EDUC90989: Capstone Professional Project
Conference Paper Abstract
In the 21st century, there is an increasing need to transform the current science education to focus on scientific knowledge as a process rather than a product (Kim , Tan , & Talaue , 2013). This was fuelled by The National Research Council (National Research Council , 1996) encouraging teachers and schools to engage in authentic science-learning which spearheaded science education reform. Science as an inquiry was sought after as it allowed development of students’ scientific literacy and became an integral part of science curriculum for the 21st century in numerous countries (Abd-El Khalick , et al., 2004).
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Singapore functions through a centralised education system where government schools adhere strictly to policies and frameworks instructed by the Ministry of Education (MOE). In 2013, the new primary science syllabus was structured to be more inquiry centric (Ministry of Education [MOE], 2013), emphasizing that ‘central to the curriculum framework is the inculcation of the spirit of scientific inquiry’ (MOE, 2013, p. 1). Kim, Tan and Talaue (2013) state that despite nationwide efforts to ensure successful implementation of science as an inquiry, research shows that conducting inquiry-based lessons is a challenge for science teachers. My research aims to address the gap in the field to why teachers find it a challenge to conduct inquiry-based lessons in primary science classrooms while it being part of the national curriculum and framework.
I plan to undertake the topic of inquiry-based learning in primary science education. Hence, my work aims to answer, “What are the challenges of primary science teachers as they implement inquiry-based learning in Singapore?” To refine my research, key concepts such as ‘inquiry-based learning’, ‘challenges, ‘primary science’, ‘implementing’ and ‘Singapore’ will be explained in greater detail.
Primary science education in Singapore is defined as the foundation of scientific study while adhering to desired outcomes in education and national education from age seven till twelve (Ministry of Education, 2013). Through the primary science syllabus, the curriculum framework is based on the inculcation of the spirit of scientific inquiry. MOE states ‘inquiry to be grounded in knowledge, issues and questions that relate to the roles played by science in daily life, society and the environment’ (Ministry of Education, 2013, p1) which needs to be implemented during teaching and learning of science. Significant studies have delved into the challenges of science as inquiry in primary science classrooms- external factors (constraints with time, curricular demands) and internal factors (lack of knowledge, beliefs and attitudes) which hinders the use of inquiry-based approach (Chin, Goh, Chia, Lee, & Soh, 1994; Lee, Tan, Goh, Chia, & Chin, 2000; Yoon & Kim, 2010). Subjecting this research in Singapore allows me to understand the implication of inquiry in the everyday realities of high-stakes assessment and a crowded curriculum. (Poon, Lee, Tan, & Lim , 2012 )
My investigation will be developed from a social constructivist perspective as I will be utilising literature review to collect secondary data as a qualitative method. Punch (2014) builds upon the definitions of constructivism from Guba and Lincoln (1994) who state that realities are often local, specific, constructed and socially based. Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2007) concluded that qualitative research regards people as meaning-making beings who actively construct their own meanings of situations by acting on their personal interpretations. As one of the main elements of my research is to determine and analyse the challenges faced by teachers while conducting inquiry-based lessons hence teachers’ interpretations of the particular situation is imperative. Therefore my work will follow a social constructivist perspective as its main aim is to solicit responses from teachers on inquiry-based science lessons.
My research project will be framed under the theoretical view of inquiry-based learning (Schwab, 1962) and intellectual development (Piaget, 1964). The first theory introduces the concept of inquiry-based learning and how it transforms the way learners approach science through critical thinking. Piaget’s theory complements the first theory as intellectual development occurs through construction of thinking skills that progresses through experiences that challenge learners, which corresponds well to science process skills. Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) state that there is a clear distinction between practicing a discipline and learning a discipline for “the way an expert works in his and her domain (epistemology) is not equivalent to the way one learns in the area (pedagogy)” (p 78). Hence, both Schwab’s theory and Piaget’s theory hold great significance in understanding how best students learn in an inquiry-based classroom setting. Furthermore, the theories explain how the pedagogical approaches for science inquiry-based learning have developed, which is critical in understanding challenges faced by teachers.
My research is done through a social constructivist viewpoint and thus strong literature review will be developed, by collecting the necessary data (Punch , 2014). Data would be collected through current scholarly journals in science inquiry-based learning in Singapore, pedagogical approaches in science inquiry-based learning in Singapore and concepts on inquiry-based learning to gain a comprehensive view of the current state of inquiry-based learning in Singapore. In addition, the theories and ideas stated in the methodology will be used to frame my study to understand the challenges faced by teachers.
As a current science educator in Singapore, the opportunity to explore the challenges of inquiry-based learning in science has a significant impact to my Singaporean education fraternity. As a fraternity, we are transforming towards a new era of science teaching and learning where inquiry is key. As stated by Kim, Tan and Talaue (2013), teachers are facing difficulties to implement science inquiry-based lessons. Understanding inquiry-based lesson challenges allows us to gain insight into inquiry-based learning and its pedagogical approaches which will be critical to transform the science education in Singapore successfully.
The challenges of implementing inquiry-based learning can be potentially explained through Schwab’s (1962) theory in inquiry-based learning and how it has been adapted to the Singaporean education system. Piaget’s (1964) theory will provide insights to reasons for challenges through possible incorrect pedagogical approaches that occurs in daily teaching and learning. Other factors such as high-stake assessment, curriculum timeframe and lack of knowledge in inquiry-based learning will be explored.
Limitations to this study include the measure of the word ‘challenge’ from the research questions. It will be difficult to measure what is considered ‘challenging’ as its definition varies throughout research. Based on the brief literature review conducted, approximately only twenty schools have participated in current research on inquiry, which is only a small percentage (10%) of all Singapore primary schools.
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 100% of all primary schools in Singapore are government or government-aided schools (Ministry of Education , 2018).