Journal of Science Teacher Education

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 573–597 | Cite as

Preservice Teachers’ Research Experiences in Scientists’ Laboratories



To promote the use of scientific inquiry methods in K-12 classrooms, departments of teacher education must provide science teachers with experiences using such methods. To comply with state and national mandates, an apprenticeship course was designed to afford preservice secondary science teachers opportunities to engage in an authentic, extended, open-ended inquiry. This study describes three teachers’ apprenticeship experiences with a research scientist. Our model included placing preservice teachers with scientists in expert/novice roles where each teacher would be actively engaged in constructing knowledge. From triangulating interview, laboratory notebook, and reflective summary data resources, we identified common themes from re-occurring statements. Findings indicated that participants acquired scientific skills and content knowledge; however, they expressed limited use of these in their classrooms.


Preservice Teacher Science Teacher Content Knowledge Attitudinal Change Preservice Science Teacher 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

According to the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council [NRC], 1996), science students must have the abilities and understandings necessary to do scientific inquiry. These standards explicitly state that small groups of students should hypothesize from prior experiences, construct explanations, evaluate explanations, design investigations, conduct experiments, gather data, analyze data, conduct peer reviews, communicate arguments, and reflect on the inquiry process. Coinciding with the NRC standards, the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], 1993) ambitiously affirms that the students should be involved in at least one major investigation, where the student frames the question, designs the approach, estimates the time and cost, calibrates the instruments, conducts trial runs, writes the report, and responds to criticism. In participating in authentic scientific investigations, the students should have a reasonably accurate picture of inquiry in real science. When students participate in “progressively approximate good science, the picture they come away with will likely be reasonably accurate” (AAAS, p.9).

In order to comply with NSES (NRC, 1996) and the Benchmarks (AAAS, 1993), K-12 science teachers are expected to use pedagogical methods that engage their students in inquiry-based science learning. One assumption that cannot be made is that the science teachers themselves have experienced the processes of inquiry. Roth (1998) has argued that undergraduate college science courses do not adequately prepare teachers to perform authentic scientific research; therefore, he reports that science educators may not have the competencies needed to teach inquiry.

To comply with national and state mandates in preparing our teachers, preparation institutions must provide preservice teachers experiences in conducting inquiry. At the national level, the National Science Teachers Association, NSTA, in association with the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, NCATE, requires that science teachers

engage students both in studies of various methods of scientific inquiry and in active learning through scientific inquiry. [Teachers should] encourage students, individually and collaboratively, to observe, ask questions, design inquiries, and collect and interpret data in order to develop concepts and relationships from empirical experiences. To show that they are prepared to teach through inquiry, teachers of science must demonstrate that they: (1) understand the processes, tenets, and assumptions of multiple methods of inquiry leading to scientific knowledge and (2) engage students successfully in developmentally appropriate inquiries that require them to develop concepts and relationships from their observations, data, and inferences in a scientific manner. (NSTA, 2003, p.18)

In following national guidelines, each state has endorsed specific certification requirements which may vary from state to state. Even with the variety of state guidelines in place, teachers from across the country express similar issues. The 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education provided an overview of practicing teachers’ perspectives regarding their content and pedagogical capabilities. Smith (2002) found that half of our nation’s chemistry teachers expressed a moderate or substantial need for professional development relating to inquiry/investigation teaching. Survey results were similar for secondary Biology teachers (Wood, 2002), physics teachers (Banilower, 2002), and Earth science teachers (Weiss, 2002). Summary data from the chemistry teachers

strongly suggested a pattern of instruction that relied heavily on lecture/discussion, students working problems, and an occasional lab. Lecture/discussion accounted for far more instructional time than any other single activity (e.g. doing laboratory activities, non-laboratory small group work, individual student work) . . . . The image of high school chemistry instruction is quite similar to what these teachers likely experienced in their college chemistry courses, and may explain the pattern of instructional strategies. (Smith, 23)

Banilower and Weiss reported precisely the same results from physics and Earth science teachers, respectively. Wood found that even when teachers conducted biological investigations, they were “short-term labs rather than extended projects” (p. 24).

At the state level, Tennessee had incorporated inquiry within their department of teacher education standards. Specifically, Tennessee Teacher Licensure Standards state that preservice teachers must possess the knowledge and skills to: (1) “demonstrate processes of science such as posing questions, observing, investigating phenomena, interpreting findings, communicating results and making judgments based on evidence and design, and (2) conduct inquiry-based, open-ended investigations” (Tennessee Department of Education, 1997, p. 88). As of September 1, 2001, all Tennessee licensed teachers were required to “engage in an open-ended inquiry of long-term duration . . . . within their major” (Tennessee Department of Education, p. 93).

Given that science teachers are being encouraged to perform inquiry-based instruction, teacher preparatory institutions should respond by graduating future science teachers that have actually experienced authentic inquiry-based research. Science teacher educators remain faced with the challenge of constructing a preservice preparation program that provides explicit research experiences that would support teachers in instructing with inquiry-based methods. An NSES (NRC, 1996) recommended approach to this preparation is “to learn science content by participating in research at a scientific laboratory” (p. 58). By implementing our apprenticeship model, we expected to provide preservice teachers opportunities for experiencing “real” science laboratory practices.

In planning our approach to an apprenticeship model, we wanted to underscore Science for All Americans’ (1990) description of the scientific worldview, scientific methods of inquiry, and the nature of the scientific enterprise. We believed that scientists “share certain basic beliefs and attitudes about what they do and how they view their work [and that] scientific inquiry is not easily described apart from the context of particular investigations” (AAAS, 1990, pp. 2–4). In placing our preservice teachers with practicing scientists from our institution, the teachers’ research experiences were grounded in the field; teachers conducted scientific research at the bench alongside the elbows of “real” scientists (Roth & Tobin, 2002). The teachers would have exposure to the scientific enterprise and environment that would be tacitly inherent within the context of a particular space and time.

