Research in Science Education

, Volume 43, Issue 6, pp 2431–2454 | Cite as

The Proof of the Pudding?: A Case Study of an “At-Risk” Design-Based Inquiry Science Curriculum

  • Shien ChueEmail author
  • Yew-Jin Lee


When students collaboratively design and build artifacts that require relevant understanding and application of science, many aspects of scientific literacy are developed. Design-based inquiry (DBI) is one such pedagogy that can serve these desired goals of science education well. Focusing on a Projectile Science curriculum previously found to be implemented with satisfactory fidelity, we investigate the many hidden challenges when using DBI with Grade 8 students from one school in Singapore. A case study method was used to analyze video recordings of DBI lessons conducted over 10 weeks, project presentations, and interviews to ascertain the opportunities for developing scientific literacy among participants. One critical factor that hindered learning was task selection by teachers, which emphasized generic scientific process skills over more important cognitive and epistemic learning goals. Teachers and students were also jointly engaged in forms of inquiry that underscored artifact completion over deeper conceptual and epistemic understanding of science. Our research surfaced two other confounding factors that undermined the curriculum; unanticipated teacher effects and the underestimation of the complexity of DBI and of inquiry science in general. Thus, even though motivated or experienced teachers can implement an inquiry science curriculum with good fidelity and enjoy school-wide support, these by themselves will not guarantee deep learning of scientific literacy in DBI. Recommendations are made for navigating the hands- and minds-on aspects of learning science that is an asset as well as inherent danger during DBI teaching.


Design-based inquiry Curriculum innovation Scientific literacy 



This research was funded by project number OER 14/08 LYJ from the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. We also gratefully thank Rubina Pasha and Md. Abdus Sattar for assisting in the data collection.


