Identifying Strategies to Support Junior Secondary Students to Engage in Scientific Investigation Tasks

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<ul><li><p>CANADIAN JOURNAL OF SCIENCE, MATHEMATICS,AND TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION, 8(2), 99120, 2008Copyright C OISEISSN: 1492-6156 print / 1942-4051 onlineDOI: 10.1080/14926150802169222</p><p>Identifying Strategies to Support Junior Secondary Studentsto Engage in Scientific Investigation Tasks</p><p>May May-hung ChengThe Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong</p><p>Abstract: This article describes the outcome of a collaborative project between the Hong KongInstitute of Education and four secondary schools that aims to promote the development of scientificinvestigation skills. The project team designed scientific investigation tasks collaboratively with theteachers and provided school-based support when the tasks were implemented. A total of six teachersand 575 students were involved. Data were collected through questionnaires completed by the studentsand individual interviews with science teachers about their classroom practice after the completion ofthe project. The findings suggest that the students did not meet many difficulties and that there werepositive influences on students interest in learning science. The teachers perceived that there werechallenges related to raising students self-regulated learning abilities, structuring tasks that wereat appropriate levels of difficulty, and promoting group cooperation among the students. Finally,the article argues that the strategies implemented in this study were effective, though it takes muchtime and effort to help students develop self-regulated learning abilities. The conclusion suggeststhat teachers consider these challenges collectively and proposes a two-staged model for planningscientific investigation tasks.</p><p>Resume: Cet article presente les resultats dun projet realise par le Hong Kong Institute of Education,en collaboration avec quatre ecoles secondaires, dont le but etait de promouvoir lacquisitiondhabiletes dans le domaine de linvestigation scientifique Lequipe responsable du projet, de concertavec les enseignants, a elabore une serie de taches dinvestigation scientifique et a egalement fourniun soutien a lecole lors de la mise en application de ces differentes taches. En tout, six professeurset 575 eleves ont participe au projet. Au terme du projet, les donnees ont ete recueillies dune part aumoyen de questionnaires distribues aux etudiants et, dautre part, au moyen dentrevues individuellesavec les enseignants de sciences au sujet de leurs pratiques denseignement. Les resultats indiquentque les eleves nont eprouve aucune difficulte particuliere et que le projet a eu des effets positifs surleur interet pour lapprentissage des sciences en general. Quant aux enseignants, ils ont pu cerner lesdefis quil leur fallait relever pour ameliorer les habiletes dapprentissage autonome de leurs eleves,pour structurer des taches dinvestigation dont le niveau de difficulte est adequat et pour promouvoirla cooperation et le travail en groupe. Enfin, larticle montre que les strategies adoptees dans le cadrede cette etude sont efficaces, mais quelles impliquent des efforts et un temps considerables si lonveut favoriser le developpement dhabiletes dapprentissage autonome chez les eleves. En conclusion,larticle, qui propose que les enseignants se penchent collectivement sur ces questions, presente unmodele a deux etapes pour la planification generale des taches dinvestigation scientifique.</p><p>This article was accepted by Dr. Derek Hodson.Address correspondence to May May-hung Cheng, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, 10 Lo Ping Road, Tai Po,</p><p>N.T., Hong Kong, China. Email:</p></li><li><p>100 CHENG</p><p>BACKGROUND</p><p>This study addresses local concerns about the direction of the 2001 education reform (in HongKong) as well as concerns raised in recent discussions of science education research. The policyand directions for primary 1 (age 6) to secondary 3 (age 15) in science education in Hong Kongwas laid down in 2002 (Curriculum Development Council, 2002). There are six strands in thescience curriculum content at junior secondary level, in which the Scientific Investigation strandis designed to run through the other five,1 and the specific learning objectives are (CurriculumDevelopment Council, 2002, p. 25) as follows:</p><p>1. to propose hypotheses and devise methods for testing them;2. to plan and conduct scientific investigations;3. to evaluate the fairness of tests and draw conclusions based on findings.</p><p>The curriculum document has also provided a timetable for implementation that shows theurgency of the task and the determination of the curriculum developers. In light of this emphasison scientific investigation, there is a need to develop a better understanding of ways to supportstudents engagement in such tasks.