Hume, A. & Coll, R. (2008). Student experiences of carrying out a practical science investigation under direction. International Journal of Science Education, 30(9), 1201-1228.
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2742
This paper reports on the reality of classroom-based inquiry learning in science, from the perspectives of high school students and their teachers, under a national curriculum attempting to encourage authentic scientific inquiry (as practiced by scientists). A multiple case study approach was taken, utilising qualitative research methods of unobtrusive observation, semi-structured interviews and document analysis. The findings showed purposeful and focused learning occurring, but students were acquiring a narrow view of scientific inquiry where the thinking was characteristically rote and low-level. The nature of this learning was strongly influenced by curriculum decisions made by classroom teachers and science departments in response to the assessment requirements of a high stakes national qualification. As a consequence of these decisions, students experienced structured teaching programmes in which they were exposed to programme content that limited the range of methods that scientists use to fair testing and to pedagogies that were substantially didactic in nature. In addition, the use of planning templates and exemplar assessment schedules tended to reduce student learning about experimental design to an exercise in “following the rules” as they engaged in closed rather than open investigations. Thus, the resulting student learning was mechanistic and superficial rather than creative and critical, counter to the aims of the national curriculum policy that is intent on promoting students' knowledge and capabilities in authentic scientific inquiry.