogy. Inquiry, a process of student investigation to develop knowledge, involves careful orchestration by the teacher and lesson structure in order to reach desired student outcomes. Huziak-Clark, Hook, Nurnberger-Haag, and Ballone-Duran (1999) suggested that in order to improve inquiry within the science classroom, collaboration amongst educators and scientists must occur. The purpose of the authors’ study was to “describe and report effectiveness of a collaborative program that brings together classroom teachers, university faculty, and science or mathematics graduate students to develop better content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and inquiry-based teaching practices among all partners” (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 311). Thus, all parties involved wanted to work together to discover effective techniques to devise lesson plans that allow students to think critically and construct knowledge without direct instruction, which occurred over a three-year period of time. The program consisted of two parts: the professional development/creation aspect of the process and the implementation phase. Throughout these two sections of the program, researchers noted the effectiveness of the partnership and determined the degree to which it positively contributed to more effective inquiry-based lessons.

University and K-12 partnerships are important to the growth and development of inquiry-based practices in the K-12 classroom because of the knowledge and skills both parties can contribute to the process. All of the inquiry based professional development opportunities I have attended presented a wealth of information but left me with little guidance in regards to implementation, which is why I was intrigued to learn the way in which the authors structured their professional development. During a summer institute, teachers and fellows, participated in two phases of training: “the Workshop Phase and the Planning and Development Phase” (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 313). So, embedded within the institute was the opportunity for participants to plan for implementation. While lesson planning, the participants used the popular 5E lesson plan (engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate). Not only did the teachers and fellows work together during the design phase of the inquiry lesson plan, but they also implemented the lessons together during the academic school year. I believe this type of teamwork capitalizes on the strengths of both individuals, where one is an expert in the teaching field and the other has a deep understanding of the content knowledge.

During the implementation phase of the study, the teachers and fellows co-taught and co-planned in order to effectively implement inquiry-based lesson plans. In order to determine the effectiveness of the lesson implementations both qualitative and quantitative research methods were utilized. The types of data were as follows: classroom observations (during implementation of inquiry lessons), individual participant interviews, journal prompt responses with both teachers and fellows (regarding implementation of lesson), and a Likert survey (with questions pertaining to creation, implementation, and reflection). The classroom observations were quite comprehensive and focused on the areas of lesson design, implementation, science/mathematics content, and classroom culture, where each area was rated on a scale of one (ineffective) to five (exemplary). In regards to the interviews, the teachers and fellows participated in structured interviews with program evaluators in order to provide information on overall impact of the program. The Likert survey addressed the effectiveness of the program goals from the teacher and fellow perspectives.

Although this was a small study, I feel the findings support further investigation into the collaboration of higher education and K-12 education in the creation and implementation of inquiry-based lesson plans. The inquiry lessons described in this study are quite impressive, for example, one pair developed a lesson plan to teach acids and bases in a chemistry unit and one observer described it in the following way:

The design of this lesson incorporated tasks, roles, and interactions consistent with investigative science. The design also encountered a collaborative approach to learning among students…The instructional strategies and activities used in this lesson reflected attention to students’ experience, prior knowledge, and learning styles (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 315).

As a science teacher, this description alone excites me and makes me believe these educators are onto something phenomenal! This description alone is not the only proof that these educators did exceptionally well, the teacher evaluation system (Horizons) found that “greater than 75% of the scores were rated as a High 3, 4, or 5” (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 317).” Thus, indicating that overall the lessons were successful, well planned, and implemented effectively. Overall, I believe that these results provided proof that collaboration can create better inquiry-based lesson plans in science and math.

What most impressed me about this study is the sustainability of the learning that occurred for the educators involved. For example, the teacher’s confidence to design and incorporate inquiry-based lessons into the classroom improved, as well as, the teacher’s knowledge of content improved by approximately 60%. Also, built into this study was the opportunity to equip these science and math teachers with new tools that they can continue to utilize in their classrooms, for example, the 5 E lesson plan model, which many stated they would continue to use to lesson plan. Overall, the fellows stated that they saw tremendous growth in their teacher partners and believed that their ability to question improved. Not only did this study provide support to the statement that collaboration between fellows and teachers improves inquiry in K-12 science and math classrooms but it also provided information to support that positive changes occurred in pedagogy of the teachers.

I believe that the “program provides an example of an effective model for mutual beneficial collaboration between a university and K-12 schools” (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 322). The results of the study showed positive results, however, the question remains: How can we implement such a program on a larger scale?  Also, such a program would require on-going professional development, which means that partnerships between schools and universities would have to remain strong for an extended period of time. How costly would such a program be for K-12 schools and universities? What are the other ways to address improving inquiry-based learning in the science and math classrooms? Is our K-12 education system prepared to make such an extensive commitment to its higher education counterparts and are universities prepared to help such a program exist? These are all questions that must be addressed when beginning to discuss such movements towards improving inquiry-based educational practices in K-12 classrooms.




Huziak-Clark, T., Van Hook, S. J., Nurnberger-Haag, J., & Ballone-Duran, L. (2007). Using inquiry to improve pedagogy through K-12/university partnerships. School Science & Mathematics, 107(8), 311-324.


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