</p><p>Defining Scientific Investigation</p><p>Although the science curriculum in Hong Kong emphasizes scientific investigation as one ofthe six major strands instead of promoting inquiry-based learning in general, it is worthwhilemaking some distinction between scientific inquiry and scientific investigation in this discussion.In Canada, scientific inquiry is one of the foundation statements for scientific literacy (Councilof Ministers of Education, Canada, 1997). In the United States, inquiry is seen as a method forlearning science concepts (National Research Council [NRC], 1996); i.e., students understandthe subject matter (e.g., motions and forces) using inquiry as a learning method.</p><p>Science inquiry itself is also both a learning outcome and a learning process (NRC, 1996). Indescribing science inquiry as a learning outcome, students are expected to gain abilities to doscientific inquiry and understanding about scientific inquiry (NRC, 1996, p. 105). Lewis (2006)suggested that inquiry can be approached simultaneously as both process and content of science.Similarly, Bybee (2000) interpreted inquiry as content, meaning what students should understandabout scientific inquiry as well as the need to acquire the investigation abilities developed fromscientific inquiry experiences. Developing students understanding about scientific inquiry mayinvolve having them reflect on their own or historical cases of scientific investigation activities.Developing students abilities to conduct scientific inquiry has to involve students in structuredlaboratory activities or engage them in open-ended scientific investigations. For example, Bachta(2001). described a scientific investigation in which students were arranged into teams trying todesign a concrete sample that could resist the strongest compressive force. Students generatedquestions, set variables, manufactured the concrete sample, tested the specimens, recordedqualitative and quantitative data, and discussed findings.</p><p>Along this continuum of using inquiry as a method to learn science, learning about scienceinquiry, and developing abilities to conduct scientific investigations, the science curriculumin Hong Kong is positioned on the point where science investigation skills and methods areemphasized as a learning outcome. This emphasis is also common in other countries. In</p></li><li><p>STRATEGIES FOR SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION 101</p><p>Australia, curriculum documents (ACT Department of Education and Community Services,2000) in different states reflect the importance of developing skills for scientific investigations;for example, in New South Wales it is specified that practical experiences must account for at least50% of time allocated to science, and that students must experience at least one research projectin each of Stage 4 and 5 (Dawson &amp; Venville, 2006). In the National Curriculum for England andWales (Department of Education and Science and the Welsh Office (DES/WO), 1989), scienceinvestigative work is one of the four statutory attainment targets for all pupils from ages 5 to 16.</p><p>Scientific investigation is defined as a method of inquiry that systematically inquires aboutand finds evidence for a particular topic in science. Though there are different strategies forconducting scientific investigations, a number of common points can be identified (Crossland,1998; Goldsworthy &amp; Feasey, 1997; Hackling &amp; Fairbrother, 1996), as follows:</p><p>1. planning an investigation, making predictions and expectations of the results, andformulating hypotheses;</p><p>2. designing feasible tests or investigation plans;3. conducting fair tests, controlling variables, and defining variables;4. developing students abilities in observing, drawing, or making records of the data</p><p>collected;5. recording data, carrying out analyses and comparing findings; and6. redesigning the investigation based on the findings, suggesting modifications and</p><p>identifying limitations.</p><p>Based on the above descriptions, scientific investigations emphasize the application andinteraction of many complex skills, applying science knowledge to a particular context or realworld situation, the process of the investigation, and the activity carried out by the students(Haigh &amp; Hubbard, 1997).</p><p>This definition of scientific investigation is consistent with the description in the localcurriculum document that states that,</p><p>Scientific investigations and experiments allow students to gain personal experiences of sciencethrough hands-on activities and to develop the skills associated with the practice of science. Studentshave to ask relevant questions, to pose and define problems, to formulate hypotheses, to plan whatto do and how to research, to predict outcomes, to conduct experiments, to interpret results, to drawconclusions and suggest ideas for improvement. (Curriculum Development Council, 2002, p. 28)</p><p>Science educators have pointed out problems in relation to the teaching of scientificinvestigation. Scientific investigation is seen by many science educators as offering a valuableand authentic experience of science (Minstrell &amp; van Zee, 2000), and much research has beenconducted related to the role of practical work in science teaching (Gott &amp; Duggan, 1995; Hodson,1996; Hofstein &amp; Lunetta, 2004). However, there are relatively few systematic studies of teachersunderstanding of the nature of scientific investigation and its purpose. The NRC (2000) in theUnited States summarized that inquiry-oriented instruction can fall along a continuum of moreto less student-directed methods. While Donelly (1998) reported on how teachers understandthe place of the laboratory and laboratory work in their practice, the study did not look into thepedagogical methods. There is little consideration of teachers views of scientific investigationas related to how it can be implemented and its pedagogical concerns.