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Use scientific inquiry

Observational data is at the core of the development of scientific knowledge.

Teacher-centred science includes teacher demonstrations and interpretations, and guided experiments that follow a set of procedures designed to demonstrate or prove a concept.

These approaches result in a recipe view of science and quash creative approaches to a scientific investigation. There is still a place for this type of guided experiment but the balance must include practical science inquiries and challenges.

Guided experiments focus on the procedures students must follow in order to get the required results. Students tend to methodically carry out the given steps, without an opportunity to link their observations to core science concepts and their prior knowledge or world view.

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  • Goodbye school science experiments?
    Keith Taber considers active learning and authentic enquiry in the modern science classroom (article published in the June 2011 issue of the online journal Education in Chemistry).

Scientific inquiry (other subjects call this inquiry-based learning) requires students to pose their own questions and decide what data they need and then collect, analyse, and present it. This can only occur once students have developed understanding of the underpinning science concepts and big ideas. In practical activities, teachers need to support students to link theory and evidence, for example, link testing metal reactivity with an understanding of ions and oxidation and the uses of metals in everyday life.

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This more open investigative work can be an effective part of the process of “learning to learn”.

Scaffolding practical tasks and keeping them short and uncomplicated can shift the focus from procedures to concepts.

Predict, observe and explain (POE) activities in which students predict, observe/investigate, and explain can be very effective. See the Assessment Resource Banks for guidance on using POE strategies.

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Science as explanation and science as argument

Researchers and scientists have come to recognise that the discipline of science involves both science as explanation and science as argument. This has led to the view that both have an important place in science education.

Internationally, the science-as-argument view is more widely developed in education programmes. This may be because it employs the familiar “scientific method” and is concrete, dealing with observables and the testing of scientific ideas such as the lengths of pendulums and the exposure of plants to light.

This emphasis neglects to encourage students’ thinking on how new scientific ideas originate and develop, which is at the creative core of science (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2008, p. 6).

The achievement aims of the nature of science strand in The New Zealand Curriculum require students to understand, and be able to employ, both science as explanation (understanding about science, investigating in science, and communicating in science) and science as argument (participating and contributing, communicating in science).

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Bereiter, C., and Scardamalia, M. (2008). “Teaching how science really works.” Education Canada, 49(1), pp. 14–17.

Last updated September 7, 2021