During this apprenticeship, we anticipated that skills would be transferred from the expert scientist to the novice preservice teacher. While employing various scientific skills, the preservice teacher would then construct his/her own knowledge of science. In this study we explored preservice teachers’ responses toward this apprenticeship experience within a scientific laboratory setting.

Theoretical Framework

Farnham-Diggory’s (1994) instructional paradigm provides a framework of three models in which a novice transforms into an expert. The Behavior Model mechanism, coined from cognitive psychologist Thorndike (1913–1914), is exhibited quantitatively when the novice becomes an expert by “accumulating something, getting better, getting faster, and/or getting more” (Farnham-Diggory, p. 464). In the Development Model, derived from Piaget (1951), the novice and expert begin with diverse personal theories and explanations. When the novices’ personal theories are challenged, they are forced to revise their current thinking, hence, creating a “whole new way of thinking” which can be qualitatively measured (Farnham-Diggory, p. 465). The final Apprenticeship Model, supported by situated cognition research (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989), recognizes that the novice and expert are from different worlds. The novice becomes an expert “through the mechanism of acculturation into the world of the expert” as implicit, or tacit, knowledge is conveyed (p. 466).

Our novice/expert experience is grounded within the Apprenticeship Model of Farnham-Diggory’s (1994) core instructional paradigms. She elaborated on the necessity of this novice/expert participation as the expert’s knowledge may be transmitted to the novice tacitly or unknowingly. The gradual acquisition of knowledge through cultural membership defines the role of an apprenticeship. Farnham-Diggory also concluded that “cognitive processes, strategies, knowledge bases, and so forth can be taught within behavior, development or apprenticeship frameworks” (p. 467).

Duit and Treagust (1998) identified with Farnham-Diggory’s difficulty in categorizing approaches to learning. They found that “even constructivist approaches, which fall into the ‘development’ category, usually include ‘training’ of certain kinds when, for instance, terms or skills have to learned” (p. 7). Duit and Treagust reported that Farnham-Diggory’s three models should not be viewed as competing approaches, but as a joint approach that could be used to address the multiple aspects of science learning.

Our apprenticeship model was implemented by a novice preservice teacher entering the scientific laboratory of the expert scientist. Based on Duit and Treagust’s ‘joint approach,’ we provided a research context that authenticated science learning in a manner that our educational methods or traditional science courses could not replicate. By authentic we mean an “activity in which [the] learner’s engagement has a large degree of resemblance with the activity in which core members of the community actually engage” (Roth, 1995, p. 29). The novice tacitly acquires methodological and procedural knowledge from social interaction with the scientist. While imbedded in the laboratory social setting, the teacher does not merely passively receive knowledge by transference. Believing that knowledge is constructed both individually and socially, we claim that during the laboratory experience each teacher was engaged in constructing his/her knowledge. All that the teachers can ‘know’ about their reality is their own tentative construction. This contextual learning coincides with theories of social constructivism (Vygotsky, 1978) as well as with situated and distributed learning (Roth, 1995).

Apprenticeship to Conduct Real Science

In our study, the apprenticeship model was implemented to provide preservice teachers the opportunity to experience “real science” before they were expected to teach science. Research has shown that science teachers complete undergraduate college science courses that do not prepare them to conduct authentic scientific research (Roth, 1998) and that do not favorably impact their understanding of science concepts (Stepans & McCormack, 1985).

This dichotomy was brought to the forefront in 1959 when Snow (1998) presented his view concerning the large rift between the cultures of natural scientists and literary intellectuals. Duggan-Haas (1998) reported a similar dichotomy between science and science teaching with the latter being perceived as a craft, not a science. In analyzing findings from the Salish I Research Collaborative (1997), Duggan-Haas (1998) utilized Snow’s framework to report the dichotomous view in how academics work with and speak to their students. The differences he found between the college science classroom culture and the college teacher education classroom culture were: (1) science courses support a competitive culture (i.e. weed out mentality), whereas, the teacher education courses support a nurturing, cooperative culture; (2) science classrooms support an elitist, market model, whereas, the teacher education classrooms support an egalitarian, democratic model; and (3) science courses support a predominately male culture, while, teacher education courses support a female culture. Duggan-Haas did not find any supportive evidence that the current science culture actually helped “to educate students about science, [in actuality], those who survive the weed out process [leave with] poor pedagogical models for teaching science (p. 14).” A few fortunate science students may have been selected from upper level science courses to conduct research projects with faculty (Duggan-Haas); however, most students planning careers in medicine, research, teaching, or engineering were exposed to the unsupportive, competitive, textbook-driven science coursework.

To address the lack of “real” science experiences in undergraduate science coursework, several departments of teacher education have designed apprenticeships for immersing their science teachers in “real” scientific practices (Bazler, 1991; Gilmer, Hahn, & Spaid, 2002; Granger, 2002; Pyle et al., 1997; Raphael, Tobias, & Greenberg, 1999; Schwartz, Lederman, & Crawford, 2000; Spiegel, Collins, & Gilmer, 1995; Westerlund, Garcia, Koke, Taylor, & Mason, 2002; Westerlund, Schwartz, Lederman, & Koke, 2001). These research apprenticeships varied in duration from a short 2-week summer experience to a lengthy 15-week semester experience. Following are brief synopses of these various departments of teacher education programs’ authentic science research experiences.

After placing a middle school teacher within a scientist’s laboratory for a summer research project, Bazler (1991) discovered initial frustrations from both the teachers and scientists. The teachers initially “felt dumb” or “didn’t know what they were doing” and the scientists were “shocked and concerned over the teacher’s lack of knowledge [and] inadequate lab skills” (p. 323). After encouraging both participating groups to continue, Bazler reported that “attitudes changed and [that] success was in the air” (p. 323). She cited several indicators of success, which included teachers’ participation in the Junior Academy of Science program and scientist’s willingness to return to the project.

