Raising standards in pre-service teacher education – the INQUIRE course in Bremen


Inquiry-based science education (IBSE) – what are the challenges for pre-service teacher education? What do ongoing teachers and active teachers learn from each other when planning, conducting and evaluating minds-on and hands-on IBSE activities? The Bremen teacher education course “INQUIRE for Teacher Students” aims to raise standards in teacher education using IBSE methods in an innovative manner. The course was developed within the FW7 project INQUIRE.

1. The European project INQUIRE

“Inquiry based teacher training for a sustainable future” (INQUIRE) is an European project focusing on inquiry-based science education (IBSE). 17 Partners from 11 institutions, botanic gardens, science centers, and universities cooperate in the development of teacher education courses focusing on the major global issues of the 21st century – the connection of biodiversity loss and climate change.

The Institute of Biology Education, is one of the INQUIRE Partners. In close cooperation with the Green Science Center Bremen and the Climate House Bremerhaven  a team of science educators, garden educators and botanists developed the “INQUIRE Course for Teacher Students: Inquiry-based learning in the context of biodiversity loss and climate change”. (Elster, 2013). Our understanding of IBSE is that of multifaceted activities: making observations, posing scientific questions, examining books and other sources of information to see what is already understood, planning investigations; reviewing what is already known in the light of experimental evidence, using tools to gather, analyze, and interpret data, proposing answers, explanations and predictions, and communicating the results (Linn, Davis & Bell, 2004).

2. The INQUIRE Course Bremen

In the INQUIRE Course teacher students and teachers built school teams supported by science educators and scientists in a Community of Practice (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002).  Together they developed different concepts and IBSE activities, tested them in the labs and green houses at the University Bremen and exchanged their experiences. In total, 44 teacher students and eight teachers participated in the courses running in winter 2012/13 and semester 2013. They developed together 12 school projects and reached 300 pupils of the secondary level.

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Fig.1. Schedule and content of the INQUIRE Course Bremen.

Questions and design of research

The focus of the evaluation of the INQUIRE course Bremen laid on the professional growth of the participants regarding their Subject Knowledge (SK) and Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) according to Park & Oliver (2008).

For the evaluation of the course we used research diaries of teacher students, questionnaires (pre-post), and structured interviews (pre-post). For data triangulation we worked with the “World Café”-method (Schieffer, Isaacs & Gryllenpalm, 2004).

Findings and conclusions

Student teachers as well as teachers reported an increase of subject knowledge in the field of biodiversity as well as an increase of methodological knowledge about IBSE (comparison of pre-post questionnaire). During the course the participants gained a more differentiated picture about the dimensions of biodiversity: genes, species and landscapes. They gained elaborated knowledge about the aspects and concepts of biodiversity.

One of our goals was to describe a multi-faceted IBSE approach. We encouraged the school teams to plan and develop IBSE activities and school projects – according to the specific circumstances of the school classes – open, guided or structured. We showed different IBSE hands-on and minds-on activities, mysteries, cartoons and mind maps and invited the school teams to choose or to develop the IBSE activities themselves on a level of openness they thought to be suitable for their school classes.

We identified an increase of the self-estimation of the teacher students and teachers about their own IBSE competences. Based on the novice-expert-paradigm (Dryfus & Dryfus, 1987) the participants moved from mainly “beginners” to “advanced” or “experienced” regarding their IBSE competences.

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Fig.2. The self- estimation of IBSE competences (N=52)

In conclusion, the INQUIRE for Teacher Students Course Bremen was successful by linking pre-service and in-service education, linking science educators and scientists, linking school and university.

Based on its success and the satisfaction of the teacher students we decided to implement the INQUIRE for Teacher Students Course in the Master of Education program of ongoing biology teachers of the secondary level (6 Credit points; 180 hours course).


Dreyfus, H. L., & Dreyfus, S. E. (1987). Künstliche Intelligenz. Von den Grenzen der Denkmaschine und dem Wert der Intuition. Rheinbeck bei Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag.

Elster, D. (2013). INQUIRE for Students – How to promote inquiry based learning? New Perspective in Science Education, Conference Proceedings 2013, Florence, March 14th-15th 2013, Florence,Libreriauniversitaria.it Edizioni, 337-341

Linn, M. C., Davis, E. A. Bell, P. (2004). Internet Environments for Science Education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Association.

Park, S., & Oliver, J. S. (2008). Revisting the Conecptualisation of Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK): PCK as a Conceptual Tool to Understand Teachers as Professionals. Research in Science Education, 38 (3), 261-284

Schieffer, A., Isaacs, D. & Gyllenpalm, B. (2004). Theory and Practice: World Café: Collective Creativity is Coming. [Theorie und Praxis: World Café: Kollektive Kreativität im Kommen]. Lernende Organisation, 20, 40-47.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W.M. (2002). Cultivating Communities of Practice, New York: HBS Press.

Article written by: Doris Elster, Scientix Deputy Ambassador

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