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Going Beyond the “Whoa! That’s Cool!” of Inquiry: Achieving Science Interest and Learning with the ICAN Intervention

Motivational Interventions

ISBN: 978-1-78350-555-5

Publication date: 14 November 2014



This paper describes studies of the ICAN Intervention and their implications.


We adapted the ICAN intervention to support the science interest and learning of at-risk, middle-school-age youth, who were participants in entry-level, out-of-school, inquiry-informed, science workshops. The intervention is a brief ungraded writing assignment that is integrated into science activities on a daily basis in order to encourage workshop participants to reflect on science: what participants understand, the skills they have acquired, and what they still want to figure out.


Findings indicate that the use of the ICAN Intervention in science inquiry supports the development of science interest and science problem solving that is sustained 5 weeks following the workshop. Moreover, participants who write more responses to the ICAN probes are more likely to evidence changes in science learning, regardless of their initial level of interest in science. Participants with less-developed and with more-developed science interest at the beginning of the workshop all progress. The findings further suggest that when the intervention is coupled with an inquiry-informed integrated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (iSTEM) curriculum, it provides an additional boost for the development of science interest and learning.


The ICAN Intervention as adapted provides a solution to questions raised about whether inquiry-based instruction can promote learning. Our findings indicate that it can. Our findings also demonstrate that when undertaken in a concept and idea-rich environment, the structure of a motivation-based intervention is open-ended enough that all participants will progress, continuing to develop their interest and their learning of disciplinary content.




The authors want to specifically acknowledge discussions about the development of the ICAN Intervention with Mary D. Ainley, Whitney Nekoba Argaki, Suzanne Hidi, and the instructors of the science workshops, Pat Cronin, Stacey Dougherty, Kathleen Howard, Ginger Indivero, Jocelyn Noveral, Carl Grossman, Suzanne Hidi, and Elizabeth Vallen; these were very helpful. We thank Sara K. E. Posey and Alicia Niwagaba for their contributions as research assistants on the earlier studies described here. The authors are also appreciative of comments from Stuart A. Karabenick and Timothy C. Urdan, and Melissa Running’s editorial support. Finally, the authors are grateful for the research support we have received from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute grants to Swarthmore College and the Swarthmore College Faculty Research Fund.


Ann Renninger, K., Austin, L., Bachrach, J.E., Chau, A., Emmerson, M.S., King, B.R., Riley, K.R. and Stevens, S.J. (2014), "Going Beyond the “Whoa! That’s Cool!” of Inquiry: Achieving Science Interest and Learning with the ICAN Intervention", Motivational Interventions (Advances in Motivation and Achievement, Vol. 18), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 107-138.



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