A study of scientific thinking with young adolescents
This project looks at the ability of young adolescents at lower secondary level to recognise experiments as ways of asking questions in scientific investigations. Many science curricula emphasise the need for pupils to develop skills necessary for experimenting, like planning and designing experiments for investigations, deciding on which variables to manipulate during the experiment, recognising a critical piece of information which could be used to plan and design a critical experiment. A number of questions based on the available literature and theoretical evidence were raised. These questions formed the basis for the study: (1) Do pupils at lower secondary level appreciate the inclusion of experiments in science learning? (2) Can these pupils identify a critical piece of information necessary for providing a credible solution to a problem? (3) Do lower secondary level pupils have the ability to conceptualise or see experiments as ways of asking critical questions in scientific investigations? ( 4) Can the development of the experimenting skill in those pupils at lower secondary level who have not yet developed it be accelerated through appropriate teaching? (5) Can lower secondary pupils from completely different teaching and cultural backgrounds demonstrate similar performances in terms of seeing the experiment as a way of asking critical questions in scientific investigations? To answer these questions a three stage investigation was used. Each stage was called an experiment. For the entire investigation, a total of 1964 pupils were used from Botswana [junior (lower) secondary schools] and Scotland [lower secondary schools]. A card game called Eloosis, questionnaires/tests, teaching units and interviews were employed at different stages of the investigations. The teaching units and Eloosis were used to help pupils accelerate the development of the ability to recognise critical pieces of information for critical experiments in scientific investigations where possible. The questionnaires/tests were designed to examine evidence of the development of this ability skills. Interviews were meant to solicit more information from pupils regarding the ability of the pupils to conceptualise the place and nature of experimentation in scientific enquiry. However, Scotland pupils and one sample of the Botswana pupils did not participate in the use of teaching units. The data collect from the Scotland pupils was primarily used to establish the wider acceptance of the results obtained from the Botswana group. From the results obtained from this study, it was clear that pupils from different educational and cultural settings equally appreciated the inclusion of experimental work in their science activities. However, their perceptions of its place and purpose differed from those of the curriculum planners. The evidence from the data analysis suggested that the ability to see experiments as ways of asking questions in scientific investigations is significantly developmental and cannot be homogeneously accelerated. The result appears to be true for all pupils at this age range regardless of their educational and cultural background. There was also a general lack of the ability to identify a critical piece of information which, in the opinion of this project is related to the ability to recognise critical experiments for working out solutions to scientific problems. However, it was not possible to gain much insight into the extent to which the teaching units and Eloosis, when used over a longer period of time, could impact on the development of the experimental skills. The reason for this lies within the restrictions on time and the Willingness of the schools to allow such a prolonged access to their pupils. It also emerged from the interview results that most pupils, in their responses, confused experimenting with practical work. This finding explains why a significantly higher number of the pupils indicated that what they liked most about their science lessons were experiments.