Tool IC-1: Identifying and classifying barriers and dilemmas

For this tool you will need the following resources:

  • IC-3 PowerPoint
  • Paper: Reforming science teaching
  • Handout: Implementing IBL – barriers and dilemmas

The aim of this tool is to help the group consider the main barriers to using IBL It involves a short download_powerpointdiscussion activity which draws on research findings to think about these barriers and dilemmas. It is suitable for teachers of mathematics and science.

teamworkIt is common for teachers to feel that, although they might like to implement inquiry approaches, there are barriers to doing so. Begin by asking them of their own experiences (but be careful – you don’t want them to spend the whole session complaining!).

Discuss how the word ‘barrier’ suggests an obstacle which is external to the teacher, but that many teachers also experience internal barriers. Give the teachers the paper “Reforming Science Teaching: What Research says about Inquiry” (Anderson 2002) and ask them to read it in their own time. Highlight the quote here from page 7 and discuss together.

Anderson (2002) calls these internal barriers ‘dilemmas’, stating:

“It is common to talk about barriers or obstacles that must be overcome for teachers to acquire an inquiry approach to teaching. In fact, they have been discussed in the literature for a long time; an important example is Welch, Klopfer, Aikenhead, & Robinson (1981). An additional helpful word, however, is dilemmas. The former words imply something external to the teacher, but much of the difficulty is internal to the teacher, including beliefs and values related to students, teaching, and the purposes of education. Teachers considering new approaches to education face many dilemmas, many of which have their origins in their beliefs and values. It is not unusual to think of learning to teach through inquiry as a matter of learning new teaching skills. It is that, but it is also much more. Teachers encounter both barriers and dilemmas.” (p. 7).


Ask the teachers to work in pairs to think about both barriers and dilemmas within their own practice. Ask them to write their responses on the Handout: Implementing IBL – barriers and dilemmas.


Once the group has had an opportunity to identify and agree some of the barriers and dilemmas, bring them together to discuss the barriers and dilemmas identified by Anderson (2002), which fall into three main clusters, helpfully summarised here by Barrow (2006):

1. Technical dilemmas include the ability to teach constructively; the degree of commitment to the textbook; the challenges presented by state assessments; the difficulties of implementing group work; the challenge of the new teacher role as a facilitator; the challenge of the new student role as an active, rather than a passive, learner; and inadequate professional development.

2. Political dilemmas (short-term or limited professional development programs, parental resistance that science is taught differently than they experienced, un- resolved conflicts among science teachers about what and how to teach, lack of available resources, and differing views about failures) must be addressed at local and state levels because of funding ramifications.

3. Cultural dilemmas include quality of textbooks and support materials, views about purposes of assessment, and view of preparation for the next science class (p. 272).

nextstepsIt is helpful at this point for the group to focus on one or two technical dilemmas that are particularly relevant to their situation and discussion. Ask the teachers to identify a specific adaptation of their normal pedagogy (e.g. using group work, allowing students an opportunity to become more active learners, facilitating rather than instructing during a task) and to try this approach out in a lesson. The teachers should reflect on the effects and be ready to report back at their next professional development session.


Anderson, R. D. (2002). Reforming science teaching: What research says about inquiry. Journal of science teacher education, 13(1), 1-12.

Barrow, L. H. (2006). A brief history of inquiry: From Dewey to standards. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 17(3), 265-278.

Welch, W. W., Klopfer, L. E., Aikenhead, G. S., & Robinson, J. T. (1981). The role of inquiry in science education: Analysis and recommendations. Science education, 65(1), 33-50.