Cognitive development in relation to science education
Various skills have been considered quintessential to the scientific method. The need for these skills was highlighted by Armstrong at the beginning of the century and continues to be re-iterated to the present day within the criteria of the National Curriculum. Pupils as scientists are expected to make accurate and meaningful observations; record results from experiments formulated to test hypotheses, controlling all the relevant variables except the one under investigation; identify patterns within the results and recognise anomalies; draw valid conclusions from the data collected and extrapolate from the data to predict further results. These criteria were included in the list of thirty-two teacher assessed skills in domains five and six of the Northern Examination Association, NEA, GCSE Biology Syllabus. This research project endeavoured to test the acquisition of these skills in a large sample of students drawn from a variety of schools in an effort to establish the relative difficulty of the individual skills. The corollation of performance of the skills with a range of factors, including IQ, the influence of gender, school type, and associated subjects they studied was explored. In particular the effect of an exposure to the Warwick Process Science Scheme was investigated to establish whether a transferable long term enhancement resulted. The main body of the research was undertaken on Year ten (4th Year) pupils, the sample being drawn from ten schools of varying types. The work was extended to include both younger and older age groups, to identify the progress made with age in skill acquisition and to investigate whether success in the skills is of predictive value for the final GCSE grades of future 'A'Level achievement. The results indicated a wide variability in degrees of difficulty of the individual skills and a wide range of performance by individual candidates. Success in the skills corollated very closely with IQ, so to eliminate this effect samples cross-matched for IQ were investigated to establish the effect of other variables. Only the study of the three separate sciences and tuition within a selective school proved to have a significant effect on the outcome. Only skill 30 devising three separate hypotheses to explain a complex set of results, had predictive value for GCSE and none were of value for predicting capital 'A'Level success.