Raphael et al. (1999) found that placing teaching majors and post-baccalaureate students in scientists’ laboratories made lasting contributions for both students and scientists. Results from the students’ participation in the Future Teachers’ Research Program (FTRP) indicated that they found the experience “extremely valuable to their pedagogical approach and [to] the content of their future or current teaching assignments” (Raphael et al., p. 156). Likewise, the scientists learned about the talents, needs, and interests of future science teachers [and] became more active in the elementary and secondary classrooms in their teaching community.

In analyzing preservice teachers’ Nature of Science (NOS) beliefs after a laboratory apprenticeship with scientists, Schwartz et al. (2000) reported variations among the teachers’ involvement. The teachers’ immersion ranged from “highly inquiry-oriented experiences that included designing and conducting an investigation . . . to limited inquiry that included observations and discussion within the research setting” (Schwartz et al., p. 26). Overall, their findings “suggested [that] the perspective held by the intern is perhaps the most critical factor in determining the learning outcomes in regard to NOS” (Schwartz et al., p. 25). Additionally, they reported that the teachers needed a philosophical perspective combining NOS and inquiry because “doing science [was] insufficient for one to adequately understand the NOS” (Schwartz et al., p. 37). Westerlund et al. (2001) reported similar NOS beliefs from inservice teachers after research lab experiences. Westerlund et al. (2001) found that even when inservice teachers “engaged in the most authentic scientific inquiry, they [still] maintained relatively naive conceptions of NOS” (p. 6).

Westerlund et al. (2002) later reported on secondary science teachers’ research experiences associated with the Science/Math/Technology Education Institute (SMTEI) program. Their results regarding teachers’ primary thoughts and transference of experience indicated that “a professional development model of prolonged engagement in research activity can be successful at promoting teacher changes toward more inquiry teaching (Westerlund et al., 2002, p. 79). Due to the research experiences, Westerlund et al. (2002) reported that teachers had opportunities to increase their content knowledge, increase their enthusiasm for science teaching, and expand communication with research scientists. Gilmer et al. (2002) also reported similar findings of Florida State University’s science teachers’ experiences with practicing scientists, which included increased learning of science content, use of collaboration, and use of technology. Westerlund et al. (2002) found transference of the experience to the secondary classroom occurred with teachers’ newfound emphasis on laboratory activities. Also, they reported that the teachers’ students could have altered their views of their teachers because they were now “teachers who had conducted scientific research in laboratories” (Westerlund et al., 2002, p. 80).

Westerlund et al. (2002) noted two important aspects of their program: (1) the teachers were expected to co-author and submit a research manuscript with their scientists, and (2) they were to present and attend at local, state, and national science meetings. They found that by implementing these collaborations, they encouraged “the continuation of the scientific research experience whereby the teacher retains the role of as a scientific researcher” (Westerlund et al., 2002, p. 80). Spiegel et al. (1995) also found positive results when teachers in an apprenticeship presented posters of their research. A participating scientist from their program reported that he “could have taken any of those posters to a regional American Chemical Society meeting” (Spiegel et al., p. 170).

By examining preservice and inservice teachers’ experiences at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), Hemler (1997) also reported on the effectiveness of teachers’ transference of research experiences to the science classroom. She found that “five of the seven observed teachers initiated research experiences [that] were consistent with the research experience model” (p. 172). Hemler attributed the success of these five to the positive influence of the cooperating teacher. Hence, she contended that the astronomy laboratory apprenticeship remains an “exemplary preservice training model [in its] unique approach to constructivist research [and its] effectiveness in exposing preservice teachers to science research” (p. 183). However in later study, Govett and Hemler (2002) found discouraging evidence that only 4 out of 14 teachers used inquiry in their classrooms and held advanced beliefs regarding NOS.

Granger (2002) implemented a program that included an extensive collaboration between inservice or preservice teachers with high school students and science researchers. These teachers stated that they valued the experience and that the experience enhanced their scientific knowledge, increased their scientific ability, and positively impacted their classroom curriculum (Gottfried, 1993). However, similar to Govett and Hemler (2002), Gottfried did not find evidence that the teachers used laboratory-oriented strategies in their classroom.

Lastly, the Science Teachers Research Involvement for Vital Education (STRIVE) Program provided secondary science and mathematics teachers hands-on, real-world research experiences that would expand their scientific and technological knowledge (STRIVE, n.d.). The STRIVE program has provided summer research opportunities for 507 teachers. Senior scientific staff mentored these teachers in completing a research project, while the teacher educators assisted in translating these research experiences into inquiry-based lessons for their secondary classrooms. Earlier research of the initial program found that participating teachers reported a significant increase in time devoted to lab activities in their classes (Boser, Faires, Slawson, & Stevenson, 1988).

In summary, researchers reported several strengths as a result of their implemented apprenticeship models. Positive results included increased: (1) teacher content knowledge, (Bazler, 1991; Gilmer et al., 2002; Granger, 2002; Raphael et al., 1999); (2) scientist classroom involvement (Raphael et al., 1999); (3) classroom laboratory activity (Boser et al., 1988; Westerlund et al., 2002); (4) teacher scientific presentations (Spiegel et al., 1995; Westerlund et al., 2002); and (5) inquiry-based skills and/or scientific ability (Granger, 2002; Hemler, 1997). Disappointments were also reported from the implemented apprenticeship models which included undesirable changes in NOS proficiency (Govett & Hemler, 2002; Westerlund et al., 2001) and undesirable transference of the laboratory-oriented strategies into the classroom (Gottfried, 1993; Govett & Hemler, 2002).


