The Ideal Science Student: Helping Teachers Adapt To Diversity In the Classroom

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

Our fundamental hypothesis is that an important pathway to adaptive expertise for teachers is for them to become aware of the variability among their students’ values and possible mismatches with their own. This can help teachers develop the habits of seeking relevant information and overcoming the natural tendency to adopt the first problem-solving strategy and solution that comes to mind. We examine (1) whether the teachers’ instructional styles (e.g., more vs. less inquiry instruction) affect students’ values of what an ideal science student should do in a science classroom; and (2) whether informing science teachers of gaps between how they and their students envision an ideal science student can improve teaching and learning.


Studies occur in science classrooms in 5 different high schools in New York City. Students and teacher come from diverse economic and cultural backgrounds.

Research Design: 

This project employs a combination of comparative, correlational and pre-post experimental designs. The comparative and correlational components of the study are designed to answer the question of whether the instructional styles and other demographic factors (e.g., achievement scores, SES, family backgrounds,etc) are associated with students’ values for an ideal science student. The pre-post experimental design is used to investigate whether informing the science teachers of the gaps between their own values and students’ values can improve teaching and learning in science classrooms.

The project includes a classroom intervention, which is that we mediated the discussions between teachers and their students about the gaps between how they envision an ideal science student should do. For instance, say that teachers envision that the ideal science student ought to work hard, complete a science project and research one’s own questions without being asked. Yet, the students do not think that this is an important characteristic for an ideal science student. We would then ask them to identify situations where such value gap would be problematic and develop solutions so that such problems can be resolved. The students and teachers then can generate a plan for what each will do in order to resolve the problems caused by the gap.

We created various measures: (1) Design an Ideal Science Student; (2) Assessment of Classroom Inquiry Levels; (3) Perceptions of Science Classrooms; (4) Assesment of Areas for Classroom Improvement (video-based); and (5) classroom observations. A variety of classical psychometric analyses were carried out, such as factor analysis, correlational analysis, regressions, MANOVA, T-test, ANOVA, etc. We also developed coding schemes for open-ended responses and conducted various reliability tests.


We have demonstrated that in comparison to low-inquiry-oriented (LIO) classrooms, the students in the more-inquiry-oriented (MIO) classrooms tend to value more inquiry skills (e.g., generate hypothesis, investigate one’s hypothesis systematically, develop evidence to back up one’s findings,etc.), collaborative skills (e.g., work well with others; contribute to group goals, rather than taking the free rides,etc.), deep understanding (e.g, understand what one is taught) and high motivation (e.g, work hard and complete science assignments on time). We also found that, independent of classrooms, high achieving students value inquiry and understanding more so than the low achieving students. Finally, we found that on average, teachers valued inquiry skills, motivation, and understanding more than students.

We are in the process of analyzing classroom intervention data at the moment.