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Study Assesses Delivery of Science Inquiry Skills in K to 12 Curriculum

Researchers at the Assessment, Curriculum and Technology Research Centre have conducted a scoping study into the teaching of science inquiry skills under the Philippines’ new K to 12 Curriculum. The new curriculum emphasises the learning of inquiry skills – the methods of scientific investigation – in addition to the acquisition of content or scientific knowledge. To evaluate the degree to which this new emphasis is being adopted, ACTRC researchers compared the intended curriculum (what is to be taught) to the implemented curriculum (what is being taught) and the achieved curriculum (what is being learned by students).

Drawing on recent studies into the teaching and assessment of science in Asia, Europe and the USA, ACTRC identified a range of skills used in science inquiry, such as observing, classifying, measuring, inferring and hypothesizing. They found that all these skills were represented at some point in the Key Stage Standards of the new Curriculum Guide (K-3, 4-6, 7-10 and 11-12) but that the skills were less well represented in the Grade Level Standards (K, G1, G2, etc.) and sparsely represented in some parts of the Learning Competencies for the different science units at the grade levels (e.g. Living Things and Their Environment, Grade 8). In other words, the researchers found that as the new science curriculum becomes more detailed, the specific skills required for science inquiry can become less apparent. In contrast, science inquiry skills are clearly represented in the Learner’s Modules and Teacher’s Guides, although some skills appear repeatedly in those texts, while others are not mentioned. These observations suggest that the intended curriculum would benefit from revision to improve its consistency and achieve greater precision in reference to the inquiry skills it is designed to promote.

To ascertain the implemented curriculum, three methods were combined. Classroom observations were made of 22 Grade 8 Science teachers across 11 schools, resulting in a total of 204 one-hour observations. These revealed that some science inquiry skills were frequently referred to by teachers. For example, students were regularly asked ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions, which focus on scientific inquiry, in addition to ‘what’ questions, which focus on content knowledge. Teachers also asked students to record observations and measurements and to connect explanations with existing scientific knowledge – important science inquiry skills. The observations also revealed that participating teachers used the Learner’s Module, in which the science inquiry skills are represented, to plan or deliver lessons and that all their students had access to the module, though some copies were shared.

ACTRC researchers also examined teachers’ lesson plans or logs and conducted interviews with the teachers and the 11 Science department heads. These measures revealed that the teachers understood science inquiry as a method that requires students to engage in hands-on tasks, gather evidence, formulate explanations and draw conclusions. However, some science inquiry skills, such as the use of scientific instruments, the tabulation of results and the testing of variables, were seldom seen in classrooms. It was noted that few schools had science laboratories or equipment to facilitate the learning of these skills, and many did not have spacious rooms where students could engage in group work.

A test of science inquiry skills was developed by ACTRC and administered to 1,769 Grade 8 students in the observed classrooms. From the results of this test, four levels of skill were identified: ability to measure, observe and classify; ability to answer questions using results from scientific inquiries; ability to relate answers to current scientific knowledge; and ability to experiment with multiple variables. These levels did not align exactly with the Key Stage Standards in the curriculum, which suggests that some review of information provided to teachers might be beneficial. Having access to more information about science inquiry in the curriculum might provide greater alignment between what is taught and what the students are ready to learn at each level.

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