Using Inquiry-based Practicals to Promote Students’ Critical Evaluation of the Scientific Literature and Maturation of their Understanding of the Nature of Scientific Knowledge

Kirsten Zimbardi, Anne Loyle-Langholz, Judit Kibedi, Kay Colthorpe

Abstract


Science graduates need to be able to tackle the complex, novel problems they will face in the 21st Century workplace. In Australia, these skills have been formalised as a set of national academic standards for science graduates that highlight essential skills in inquiry and problem solving. Such scientific thinking skills have been shown to be enhanced by inquiry-based curricula. However, within this curriculum, the extent of student learning gains depends on implementation and how student engage with class activities. We video recorded students undertaking inquiry classes to investigate how students engage with the curricula, and asked students to annotate their videos to highlight instances of scientific thinking, with specific reference to the Australian national academic standards for scientific thinking. Interviews through the semester elucidated the development of students’ critical thinking skills during the classes. This methodology allowed us to unpack which specific experiences within inquiry classes provide the most potent learning experiences and drive the maturation of students’ scientific thinking skills. In particular, when students need to integrate their novel or unexpected findings with the scientific literature, most are prompted to develop a more mature understanding of the contestable nature of scientific knowledge and the role of inquiry and experimentation in knowledge creation. This article reports on the places where student thinking appears to go awry, the indicators that signal that students have reached these crucial crossroads, and potential approaches to inquiry curriculum implementation to propel students toward a more mature, nuanced and critical way of interacting with their data and the primary scientific literature.

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