Changing How Science Students Think: An Inquiry-Based Approach

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Australian universities lament that first year science students fail to think creatively and have difficulty using logical reason in developing conclusions. Current literature goes further and suggests first year students cannot sustain any questioning of their opinions and show little regard for exposing hidden assumptions. This paper investigates preliminary findings of a three year project that follows a cohort of secondary students as they progress through a structured inquiry-based learning program that intends to produce students who think like scientists rather than school students.
A group of 30, year 8, male students (13/14 year olds) generated ecological questions they wanted answered. The students hypothesised and then planned an investigation. Data was collected in the field and analysed. The students wrote a formal report that formed a scientific explanation of what they thought was happening. There was also formal assessment of the students in the form of an on-line test on ecology.
The students’ enthusiasm while working in the field was extremely high and they found examining new and unusual marine creatures under the microscope very interesting. The motivation for the students, though, was to produce a high standard PowerPoint presentation rather than enter a journey of discovery in trying to explain why certain animals lived in particular areas of the intertidal zone or what forces were driving the exposed and protected beaches. This is consistent with students learning to pass exams rather than thinking scientifically about a problem. The problem is how to shift the mindset of the student from thinking about a grade at the end of the year to engaging the student to think about a problem scientifically.
The summative assessment showed the weaker students improved their retention of the subject content but there was no significant improvement for the stronger students. This may mean weaker students become more engaged within an inquiry-based structure

Keywords: Inquiry-Based, Scientific Method, Thinking
Stream: Curriculum and Pedagogy; Student Learning, Learner Experiences, Learner Diversity
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Changing How Science Students Think

Andrew Donald

Classroom Teacher, Science Department, Marist College Canberra
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

A background as a research geoscientist. Teaching science at a secondary school in Australia for 4 years with a special interest in inquiry-based learning, philosophy of science and scientific method.

Dr. Margi Bohm

Lecturer, School of Applied Science, University of Canberra
Canberra, ACT, Australia

Ref: L09P1415