In using Erickson’s (1986) interpretive approach to qualitative research, this study provides three secondary preservice science teachers’ perspectives of a large public university’s apprenticeship course. During multiple readings of all data resources, portions of text were highlighted that represented similar instances of phenomena. The data resources, personal interviews, laboratory notebooks, and reflective summaries, were pieced together into representations. Patterns in the analyses (i.e. general description) emerged and were reported with particular descriptions for support.

Apprenticeship Model

In order to comply with the 2001 Tennessee licensure guidelines, a large public university offered an apprenticeship science course during Spring 2002. The course was offered for those preservice teachers who were unable to complete the research course Knowing and Teaching Science, Just Do It (Melear, Goodlaxson, Warne, & Hickok, 2000). Each preservice teacher spent a minimum of nine weekly hours for 15 weeks in the laboratory conducting botanical or zoological research with her respective scientist colleague. They also met with the science teacher educator on six occasions for a round-table discussion of their research and for additional guidance and support. During a culminating symposium at the end of the semester, the preservice teachers presented their research results to each other and all participating scientists.

Research Questions

  1. (1)

    How do the teachers characterize their apprenticeship experience?

  2. (2)

    From the teacher’s perspective, how does this apprenticeship experience affect their actions within the secondary school classroom?

  3. (3)

    What elements of this apprenticeship experience does the teacher value and why?



Three of the seven preservice secondary science teachers involved in the apprenticeship program agreed to participate in this study; four declined to participate due to time constraints and other responsibilities. All three participants were completing requirements for secondary science certification, which included fifteen coursework hours and a teaching internship. All were responsible for teaching two 90-min blocks of science at a local high school each day. As part of their graduation requirements, all Biology students were required to complete a Biology end-of-course exam, which also counted no more than 15% of their grade for the course. Biology teachers frequently referred to this test with regard to their lesson planning and content coverage. The chair/leader of the Arts and Sciences Department recommended all three participating scientists from the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department. Upon consent of the scientist and after determining workable schedules, the teachers began their research experience in the scientist’s laboratory. Table 1 provides a listing of the participating teachers, their corresponding scientist, research topic, and interview date.
Table 1

Scientist, degree, interview date and research topic details of three apprenticeship participants

Preservice teachera



Interview date

Research topic


Drs. M & C



Effects of shade treatment on rhizome growth of Helianthus eggertii (Asteraceae)


Dr. S

Biology Minor


Distance test for catilipsis of Agelenopsis aperta


Dr. G



Echolocation call of the Mexican free tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) at high altitudes

Note. Pseudonyms are used for actual names of the apreservice teacher and bscientist

Data Sources

During the apprenticeship experience, the teachers used a bound laboratory notebook in which they documented their laboratory schedule, environment, and activities. While in the laboratory setting, they used this notebook to collect, transform, and explain data; they also recorded the scientist’s activities and his/her projects. In this notebook, they provided a weekly summary of their daily reflections. All of these reflections included detailed aspects of their research protocols and future agendas. The teachers noted any similarities or differences with their previous science experiences, which may have been science coursework, previous employment, or informal activities. Additionally, they reflected on aspects of this experience that could transfer to the secondary classroom. Copies of these laboratory notebooks were available to the researchers for analysis. At the end of their experience, the teachers provided an overall “reflective summary” of their weekly reflections, which constituted a second data source.

Approximately 1 year after the apprenticeship experience, the researchers interviewed the participating teachers. To elucidate more complete responses regarding the experience, the interviewers used the interviewees’ language for prompts in asking additional probing questions. Caution was used not to judge any response with either nonverbal or verbal cues. Using this method of questioning and dialoging, we believe the transcribed interview data were the participants’ disclosure of their “real experience” of the science laboratory apprenticeship.

The following questions were included as part of the interview protocol:
  1. (1)

    Describe your experience.

  2. (2)

    Describe your interaction with the scientists.

  3. (3)

    What does a scientist do?

  4. (4)

    How would this experience influence your behavior in the secondary classroom?

  5. (5)

    What value, if any, do you place on this experience?


Data Analysis

Using the theoretical comparative method of analysis, we triangulated data from the interview transcripts, laboratory notebooks, and reflective summaries (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). To reduce investigator bias, we individually coded and analyzed the teachers’ data sets before collaborating to reach a consensus on common core categories. The first level of coding involved open coding where we identified re-occurring events or ideas by highlighting the actual interview, notebook, and/or summary text. Numerous events and ideas across the three participants included both positive and negative responses regarding the execution of the research process, interaction with the laboratory personnel, participation in the research activities, communication with the scientist, and perceived implementation in the classroom.

The second level of coding, axial coding, involved the labeling of these events and ideas into categories: experimental involvement, attitudinal change, laboratory environment, increased inquiry confidence level, invoked student interest, and valuable apprenticeship elements. After assigning labels to each category, we then explored each for interrelatedness. By collapsing these initial categories into “core” categories using the supported evidence from data, we completed our final selective coding phase. The categories of experimental involvement, attitudinal change, and laboratory environment were collapsed under the core category, characterization of apprenticeship. Furthermore, the categories of increased inquiry confidence level and invoked student interest were collapsed into the core category, teachers’ actions within the classroom. The category, valuable apprenticeship elements, remained as a core category.


Using the data sources reported above to address our research questions, we report congruent themes that emerged across three participants. These themes arising from the data are supported by statements taken directly from the data sources.

Our study’s participants, Lynne, Michelle, and Val, completed their apprenticeship by conducting researching on various species in separate laboratories. Lynne worked with plants while Michelle and Val completed research activities on animals. Background information and research details of each participant’s apprenticeship experience are provided below.

