Student Independent Investigation
‘Student independent investigations’ should be an important part of any science program. Done properly, they extend learning beyond the curriculum and develop students’ enthusiasm, commitment and academic skills. They are also a way for students to develop deeper understanding of scientific ideas.
The Australian Curriculum: Science recognises the importance of student independent investigation by strongly supporting inquiry-based teaching and learning:
The science curriculum emphasises 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. (ACS, p 15).
Student independent investigations do not naturally occur. It is helpful to provide students with support and direction to navigate their way around the hurdles that can occur with independent research.
Begin early, maintain a journal and provide reflection time
The process of deciding on an independent investigation should start at the beginning of the unit. They can be done in groups or individually.
Encouraging students to keep a diary or journal is helpful. At the end of each lesson, encourage students to review and update their vocabulary chart (Exercise 1.3) and write about areas of interest or questions they would like to explore that have occurred to them during the lesson (Exercise 1.6). Providing time for reflection at the end of the lesson is an approach many teachers have found to be successful.
Support students by scaffolding their thinking
You can do this by:
- helping them identify areas of interest
- helping them to form investigable questions
- providing time for research – the internet is by far the best source
- providing them with a rubric to guide and monitor the investigation
Using a rubric
A rubric is a valuable tool in supporting independent investigations. It not only supports students in completing an investigation but can also be used to evaluate them. Rubrics detail a set of criteria and standards that students are expected to consider when completing the investigation. The outcomes of the investigation are transparent to the students and it makes grading the work simpler for the teacher.
Activity 7 provides you with a rubric that you can use with your students. The criteria closely match the Science inquiry skills detailed in the Australian Curriculum: Science:
- What’s it all about?
- Questions to research
- How I went about it
- What I found
- How I communicate my investigation
Each of these criteria has four levels of competency – from incomplete to exemplary.
The rubric needs to be discussed with students before beginning the independent investigation. By sharing the contents of the rubric with students before they begin you can make them fully aware of the expectations placed upon them.
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