We need to reintroduce the benefits of inquiry-based science instruction, which improves the knowledge of both the content and processes of science. That's win-win.

Lori Smolleck

Lori Smolleck says she always wanted to work in higher education. "I was an elementary school teacher for a while because I knew that I would need the credibility behind me when talking about the classroom experience," she says. "But teacher training was where I thought I could have the biggest impact."

Since joining the Bucknell faculty in 2004, Smolleck has focused on reforming the methods teachers use in the classroom — particularly when teaching science. She says, "There's a disconnect between how science is taught and how science is actually done. Because standardized testing associated with No Child Left Behind stresses content, teachers at times can ignore the importance of teaching based on the best methods for student learning. We need to reintroduce the benefits of inquiry-based science instruction, which improves the knowledge of both the content and processes of science. That's win-win."

Recently, Smolleck has studied the effects of teacher self-efficacy on behavior, finding that the level of competency a teacher feels impacts the ways in which they teach. "Essentially," she says, "if teachers are comfortable with a subject, they'll teach it more effectively." A teacher's own learning experiences will inform his or her comfort level and classroom performance, says Smolleck. Specifically, she says, "Many new teachers didn't receive innovative science training in their own histories. As a result, they are unlikely to teach science to their student in innovative ways. It's important that new teachers are provided with the opportunity to learning science as inquiry so that they can then be confident teaching science as inquiry to their future students. This will allow them to determine their own limits while pushing beyond their comfort zones."

Smolleck challenges her students — who are on their way to becoming teachers — to make science fun and create an engaging environment to which both they and their students will want to return. "Science learning doesn't exist in a vacuum," she says. "When you initiate the process by examining something everyone is familiar with— like magnets, air  or ice — and allow students to explore questions about the properties of these objects — children will open up more to scientific inquiry and the teacher can still accomplish the goal of meeting testing standards."

Smolleck feels particularly gratified when her teachers-in-training reach beyond their own boundaries: "I've seen children complete some amazing projects in ways I'd never anticipated. It really reinforces what I am and what I do. This is exactly where I want to be."

Posted October 2012

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