Ethnographic case study of a high school science classroom: Strategies in STEM education


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A dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of DOCTOR of PHILOSOPHY in CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Historically, science education research has promoted that learning science occurs through direct physical experiences. In recent years, the need for best practices and student motivation have been highlighted in STEM research findings. In response to the instructional challenges in STEM education, the National Research Council has provided guidelines for improving STEM literacy through best practices in science and mathematics instruction. A baseline qualitative ethnographic case study of the effect of instructional practices on a science classroom was an opportunity to understand how a teacher and students work together to learn in an International Baccalaureate life science course. This study was approached through an interpretivist lens with the assumption that learning science is socially constructed. The following were the research questions: 1.) How does the teacher implement science instruction strategies in the classroom? 2.) In what ways are students engaged in the classroom? 3.) How are science concepts communicated in the classroom? The total 35 participants included a high school science teacher and two classes of 11th grade students in the International Baccalaureate program. Using exploratory qualitative methods of research, data was collected from field notes and transcripts from a series of classroom observations, a single one-on-one interview with the teacher and two focus groups with students from each of the two classes. Three themes emerged from text coded using initial and process coding with the computer assisted qualitative data analysis software, MAXQDA. The themes were: 1.) Physical Forms of Communication Play Key Role in Instructional Strategy, 2.) Science Learning Occurs in Casual Environment Full of Distractions, and 3.) Teacher Persona Plays Vital Role in Classroom Culture. The findings provided insight into the teacher’s role on students’ motivation to learn science. The recommendation for STEM programs and new curriculum is a holistic and sustainable model for development and implementation. This approach brings together the researcher and practitioner to design effective and specific programs tailored to student needs. The implication of using an effective team model to plan and coordinate individualized STEM initiatives is a long-term commitment to overall STEM literacy, thereby fostering increased access to STEM careers for all learners.
Educational Leadership, Curriculum & Instruction
College of Education and Human Development