A few years ago, according the results of PISA (a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students), the Macedonian government decide to find a way to improve the given results. Cambridge International Examinations was approached in January 2013 by the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) of the Republic of Macedonia in the context of the MoES’s goal to raise school-level educational standards. As part of the Republic of Macedonia’s plans for educational reform, the Bureau for Development of Education (BDE) has been working in partnership with Cambridge and has started implementing an adapted form of Cambridge primary science curricula at Grades 1-9 from September 2014.
Implementation of educational reform requires a balance of speed and sustainability. It is essential that the changes required do not exceed the capacity to deliver them effectively. This may relate to the ability of teachers to familiarize them with new content and to implement new approaches to teaching and to the evolution of professional support systems and the alteration of operational practice by schools and education agencies. Financial and resource constraints also have an impact on successful implementation in terms of the reform’s educational impact for learners. The first year of new science curriculum implementation is at the end. The BDE and Cambridge International Examinations teams monitored more than 50 schools until now in term to collect more data about the ongoing curriculum realization. The first results given by the surveys and interviews provided to BDE and MoES the first impressions about the success of the process of new science reforms.
Correlation between inquiry based learning and new science curriculum
Inquiry-based learning or inquiry-based science describes a range of philosophical, curricular and pedagogical approaches to teaching. Its core premises include the requirement that learning should be based around student questions. Pedagogy and curriculum requires students to work independently to solve problems rather than receiving direct instructions on what to do from the teacher. Teachers are viewed as facilitators of learning rather than vessels of knowledge. The teacher’s job in an inquiry learning environment is therefore not to provide knowledge, but instead to help students along the process of discovering knowledge themselves. Its core premises include the requirement that learning should be based around student questions. Pedagogy and curriculum requires students to work independently to solve problems rather than receiving direct instructions on what to do from the teacher. Teachers are viewed as facilitators of learning rather than vessels of knowledge. The teachers job in an inquiry learning environment is therefore not to provide knowledge, but instead to help students along the process of discovering knowledge themselves. Inquiry-based learning is a concept which underlines the importance of students engaging into meaningful hands-on science experiences (Louca, Santis & Tzialli, 2010). Inquiry can’t be separated from the world of science and as National Science Educations Standards states: “Inquiry is central to science learning” (NRC, 1996 p2). Inquiry learning cause beyond memorizing information and aims to give students an understanding and reasoning of the knowledge which they develop. Inquiry-based learning is active and provides opportunities for students to engage themselves with scientific activities (Edelson, Gording and Pea, 1999). This self-engaging into activities should lead to a less guided situation in which students design their learning by exploring. Exploring is the essence of inquiry learning, students design their own question and hypothesis in order to engage in hands-on activities which are aligned by exploration. Hakkarainen (2002) shows that inquiry learning leads to students who design their own intuitive theories by explaining answers on their research question. Kirschner, Sweller and Clark (2006) strongly oppose to the concept minimal or non- guidance, cause it places a huge burden on working memory. Guided instruction is seen to lead to vastly more learning, IBL can’t be seen as a fully guided instruction (Kirschner et al. 2006). Hmelo-Silver, Duncan and Chinn (2007 p 99) wrote an article specially in response to Kirschner et al. (2006) and state that IBL isn’t minimally guided but could use “extensive scaffolding to facilitate student learning”.
Inquiry-based learning or inquiry-based science describes a range of philosophical, curricular and pedagogical approaches to teaching. A distinction has to be made between teaching and doing science in IBL (Colburn, 2000). Doing science refers to the student who enact with IBL and teaching refers to the way IBL is instructed to students and the way of guiding students into science inquiry. Teaching inquiry science might evoke more discussion and different opinions. In order to address this distinction first will be looked at teaching inquiry-based science and next doing inquiry-based science. Inquiry-based science is an approach to science education that is student constructed as opposed to teacher-transmitted, hands-on as opposed to lecture-based. Students learn science by using methods, adopting attitudes, and applying skills as scientists do when conducting scientific research. Students are able to find their own problems and generate their own questions, formulate their own hypotheses, design and implement their own methods for testing their hypothesis, and use their own data to answer their original questions. There is a progression from teacher-guided inquiry to completely student-directed inquiry. Even though students direct the course of study, the teacher still assesses progress and introduces critical skills and concepts. An inquiry-based classroom enables students to actively construct meaningful knowledge rather than passively acquire facts. Because students learn by connecting information to their own experiences, inquiry-based learning allows students to have experiences with germinating seeds, maintaining an aquarium, and working with circuits to light bulbs. After engaging in such activities, students are able to apply the information from the experience to new science concepts and life in general. Inquiry-based learning environments are such environments. Inquiry-based learning refers to a learning process in which students are engaged (Anderson, 2002) and is defined as an active learning process: “something that students do, not something that is done to them” (National Science Education Standards, NRC, 1996, p. 21). Inquiry and constructivist teaching approaches therefore, share many educational objectives, such as emphasizing student construction of concepts and the relationship between student acquisition of concepts and the concepts’ development in the history of science (Abd El Khalick et al., 2004) and promise the fostering of motivation for students in terms of self-regulated learning.