Having never completed an ecology course while obtaining her biology degree from a liberal arts college, Lynne began her research experience in an ecologically focused laboratory. She worked with a post-doctoral student, Dr. M, and a veteran botanical scientist, Dr. C, in excavating and measuring Helianthus eggertii (Asteraceae) rhizomes. Michelle, having a sociology degree with a minor in biology, began her apprenticeship by researching funnel web spiders alongside Dr. S. Michelle greatly feared spiders as she confessed in her initial reflection that “she had done everything [she] could to avoid them” during previous field observations and identifications. Michelle had completed field identification of salamanders, birds and plants but had “never gotten to continuously observe something.” Specifically Michelle researched by experimentation the distance for catilipses (cationic state) of the desert funnel web spider Agelenopsis aperta. She used three different apparati to test the distance at which the male could release a pheromone that would “knock out” the female so he could safely mate with her. Val was the only participant with previous scientific laboratory experience. During Val’s apprenticeship with Dr. G, she analyzed prerecorded audiotapes of echolocations of the Mexican free tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis).

Initially, without exception, all three teachers were hesitant to begin their apprenticeship. Lynne was hesitant because of feelings that she lacked the scientific knowledge to work in an ecology laboratory. Michelle, a self-proclaimed arachnophobe, feared the impending sights of funnel web spiders. Val regrettably had to resign from her current employment with an environmental company to complete the apprenticeship requirements. In the interview, Val voiced her “initial negative attitude” regarding this certification requirement as she felt her employment should “count as this research experience.”

Characterization of Apprenticeship

From analyzing participants’ experiences with the apprenticeship, we found commonalities and differences among the three teachers/scientists’ experiences. As each participant’s experience was analyzed, three themes emerged from the data: experimental involvement, attitudinal change, and laboratory environment.

Experimental Involvement

During the interview 1 year after the apprenticeship, Lynne repeatedly stated her dislike or disdain for data collection, which involved the measuring of length, number, biomass and root tips of rhizomes. Lynne performed the data collection for approximately 7 h a week and she described this task as “monotonous, boring and very, very old.” She expressed negative tones, expressions, and feelings throughout the interview by saying, “my job was to count,” “I got stuck in the collecting of data,” “I was doing the same thing the whole semester,” and “I was just the data collector.” Lynne stated that she had been doing “the same thing so it didn’t make [her] like it a whole lot.” Additionally in her journal, she found the task daunting, as there were “tons of roots still left to measure.” She found excavating roots from boxes “took a long time” as she “worked the whole time and did not finish one box.” Overall, from her collection experience and from watching the experiences of others in the lab, Lynne felt scientists basically “came in every day and did their experiment; worked on it all day long; went home and came back and tried something different.”

Michelle’s involvement with research experimentation differed from Lynne’s. Michelle felt like she “knew what Dr. S expected, what [they] were doing, and why [they] were doing it.” In discussing the research, Michelle often used the pronoun we, referring to herself and Dr. S, as she stated “we were testing [and] we would design.” Overall, Michelle felt she was “really part of something.” Michelle’s 44-page laboratory notebook consisted of detailed “trial and error” data regarding the protocol in measuring catilipses distances. Michelle felt she “gained a better appreciation of performing a scientific investigation . . . and that it taught [her] about more than doing a literature search and compiling data.” In her interview she proudly stated she “learned how to write up a protocol and scientific paper.” She found it helpful to write her own nine-page research scientific paper about her involvement in the study.

Val identified with her apprenticeship experience as an authentic scientific practice. She stated she had been “exposed to the reality of ‘doing’ science.” She confessed that she had never done a laboratory experiment in which the outcome was not already known during her previous laboratory work. Components of Val’s laboratory practice included making procedural adjustments (“tinkering”), conferring or consulting with experts, and sharing/defending findings within the community of scientists. Val’s tinkering consisted of determining “what would be the best way to list data, so that [she] could keep track of what’s going on.” From her tinkering, she discovered “an efficient method to [download] sounds to the program Bat Calls.” In downloading to analyze the data, she felt this was “an efficient method in saving several calls/file.”

Another aspect to each teacher’s experimental involvement included the scientific research question and experimental design. For Lynne, Dr. C provided “a basic understanding of the rhizome experiment and how it [was] set up,” therefore, when she arrived at the laboratory, she spent her time collecting measurement data for that particular ongoing experiment. Lynne felt the project “that she was working on was [Dr. C’s] project.” Neither Michelle nor Val stated an initial research question, however, they were able to design or modify the existing experimental research design. After 2 weeks of experimentation in Dr. S’s laboratory, Michelle documented in her notebook that she was “starting the distance tests with the cylinder apparatus [as she found the initial] trial run seemed to indicate that this test will provide better results.” Michelle professed in the interview that she “did not do the same thing over and over as she essentially did three little set ups.” Dr. G oriented Val to the laboratory by training her to use specific laboratory bat-call analysis tools. Val proclaimed that once Dr. G “got [her] going that [she] was pretty much on her own in figuring out what would be the best way to list and keep track of the data.”

Attitudinal Change

Lynne went through an attitudinal change as she discussed “more positives than negatives” in her reflective summary journal. She stated that even though the “long process of collecting and measuring the data became very uninteresting and monotonous, [she] could see the actual impact and results of [her] efforts.” She elaborated further to say “we found the results very interesting.” Michelle referred to some repetitive nature of science in her final reflective summary by stating “no matter how interesting something is, when you do it repeatedly for a long period of time, you can start to lose interest.” She overcame the tedium and maintained focus by “taking a new approach to observing the spiders.” She would “try something new so that her knowledge would increase which in turn would increase interest in her experimental outcome.”

Michelle stated an attitudinal change toward spiders as she “lessened her fear by working more freely with them.” Also, her initial reservations about not having a biology degree were alleviated as she “felt comfortable once she got in there.” She found that Dr. S “did not treat [her] any differently than any of the other people coming in and doing research in the lab.”

