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.


Reinvigorating our System of Science Education


Thorp, L. & Townsend C. (2001). Agricultural education in an elementary school: an ethnographic study of a school garden. 28th Annual National Education Research Conference. 347-360.

When will educators take a moment to realize that science education has shifted from a foundation of wonder to a system of teacher accountability, test scores, and rigorous scientific curriculum? What would happen to science education if we began placing as much emphasis on wonder as we do on accountability, scores, and science standards?  Laurie Thorp and Christine Townsend (2001) take a naturalistic approach to improving science curriculum by studying the “impact of an agricultural education garden-based curriculum on the students and teachers of a Midwestern elementary school” (p. 348). The purpose of their study was to gain a” phenomenological understanding of the impact of an agricultural education-based curriculum on the students and teachers” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 348) and address the problem of “declining standardized achievement scores” within this community (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 348). Through a case study, the researchers wanted to accentuate the positive effects of a garden-based curriculum but constantly felt “pressure to demonstrate improvement of academic performance in the design of their research and curriculum” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 349). Although the gardening movement comes with a large number of benefits for teachers and students, a majority of the studies analyzed by the researchers were “unable to report any significant difference in academic achievement as a result of the gardening program utilized” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 350). Even with the limitations previously reported by other researchers, Thorp and Townsend continued with their case study and discovered a wide variety of benefits.

Thorp and Townsend (2001) explore our “relationship to the land and what it might offer agricultural educators struggling to engage children in the learning process” (p. 347), by introducing the topic, past research, and the purpose of the study; then discussing the theoretical framework and methodologies; and concluding the article with a case study comprised of rich participant descriptions, a conclusion, and further recommendations. The framework for the research project is built from the past research all the way through to recommendations for action, which provides a rich discussion about implementation of a school garden. Exploration of the agricultural integration in a struggling school is done through a consistent lens of “human development coupled with environmental awareness or connection with nature” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 349). Throughout the article the researchers develop a theory of how human relationships with nature are a combination of both endogenous and exogenous forces and is supported by qualitative data that is collected throughout the case study.

The methodology utilized by the researchers is “axiomatic to naturalistic inquiry” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 350) and is process oriented, meaning, “the research design becomes nimble, adaptable and exquisitely finessed to the local context of the study” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 350). Thorp and Townsend  (2001) use a variety of qualitative methods: interviews and dialogues, participation observations, documents, photographic images, naturalistic data analysis, content analysis; allowing the researchers to analyze a full description of the participant’s experiences. Although a large variety of qualitative data is collected, quantitative student data, such as test scores, would have helped give a full view of the effects of the program implementation. In order to justify credibility of the methodologies, the authors referred to the following criteria: catalytic validity, triangulation, reflexivity, and understanding, which they discuss judges “the quality or validity of phenomenological inquiry by standards appropriate to the paradigm” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 352). Along the same lines as the data collection methodology, a similar method for analysis was utilized, which allowed for all parties to be involved in the data analysis process and progress to occur throughout the case study. Naturalist data analysis was utilized in order to analyze the data throughout the case study, allowing for self-correction and validation.

An outstanding description of the case study is presented in a first-person narrative that offers a vivid description of the participant’s experiences throughout the study. By using this method of introducing the case study, I was able to relate to the underperforming school and truly see the benefits that the participants encountered. I felt as if the presentation of the study was incredibly powerful, moving, and motivating to an educator who works in a similar environment. A description of the benefits was thoughtfully analyzed, which included an improvement in school culture and pride, improvement in creativity, cross-curricular projects, community connections, and an enthusiasm that test scores could not create. All of these improvements made me think: Are we taking the fun and excitement out of education by focusing on test scores and teacher accountability? Should underperforming schools continue to focus on test scores or begin to focus on the renovation of their school culture?

This analysis of school gardening brought about a wide array of questions about how underperforming schools are approached and how we attempt to improve science curriculum by increasing the rigor. Maybe it is time for our schools to address some of these concerns by “[discovering] how agricultural educators might reconnect students to school via a garden” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 348) or how other educators can integrate real world experiences into their classrooms in order to encourage student engagement and participation.

This article has increased my knowledge of the integration of school gardens and has motivated me to continue researching the many advantages that such a project could have for my students at the Academy of Math and Science. Some recommendations for research that the authors suggest surrounding this area of study are to utilize emergent design in further research, don’t rush the process, and reflect during all aspects of the research. As far as practice is concerned, the researchers also provided guidance to those who wish to take action, such as, including a volunteer to assist in implementation, involve parents and families in the process, include a Extension Service Master Gardener, and do not allow curriculum to hold you back from implementation.

Overall, the researchers present a wide variety of information and proof is provided that there are many benefits to implementing a gardening program in an underperforming school but there are limitations. An engaging science activity such as this improves school culture and student engagement but does not show correlation with improvement of test scores, which, unfortunately might limit the number of schools interested in engaging in this type of program. I believe that if we can peak a student’s interest then we might begin to see improvements in other areas, such as test scores, which is why I am interested in investigating the long-term effects of a garden program on overall student test scores. This article has sparked my interest and I am going to continue to explore the idea of integrating a school garden into the curriculum at the Academy of Math and Science.




Thorp, L. & Townsend C. (2001). Agricultural education in an elementary school: an ethnographic study of a school garden. 28th Annual National Education Research Conference. 347-360.