Educational Reform: Enquiry Based Learning

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Within the current climate of educational reform, where changes to the national curriculum are accused of being focused on acquiring knowledge (Coughlan, 2013), much debate has arisen regarding the importance of practical scientific enquiry as a tool for promoting scholarship (Wellcome Trust, 2013: ASDC, 2013). Through the course of school inspections, carried out in both primary and secondary schools between 2007 and 2010, OfSTED (2011:1) found that the ‘development of the skills of scientific enquiry were key factors in promoting pupils’ engagement, learning and progress.’ Therefore, in accordance with new curriculum guidance (Department for Education, 2013:144), the teaching of science through a combination of acquisition of new knowledge and application of this knowledge in the context of enquiry based learning will support learning and progress while addressing the concerns of critics.
Scientific enquiry involves the development of pattern seeking skills, the ability to test and explain ideas, identifying and classifying properties of elements, the use of technology and fair testing (Howe, et al, 2013:xi). It is the teaching of fair testing, where just one variable (independent) is allowed to affect another (dependent) (Williams, 2011), that often forms the basis for much practical work in primary schools (Goldsworthy, et al, 2000). One of the process skills for developing investigative enquiry (Murphy, 2003:11), fair testing enables pupils to understand the need to test scientific phenomena or questions in a reliable way that will result in scientifically valid data (McMacIntyre & Lewthwaite, 2005). As a result of this need for accuracy, teaching the concept of fair testing can prove to be challenging for both teachers and...

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