Val’s negative attitude regarding the apprenticeship was evident from the beginning. When she first heard about the apprenticeship, she was very irate and she “was not so thrilled about having to participate.” During the interview she said her apprenticeship started “out [as] a very negative experience.” Her initial resentment was due, in part, to economic factors, because she had to terminate her employment in order to fulfill the research requirement. However, as Val became increasingly involved with the project, she “got into it and loved it.” She viewed her work as personally relevant and “would go over to the lab even when [she] wasn’t supposed to; [she spent] extra time in the evenings and stuff.” As her attitude about the apprenticeship increased, so did her attitude about bats. After researching bats, Val claimed she “learned a lot about [their] anatomy, [as] certain bats have structures on their noses that tell you how they call and how they receive the calls.” Val also learned about their important agricultural role and began to refer to them as “cute little bats.” She actually became a self-proclaimed “bat buff in wanting to travel to Texas and Bracket Cave to watch them fly out.” At the time of the interview, a year after the apprenticeship, Val still remembered the lab experience fondly. She still thought “wow, being in a lab, I just love the lab environment,” and “when I was over in the lab, I felt so at home. I loved finding out new things. I loved presenting findings and talking about what I found.”

Laboratory Environment

Lynne found the laboratory’s scientific discourse intimidating as the scientists used technical oral and written vocabulary foreign to her. During weekly seminar sessions where the scientists met to discuss their research, Lynne discovered that she “wasn’t familiar with the terms and vocabulary they were using and the ideas and theories that they were working with because [she] hadn’t been exposed to any of that.” Lynne repeatedly stated in her journal and stated in the interview that the papers and discussions “were way over [her] head.” When reading scientific papers, she would “read a paragraph or a sentence, and would...have no clue what [the] sentence just said.” The scientists did “try to break it down on [her] level and explain [the research], however, during seminar meetings, Lynne still felt that she had no clue and felt out of place.”

Michelle, however, professed feelings of comfort with regard to the laboratory environment. She spoke positively about the laboratory environment in which she completed her apprenticeship as Dr. S was “very receptive to what [she] had to say” about the experiments. Even though Michelle did not have a strong scientific background, she was surprised to find that Dr. S “didn’t treat [her] any differently than any of the other people doing research in her lab.” In other words, Michelle felt like “she was really part of something.”

Similar to Michelle’s experience, Val felt secure within the “relaxed laboratory atmosphere.” Val was fully immersed in her research as she read copies of Dr. G’s work and viewed broadcasted videotapes of the bat project. Val found Dr. G “always available for assistance,” and “helpful to [her] in the analysis part and in getting [her] going.” She reported that she “was never excluded from anything.” Val felt during the final analysis, they worked closely as equal partners in summarizing her findings for the symposium presentation.

Teachers’ Actions within the Classroom

The teachers’ self-described actions within their classrooms varied across participants since they held varying beliefs about conducting similar research experiences in the secondary setting. Each participant’s belief regarding their actions in the secondary classroom is explored within two categories that emerged from the data: inquiry confidence level and student interest.

Increased Inquiry Confidence Level

Lynne felt that by knowing more about real research projects, she would be able to “take the experience into the classroom” with her. Lynne underscored in the interview that she had “a better understanding of how to help her students set up and come up with an idea that they wanted to [do a] project on.” She explained in her reflective summary journal that if there was “available property, she could on a smaller scale set up an experiment similar to the one she was involved in.” Lynne also elaborated that she had never completed an Ecology class prior to the apprenticeship experience. Now she felt if she wanted to do an experiment with plants in class, she “could take them out and set up an experiment and let them do some kind so research as a class. Before [she] would not have chosen anything with plants, [she] was sure.” She felt overall that “the new learning experience [was] beneficial and made [her] more knowledgeable of the Ecology section of science.”

Michelle also felt this apprenticeship “gave [her] more confidence” as she began her internship in the classroom. She felt “a little bit more prepared in helping [her] students go into the lab.” She felt more confident and qualified in explaining experiments to the students because she: (1) did not just read it out of a book, (2) had observed things in Dr. S’s lab, and (3) was physically active in the laboratory setting. She felt better prepared to guide students in asking their own questions, as she could “help [her] students learn to ask questions about things they are interested in because that was something [she had] accomplished.” By asking questions and discovering what her students wanted to know, Michelle “felt able to help [her] students begin scientific investigations.” She shared her experience with her students as she “brought some of the spiders to the classroom to show what [she] was doing.” She felt she learned how to explain an experiment to high school level students.

Val, however, discussed her inability to incorporate the processes of authentic scientific inquiry into her teaching practices. During her teaching internship, Val believed that her enthusiasm and appreciation for science and bats would “rub off” on her students. However, she discovered that when in the classroom, “things are very different.” Val clarified this in that “it is not that [she] wouldn’t want to, it is just that it is very difficult to have students get involved in long-term research projects.” Val believed she could effectively implement “the cookbook lab [but there was not] time to get them involved in a long-term project.” Most revealing was that Val believed that she “could not do research in public schools [or specifically] do research within a 10th grade class. It’s just not done, as far as scientific research.” Val stated that one “can do qualitative research for education, but it is just not possible to do actual laboratory research.” Val attributed this lack of transferability to end-of-course competency exams, which required certain amounts of content coverage. Val found “the time is just not there,” as there are “certain things [one] has to teach.”

Invoked Student Interest

Student interest emerged as an important factor that some of these participants considered when implementing a research experience in their high school classrooms. During Michelle’s internship experience, she professed “unless you have some good experiences to relate to [the students], they don’t care.” Michelle exclaimed that the first criterion in beginning a scientific experiment was to find “something that would capture students’ interest.” Invoking students’ interest could involve “a story that grabs their attention [or] examples of real-life events.”

Val found “if you can relate [science] to [the students] or give an example in your life, they tend to listen more.” However, Val was concerned with lack of students’ interest from a different perspective. She felt any experiment longer than one class period would not keep students’ interest, as her students “wanted to find the answer, and then they were happy with that one answer.” She elaborated that her students’ exclaimed they were finished after the quick process of forming one hypothesis with one answer. She attributed this phenomenon to students’ previous experiences doing laboratory work. When implementing a research experience in her classroom, Lynne did not specifically state student interest as a relevant factor.