  1. Abrahams, I., & Millar, R. (2008). Does practical work really work? A study of the effectiveness of practical work as a teaching and learning method in school science. International Journal of Science Education, 30(14), 1945–1969.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ball, D. (1992). Magical hopes: manipulatives and the reform of math education. American Educator, 16(2), 14–18. 46–47.Google Scholar
  3. Barron, B., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2008). How can we teach for meaningful learning. In L. Darling-Hammond et al. (Eds.), Powerful learning: what we know about teaching for understanding (pp. 11–70). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.Google Scholar
  4. Barron, B. J. S., Schwartz, D. L., Vye, N. J., Moore, A., Petrosino, A., Zech, L., et al. (1998). Doing with understanding: lessons from research on problem and project based learning. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 7(3/4), 271–311.Google Scholar
  5. Bencze, J. L., & Alsop, S. (2009). A critical and creative inquiry into school science inquiry. In W.-M. Roth & K. Tobin (Eds.), The world of science education: North America (pp. 27–47). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  6. Bennett, J., Lubben, F., Hogarth, S., & Campbell, B. (2004). A systematic review of the use of small-group discussions in science teaching with students aged 11–18, and their effects on students’ understanding in science or attitude to science. In Research evidence in education library. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.Google Scholar
  7. Cajas, F., & Gallagher, J. J. (2001). The interdependence of scientific and technological literacy. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38(7), 713–714.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cole, M., & Distributed Literacy Consortium. (2006). The fifth dimension: an after-school program built on diversity. New York: The Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  9. Crawford, B. A. (2000). Embracing the essence of inquiry: new roles for science teachers. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37(9), 916–937.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dewey, J. (1913). Interest and effort in education. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  11. Donovan, M. S., & Bransford, J. D. (2005). How students learn: history, mathematics and science in the classroom. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  12. Duschl, R. (2008). Science education in three-part harmony: balancing conceptual, epistemic, and social learning goals. Review of Research in Education, 32(1), 268–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Duschl, R. A., Schweingruber, H. A., & Shouse, A. W. (2007). Taking science to school: learning and teaching science in grades K-8. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  14. Ford, M. J., & Forman, E. A. (2006). Redefining disciplinary learning in classroom contexts. Review of Research in Education, 30(1), 1–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fortus, D., Dershimer, R. C., Krajcik, J., Marx, R. W., & Namlok-Naaman, R. (2004). Design-based science and student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(10), 1081–1110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hmelo, C. E., Holton, D. L., & Kolodner, J. L. (2000). Designing to learn about complex systems. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 9(3), 247–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hofstein, A., & Lunetta, V. (2003). The laboratory in science education: foundations for the twenty-first century. Science Education, 88(1), 28–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Katehi, L., Pearson, G., & Feder, M. (2009). Engineering in K-12 education: understanding the status and improving the prospects. Washington, DC: NAP Press.Google Scholar
  19. Kelly, M. P., & Staver, J. R. (2005). A case study of one school system’s adoption and implementation of an elementary science program. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(1), 25–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kim, M., Tan, L., & Talaue, F.T. (2013). New vision and challenges in inquiry based curriculum change in Singapore. International Journal of Science Education, 35(2), 289–311. doi: 10.1080/09500693.2011.636844.Google Scholar
  21. Kolodner, J. L. (2002). Facilitating the learning of design practices: lessons learned from an inquiry into science education. Retrieved 20th November, 2011, from
  22. Kolodner, J. L., Camp, P. J., Crismond, D., Fasse, B., Gray, J., Holbrook, J., et al. (2003). Problem-based learning meets case-based reasoning in the middle-school science classroom: putting learning by design™ into practice. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 12(4), 495–547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Layton, D. (1993). Technology’s challenge to science education: cathedral, quarry or company store? Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Lee, Y. J. (2008). Thriving in-between the cracks: Deleuze and guerrilla science teaching in Singapore. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 3, 917–935.Google Scholar
  25. Lee, Y. J., & Chue, S. (2011). The value of fidelity of implementation criteria to evaluate school-based science curriculum innovations. International Journal of Science Education. doi: 10.1080/09500693.2011.609189.
  26. Lehrer, R., & Schauble, L. (2006). Cultivating model-based reasoning in science education. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 371–388). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Leontjew, A. N. (1982). Tätigkeit, Bewusstsein, Persönlichkeit [Activity, awareness, personality]. Köln: Studien zur Kritischen Psychologie.Google Scholar
  28. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: an expanded sourcebook. California: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  29. Mina, M., Omidvar, I., & Knott, K. (2003). Learning to think critically to solve engineering problems: revisiting John Dewey’s ideas for evaluating engineering education.
  30. Newstetter, W. C. (2000). Guest editor’s introduction. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 9(3), 243–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Nott, M., & Wellington, J. (1996). When the black box springs open: practical work in schools and the nature of science. International Journal of Science Education, 18(7), 807–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Osborne, J. (2010). Arguing to learn in science: the role of collaborative, critical discourse. Science, 328(5977), 463–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Petrosino, A. J. (1998). At-risk children’s use of reflection and revision in hands-on experimental activities. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.Google Scholar
  34. Poon, C. L., Lee, Y. J., Tan, A. L., & Lim, S. S. L. (2012). Knowing inquiry as practice and theory: Developing a pedagogical framework with elementary school teachers. Research in Science Education, 42, 303–327.Google Scholar
  35. Puntambekar, S., & Hübscher, R. (2005). Tools for scaffolding students in a complex learning environment: what have we gained and what have we missed? Educational Psychologist, 40(1), 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Puntambekar, S., & Kolodner, J. L. (2005). Toward implementing distributed scaffolding: helping students learn from design. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(2), 185–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Roberts, D. A. (2007). Scientific literacy/science literacy. In S. K. Abell & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (pp. 729–780). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  38. Roth, W.-M. (2001). Learning science through technological design. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38(7), 768–790.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sadler, P. M., Coyle, H. P., & Schwartz, M. (2000). Engineering competitions in the middle school classroom: key elements in developing effective design challenges. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 9(3), 299–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schauble, L. (1990). Belief revision in children: the role of prior knowledge and strategies for generating evidence. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 49(1), 31–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schauble, L., Klopfer, L. E., & Raghavan, K. (1991). Students’ transition from an engineering model to a science model of experimentation. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 28(9), 859–882.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sherin, B. L., Edelson, D., & Brown, M. (2004). On the content of task-structured curricula. In L. B. Flick & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Scientific inquiry and nature of science: implications for teaching, learning, and teacher education (pp. 221–248). Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., & Braaten, M. (2008). Beyond the scientific method: model-based inquiry as a new paradigm of preference for school science investigations. Science Education, 92(5), 941–967.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Yin, R. K. (2009). Case study research: design and methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute of EducationNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore

Personalised recommendations