Schools and Teachers Supporting Student Open Investigations

By Symington, David; Tytler, Russell | Teaching Science, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Schools and Teachers Supporting Student Open Investigations


Symington, David, Tytler, Russell, Teaching Science


This paper draws on a study of the BHP Billiton Science Awards to explore the ways in which open investigation work occurs in schools. The research used interviews with teachers and students and state organisers to develop a picture of what happens on the ground in running student open investigations, and to trace how schools have built a culture of investigation. The paper explores how schools develop and maintain practices that effectively support students' engagement in open investigation work in Science.

INTRODUCTION

In an earlier paper from our group (Hubber, Darby & Tytler, 2010), we reported on some of the findings of a study related to the national BHP Billiton Science Awards and associated state-level award schemes, involving the engagement of students in open scientific investigations. The data in the earlier paper showed that involving students in open investigations has a range of positive outcomes. However, teachers can find open investigative work challenging and, to date, relatively few schools are seriously involved in this form of activity. There have been from time to time, at different levels, and in different Australian states, curriculum requirements for open investigative work. Currently, a much greater emphasis on inquiry skills in the new Australian Science Curriculum (ACARA 2009) promises to increase the significance of this activity in the curriculum. It can be anticipated that there will be a need to develop a deeper understanding of, and teacher professional development material related to, how schools and teachers can go about open investigative work, yet there is a dearth of research that would tell us how best to do this.

Most of the impetus for ongoing open inquiry work has been associated with open research categories of science competitions run by the state science teacher associations and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) CREST initiative. These feed into the national BHP Billiton Science Awards, a peak competition funded by BHP Billiton and administered by CSIRO. The authors were part of a team involved in an evaluation of the impact of the awards scheme. In the course of this evaluation, we explored the experience of students in conducting open research, and the way schools developed and sustained processes to support students in this. In the previous paper (Hubber, Darby & Tytler, 2010), we explored the question: 'What is the experience of students engaged in open investigation in school science?' The research question driving the current analysis is:

* How do schools develop and maintain practices that effectively support students engaged in open investigation work in science?

METHODS

The methodology employed for the larger study was mixed method. The data collection consisted of a combination of questionnaire (predominantly online) and interview data. Only a subset of the interview data will be drawn on for the current analysis. The interviewees included." science coordinators/teachers in schools well represented in the awards (seven secondary, three primary), teacher award winners (seven), students recently involved in the research competitions (three), and state organisers of state awards competitions (two). The interviews were semi structured and explored the experience of the interviewee with research investigations and the award scheme. Written notes were taken of the interviews, which were also audio-taped for backup and to establish quotes. In three cases of substantial interviews which were developed into case studies in the report and which are well represented in this paper, the notes and transcripts were sent for member checking.

In order to make the evaluation manageable within time and budgetary restrictions, we focused our attention on two Australian states with different characteristics which had substantial involvement in the award scheme. The interview data from each of the groups of interviewees were analysed to establish emergent themes. …

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