Dr. Molly Bolger Awarded Grant to Continue Work on Authentic Inquiry through Modeling

Addressing the Challenge of Authentic Inquiry at Scale: Probing and Supporting Teaching Assistants’ Implementation of a Model-Based-Inquiry Curriculum

Dr. Molly Bolger, Assistant Professor, MCBDiversifying the STEM workforce is a longstanding goal of science educators and the National Science Foundation. Providing opportunities for students to participate in scientific research increases their chances of remaining on a STEM career path, especially for students from minority groups underrepresented in STEM. However, many students do not find research opportunities on their own, pointing to the importance of bringing research to all students through curricular reform. This project builds on the researcher’s prior work creating Authentic Inquiry through Modeling (AIM-Bio), a laboratory curriculum that provides students with opportunities to ask scientific questions and develop their own experiments to test those questions. AIM-Bio has documented benefits for students, allowing them to feel ownership of their work, to develop their identity as scientists, and to gain valuable skills and knowledge for acting as a scientist. The project team seeks to bring the AIM-Bio curriculum to large numbers of students (over 1,700 per year) at the University of Arizona, a Hispanic Serving Institution. Meeting this challenge will involve preparing the TAs (undergraduate and graduate students who serve as teaching assistants) who are the instructors for AIM-Bio to rethink their teaching approaches. This project will develop a program to train TAs to mentor students in scientific inquiry. It will also study how TAs intentions for teaching align with the ways that they interact with students in the classroom. By including a focus on the rationale behind TA’s classroom teaching, this project will provide novel insights to guide efforts to train TAs as teaching professionals.  

Dr. Molly Bolger has devoted her career and research to providing opportunities to STEM students to engage in authentic scientific practices through AIM-Bio laboratory curriclum. To ensure a successful curriculum at the undergraduate college student level, Teaching Assistants' engagement is critical. Dr. Bolger and Co-PI Emily Dykstra developed this project to support TAs.  “Adopting new ways of teaching can be hard, for faculty and for teaching assistants (TAs). With this project, we aim to develop innovative ways to support TAs’ as teaching professionals. Ultimately, our goal is that TAs will know how to mentor undergraduate students through an authentic inquiry. “ responded Bolger when asked about this project.  

TAs hold an essential role in large-scale implementation of authentic-inquiry curricula. Understanding TAs’ perspectives on teaching challenges is necessary in order to develop professional development programs to support their ability to enact quality instruction. Prior research suggests that TAs may initially struggle with the open nature of an inquiry curriculum, often preferring to use forms of direct instruction consistent with more traditional views of teaching. To address TA’s needs, it is essential to understand not only their views on inquiry teaching but also how these views influence their day-to-day goals for interacting with students and ultimately the ways they guide students in the classroom. As undergraduate instruction moves to engage students in authentic scientific practices, educational leaders need new ideas for preparing TAs to serve as mentors in these settings.  Project aims are:  1) Develop a professional development curriculum to support TAs in classroom-based authentic inquiry, and 2) Build a model to explain the relationship between TA intentions and actions when teaching a classroom-based authentic inquiry curriculum. Despite current enthusiasm for engaging undergraduate students in authentic inquiry, there is insufficient research to explain how this goal is met through classroom implementation of curricula, especially in the case of novice instructors. Theories and methods exist for studying curriculum implementation, but these have not been systematically applied to investigate how instructors mentor students in an authentic inquiry setting. Research methods will include stimulated recall interviews, asking TAs to reflect on episodes of their own teaching. This will reveal the relationship between TAs intentions for implementing curricular activities and the actions they take to interact with students during those activities. In addition, classroom recordings of TAs will be investigated using a unique analytical framework that captures the process of mentoring students in the scientific practice of modeling. Combined analysis of interviews and classroom mentoring will allow researchers to gain a holistic view of TAs implementation of the AIM-Bio curriculum. Finally, to shed light on the potential consequences of TAs intentions and actions, we will compare student outcomes between TAs with different teaching approaches.


Project Title: Addressing the Challenge of Authentic Inquiry at Scale: Probing and Supporting Teaching Assistants’ Implementation of a Model-Based-Inquiry Curriculum

Source of Support: NSF 19-601 Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Education and Human Resources

Award Period: 10/01/2020 – 09/30/2023

Total Award Amount: $299,213

PI:  Molly Bolger

Co-PI: Emily Dykstra

Publish Date: 
Aug 24, 2020