Teachers’ Valued Elements

If given a choice, Lynne would have selected an apprenticeship in “some kind of genetics laboratory or doing something that involved more experiments with genetics with human/animals rather than plants.” However, with Lynne’s botanical apprenticeship, she had an increased awareness of working with plants, as she “felt a little bit more comfortable” in dealing with plants. She exclaimed that she probably would not have conducted any “kind of experiment with plants in her class before [this experience because she] would not have chosen anything with plants for sure.” She valued the experience in gaining an appreciation for ecology, as she really “hadn’t liked it before.” In essence, she gained “knowledge that [she] wouldn’t have gained otherwise.”

Michelle professed in the interview she “was really glad [she] did it.” She found the apprenticeship experience “worthwhile to work with a science professor since she had not done a major research project in biology or hard science.” She valued the “writing of the biological paper about [her] study [where she had] to review the literature, use scientific terminology, incorporate spider anatomy, and run statistical tests.” For Michelle, the scientific apprenticeship experience was invaluable in the classroom because contrary to just seeing it in the book, she could now have “more examples to talk about.” She also found great value in “getting over most of [her] fear of spiders.”

Even though Val did not believe “the inquiry design for most high school classes would work,” she did believe that this apprenticeship was “a very valuable learning experience as it bettered [her] as a person.” At the end of the project, she felt that “when you have that finished product, it gives you a tremendous ego boost [that] you have accomplished something.” Val enjoyed presenting so much so that she “did not want a time constraint.” In addition, Dr. G told Val that “if her presentation paper gets published, her name would be on it.” Val found an ego boost in the possibility of “getting published [and] having your name out there.”


The previous results section presented the participants’ views in responding to their research experience organized around emergent themes. In this section we discuss these themes in the context of previous research studies.

Characterization of the Experience

In characterizing the apprenticeship experience, all three preservice teachers, the novices, learned new scientific skills from their mentoring scientists, the experts. During the semester, the three participants worked alongside a scientist in a university laboratory, as they learned various procedures modeled by the scientists in the context of the ongoing experiment. Each preservice teacher actively observed and participated in learning the scientific procedures in proximity with the mentoring scientist. Specifically, Lynne demonstrated appropriate protocol for laboratory procedures in rhizome measurement, Michelle for pheromone distancing in spider mating, and Val for bat-call interpretations. From this variety of apprenticeship experiences, the data show that the preservice teachers acquired procedural knowledge and skills.

Our findings regarding the nature of the experience were consistent with the study of Westerlund et al. (2002) with regard to emerging features: (1) initial project design was already developed; (2) the research experience was considered authentic; (3) original research protocol was modified; (4) observations and measurements were collected; (5) analysis of data was conducted, and (6) research results were presented orally. Our study’s results corresponded as well to Raphael’s et al. (1999) finding in that “you can read about [research] all day long, but until you do it, you don’t really know anything about it” (p. 152). Specifically, our teachers reported the need to do science as opposed to just reading.

Not only were process skills enhanced, but also content knowledge. Our study corroborated similar findings that teachers do increase their content knowledge when working alongside a scientist conducting research (Boser et al., 1988; Gilmer, 1997; Raphael et al., 1999; Westerlund et al., 2002). Even though we did not administer a pre/post content exam, evidence in the teachers’ laboratory notebooks and interviews substantiated that all three participants increase their knowledge in a specific area – Lynne with plants, Michelle with spiders, and Val with bats.

In beginning the apprenticeship, all were hesitant due to a variety of fears, inadequate content knowledge being the predominate fear. Just as Bazler (1991) discovered, Lynne and Michelle initially were uneasy with their lack of content knowledge and doubtful of their abilities to work with a scientist. However, contrary to the 7 weeks needed for Bazler’s teachers’ change of fearful attitude, we found that they overcame their fears immediately upon entering the laboratory environment. During the initial apprenticeship experience, our teachers found comfort in the encouraging scientists’ remarks and the supportive laboratory setting.

A slight discrepancy appeared in how our teachers viewed the data collection phase of the experiment. The overall experimental process ideally should have involved elements of creating a question, designing an experiment, collecting data, analyzing the data, and reporting conclusions. These experimental steps would not necessarily be linear as written but should be included for an authentic research experience. These teachers entered the apprenticeship experience at various points of this process, and as other researchers have reported, very few if any, created their own question (Westerlund et al., 2002). Lynne expressed repeatedly her dislike for data collection; she was “bored” and saw the data collection as “tedious and monotonous.” However, Michelle did not view the data collection negatively. Even though Michelle stated that data collection was “repetitive,” she took a positive stance and tried to learn something new from the experience every day. Also, Michelle utilized this time as an attempt to overcome her arachnophobia. Val did not personally collect the bat-call data; however, she expressed a “love” of listening to and coding the various calls. Val even spent additional hours in the lab to listen to the bat-call recordings.

Transference of the Experience

As Govett and Hemler (2002) reported, we found somewhat discouraging evidence in regard to transference of the apprenticeship experience to the secondary school setting. Lynne and Michelle claimed an increased confidence in incorporating inquiry-methodology but we did not measure if this actually occurred. Supporting the dichotomous culture view, (Duggan-Haas, 1998), Val perceived teaching science and doing scientific research as mutually exclusive at the secondary level. Even if she felt she could conduct scientific research at the secondary level, she claimed there was not adequate time because of testing and curriculum constraints. Increased student interest appeared to be the venue by which our teachers planned to incorporate the apprenticeship experience into their secondary classroom. We found similarities with a study from Raphael et al. (1999) in that teachers “would be able to point out applications of specific science disciplines which will further student interest and involvement” (p. 155).