Teaching inquiry-based learning
Which role the facilitator or teacher should play during science inquiry is widely recognized and answers aren’t always equivocal. This question is very legit and importance for the success of IBL, How should you support the students? Overall there is confusion about the definition of inquiry and what inquiry implies for the teacher (Colburn, 2000). The reform from traditional education to a more inquiry-based learning asks for a paradigm shift. Teachers need to shift their emphasis from textbooks to exploring questions (Crawford, 1999). This might sound easy to implement, but is far from easy. This new paradigm on education asks for specific new actions and teachers shouldn’t ‘simply’ provide hands-on activities for students. Teachers should provide students with inquiry activities that build on prerequisite knowledge and elaborates understanding (Crawford, 1999). This asks for a new approach in teaching which ‘forces’ teachers to change their current form of teaching. Learning in IBL should come from experiments and inquiry activities which should be conducted by collaboration and interaction with other students and teachers. The current situation of science education and the importance of a scientifically literate society is in the course of international comparative studies such as PISA and TIMSS increasingly discussed. With respect to the discussion about deficiencies, shortcomings and inadequateness in the field of science education and the regarding educational mandate of general school education, science education researchers express wide consensus about scientific literacy being the central aim of science education (Gräber & Bolte,1997; Gräber, Nentwig, Koballa & Evans, 2002). Although there is no single right answer as to what defines inquiry-based science, educators have outlined what it looks like. In simple terms it is a learning process or strategy rather than any specific set of lessons. This process aims to enhance learning based on increased student involvement. Through hands-on investigations, knowledge becomes more relevant and easier to comprehend. Inquiry-based science leads to active construction of meaningful knowledge, rather than passive acquisition of facts provided by a teacher. The old Chinese proverb, “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand” is the essence of what inquiry-based science is all about.
Advantages of Inquiry-Based Science
Unfortunately, our traditional educational system has evolved in a way that discourages the natural process of inquiry-learning. The current system is teacher-focused and revolves around giving out information about what is known. The emphasis is on student’s ability to recall facts and master the chosen material so that they may proceed to the next grade level.
However, memorizing facts and information is not the most important skill in today’s world. Facts are constantly changing and thanks to our digital age, we are overwhelmed with information. The skill needed for this new age of information is the ability to examine and make sense of this avalanche of data. Students who actively make observations, collect, analyze, and synthesize information and draw conclusions are developing the critical skills that they will encounter both at school and in the future workforce.
Students need to develop inquiry skills so that they can cope with future situations and become lifelong learners. Ultimately, the significance of inquiry learning is that students learn how to continue learning, something they will use and rely upon throughout their lives.
The science curriculum emphasizes inquiry-based teaching and learning. A balanced and engaging approach to teaching will typically involve context, exploration, explanation and application. This requires a context or point of relevance through which students can make sense of the ideas they are learning. Opportunities for student-led open inquiry should also be provided within each phase of schooling.
The new Macedonian science curriculum provides opportunities for students to develop an understanding of important science concepts and processes, the practices used to develop scientific knowledge, of science’s contribution to our culture and society, and its applications in our lives. The curriculum supports students to develop the scientific knowledge, understandings and skills to make informed decisions about local, national and global issues and to participate, if they so wish, in science-related careers. In addition to its practical applications, learning science is a valuable pursuit in its own right. Students can experience the joy of scientific discovery and nurture their natural curiosity about the world around them. In doing this, they develop critical and creative thinking skills and challenge themselves to identify questions and draw evidence-based conclusions using scientific methods. The wider benefits of this “scientific literacy” are well established, including giving students the capability to investigate the natural world and changes made to it through human activity. Science understanding is evident when a person selects and integrates appropriate science knowledge to explain and predict phenomena, and applies that knowledge to new situations.
Article written by: Natalija Aceska, Scientix Ambassador