</p></li><li><p>102 CHENG</p><p>Learning in Groups</p><p>As the scientific investigations implemented by the teachers in the present study were all carriedout as group work, the practice of which is consistent with the direction of the education reform,the discussion of the pedagogy related to group work is therefore relevant. Preparation of effectivecommunication skills, high-level elaboration and discussion of ideas, questioning of each othersideas, and active participation in groups may help students to make the best use of the learningresources during group work (Webb &amp; Palincsar, 1996).</p><p>The teachers role as a facilitator in group work has been suggested by a number ofresearchers (Kreke, Fields, &amp; Towns, 1998). The teacher acts as a consultant and activitycoordinator (Watson, 1991). According to Johnson and Johnson (2002), teachers need to make anumber of decisions while planning for group work, including setting academic and social skillsobjectives, determining group size and group composition, and monitoring students behaviorwhen cooperative groups start learning.</p><p>Researchers have suggested how the instructions for group work among students can bestructured. The instructions may include specific prompts (Palincsar, Anderson, &amp; David, 1993),guidelines on what the tasks need to include, or assigning students specific roles in the group(Yager, Johnson, &amp; Johnson, 1985). However, Sawyer (2004) pointed out that collaborative tasksfor students need to allow some improvisation in which clear-cut procedures or answers areabsent and students can develop effective interactions, and share their hypotheses, strategies andspeculations. Open-ended group tasks are also found to provide more opportunities for groupinteraction and can better facilitate group learning (Lotan, Cohen, &amp; Holthusi, 1994). Moreover,Cohen (1994) stated that an overly structured task prevents student interaction, while a totallyunstructured task makes students anxious.</p><p>Webb, Troper, and Fall (1995) identified a number of factors that may influence studentslearning in groups that include students perceptions of the goals of the task, how they carryout the activities, how well group members know each other, experience of working in groups,competence in communication skills, and the dynamics developed in the group over time. Thetype of group interaction is an important factor determining the quality of learning that studentsmay experience during group work.</p><p>While the above descriptions of group work are consistent with the requirements for structuringcooperative learning, some of the characteristics for cooperative learning may not be emphasizedamong the participating schools in this study. The following characteristics for cooperativelearning are not met or are not strongly emphasized: intentional selection of group members onthe basis of predetermined criteria or to maximize heterogeneity; the introduction of team buildingactivities designed to promote group identity and social cohesiveness; individual performanceevaluation and provision of individual rewards; personal accountability; and explicit instruction oneffective communication skills (Cuseo, 1992). With an emphasis on scientific investigation in thecurriculum, the importance of group work is implied rather than explicitly stated in the document.The curriculum document only touches on group discussions and group work by saying, Groupdiscussion, role-play and debate provide opportunities for students to interact with others, toexpress their opinions and exchange viewpoints. . . .They have to organize themselves and othersto participate actively in group work. (Curriculum Development Council, 2002, p. 28). With this,the discussion is limited to how some aspects of group work may be conducive to the learningprocess, instead of looking into how the notion of cooperative learning can be fully implemented.</p></li><li><p>STRATEGIES FOR SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION 103</p><p>Self-Regulated Learning</p><p>The scientific investigation tasks implemented by the teachers demand that students be self-regulated learners, which is quite a different experience when compared to their prior sciencelearning experiences. Although self-regulated learning is not mandated in the curriculum, studentsneed to learn how to monitor their learning process and strategies in conducting the scientificinvestigation projects. This is similar to Zimmermans (2000) proposal about self-regulatedlearning (SRL), an idea that also emphasizes se...</p></li></ul>


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