Value of the Experience

Coinciding with studies by Westerlund et al. (2002) and Spiegel et al. (1995), we found positive impacts with regard to the final research paper and presentation. Even though Lynne expressed very little ownership of the rhizome research, she did value an increased knowledge of the ecological science. Michelle and Val expressed feelings of empowerment when collaborating with an expert scientist to provide results of their semester-long research project. Michelle expressed and exhibited a sense of ownership of the funnel-web spider project by collecting intensive laboratory documentation and reporting her “trial and error” protocols. Michelle expressed value in taking a question through to a final research paper. Even though Val was not involved in the initial formulation of the research question, our evidence indicated she still professed and exhibited a vested interest or ownership in her research inquiry, analysis, and outcome. From Val’s comments, the presentation experience appeared to be the highlight of the apprenticeship.


To explain the discrepant attitude in data collection, we surmised that the key element was the involvement of the preservice teacher in the overall experimental process. Once Michelle was shown research articles and spider-mating laboratory set-up procedures, she designed the next experimental protocols. Michelle collaborated with her mentoring scientist, and after viewing the data, she and the professor decided collectively what the next experimental design should be. Michelle was involved in most facets of experimental research – reading literature, collecting data, modifying experiments, analyzing modification, evaluating data, collaborating with colleagues, and writing research. Val was involved in the bat research in the same manner – interpreting calls, writing research, critiquing definitions, and collaborating with scientists. Above all, Val was offered a stipend to continue the research over the summer; her name was to appear on future related published materials. In contrast, Lynne did not experience many of these research elements as she saw herself as “just the data collector.” Lynne’s experience included limited efforts in solely evaluating data and writing results. We attributed Lynne’s lack of ownership to the absence of two critical elements in authentic research – participating in the research question and modifying the experimental design. Also as Lynne explained, the lack of a common discourse between her and the scientific cohort possibly caused isolation, thereby undermining her confidence.

On a positive note, as reported by Westerlund et al. (2002) “even an incomplete scientific research experience promotes the development and the practice of inquiry-base science teaching” (p. 81). Our study cannot confirm practice but can confirm development. There was a solid link between the apprenticeship experience and an increased process skill and content knowledge with regard to a particular subject area. Involvement in the apprenticeship experience provided an immersion in a laboratory where the experiments’ outcomes were unknown. All teachers said they had never experienced open-ended experimentation such as this. Each teacher’s involvement related directly to feelings of ownership of her learning. The two participants having a vested interest in the overall scientific process had an overall increased positive experience compared to the one who did not. Hence, it appears that increased involvement coincided with the increased overall research ownership.

An area of concern among the researchers occurred with one of the overall goals of the apprenticeship experience, which was the application of the laboratory experience to the science classroom setting by the use of inquiry investigations. When asked directly how the apprenticeship experience had affected their current teaching practice, participants eluded to multiple reasons they felt she could not implement that extensive type of inquiry methodology. Constraints such as time limitation, content coverage, and end-of-course testing prohibited their use of long-term or short-term investigative approaches. In considering our small participant number and lack of observational data, we refrain from generalizing beyond what was stated.

Val firmly stated that scientific research could not be done in a 10th grade science class; the research environment and science classroom are just “two different worlds.” Michelle was more optimistic about using her research experience in the classroom, as she wanted to relate the content to the students by discussing how she had “done science.” However, Michelle requested references that would provide additional resources in how to implement research methodology into the classroom. Lynne stated in her summary reflection that she planned to use plants in her classroom; however, at the time of the interview a year later, she provided no evidence of doing any long-term investigative experiments.


As noted from all standards’ documents, teachers should engage students in learning science through inquiry-based student-centered methods. And, as National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) recommended, an approach to preparing future teachers for this pedagogical method could involve the science teacher actually learning science content by participating in research at a scientific laboratory. This study confirmed that preservice science teachers learned science content and process skills from a 15-week apprenticeship experience with a practicing scientist in a university laboratory. The teachers valued this experience from various perspectives and thought it was an experience that should be offered in the future.

Transference of all elements of the experience to the secondary classroom was minimal as professed by the teachers. Therefore, implications for future studies could involve following the participants during their first teaching years to determine if they had the abilities for conducting student-initiated, short- or long-term, inquiry-based investigations. If abilities to conduct student-centered scientific research were not present during observations of teachers’ classrooms, we encourage modifications to the scientific apprenticeship, such as training mentoring scientists and extending the allotted research semester. By training all mentoring scientists to include certain inquiry research attributes, the preservice teachers would have a more standardized research experience.

We concur with Westerlund et al.’s (2002) findings in that an “authentic scientific research experiences may not have occurred for all teachers in the study due to time constraints” (p.81). Extending the research experience to two or more semesters would allow more time for the preservice teacher/novice to acclimatize to the laboratory culture. Wilson (Duggan-Haas et al., 2003) reported that scientists believe “it would take several months for teachers to learn about the scientific research being done at any particular lab [and then] several more months for teachers to actually do some research and become contributing teach members” (p.7). This extended time could alleviate the difficulty of completing an entire research problem from beginning questions to ending results during one semester.

Lastly, comparison of the apprenticeship program approach to other inquiry department of teacher educational courses could be evaluated by observing the teachers’ chosen methodologies for instruction in their secondary classroom. Comparing teachers’ beliefs from the research-experience programs with the coursework programs could provide valued elements of each, specifically those valued elements that allow for an increased inquiry-based student-centered learning environment. In conclusion, in order for preservice teachers to comply with the inquiry research state and national standards, departments of teacher education must consider more avenues in giving teachers opportunities to perform some kind of authentic research experience. We should initially address the multiple avenues by researching effects of the previously discussed authentic research experiences.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Teaching and LearningThe University of LouisvilleLouisvilleU.S.A.
  2. 2.The University of TennesseeKnoxvilleU.S.A.

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