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Inside investigation

Take 1,000 science teachers, 500 from key stage 2 and 500 from key stage 3, ask them lots of questions and you get a picture of what's happening in investigative work.

The AKSIS (ASE King's College Science Investigations in Schools) project set out to explore the variety of investigations being carried out in schools.

Most teachers are familiar with the "fair test" type of investigation; however, not all investigations have the same structure as a fair test. For example, some may feature classifying, while others may involve observing natural phenomena and seeking patterns in the findings. We asked teachers to describe in detail the last investigation they carried out with their class and sorted their responses into six categories (see box below).

Looked at in more detail, 30 per cent of the fair test investigations related to just four contexts - dissolving, thermal insulation, pulse rate and friction. Teachers recognised that their pupils often get a narrow experience of investigative work, and many said they wanted to see greater diversity, particularly at key stage 3.

Teachers also wanted greater emphasis on the last part of the investigation, where pupils consider their data. However, teachers may find that their pupils need extra support if they are to tackle this competently. A study of pupils' work showed that 75 per cent of bar charts and line graphs were constructed incorrectly, making it difficult to analyse the results.

To help pupils learn how to construct and use graphs, we have designed a set of teaching activities which look at graphs from bar charts to lines of best fit. One activity asks pupils to take a table of results and turn it into a "human bar chart". One pupil acts as the vertical axis, suitably adorned from head to foot with stickers to represent the numbers on the scale. Other children then stand alongside to represent the various bars. Early trials show that these strategies are working well.

* THE Aksis project team will be running three sessions at the ASE's annual meeting: two will focus on strategies to help teach investigations (KS2 at 11.30am and KS3 at 4pm, Friday, Palmer 109); the third will give more detail from the questionnaire data (11.30am, Saturday, Palmer 109). For further information, contact: Dr Rod Watson, King's College London, Cornwall House, Waterloo Road, London SE1 8WAE-mail: rod.watson@kcl.ac.uk

THE AKSIS PROJECT

Kind of investigation............................... KS2 KS3

.......................................................% %

Fair testing

(How does temperature affect the rate of dissolving?)........ 50 82

Classifying and identifying

(Which materials conduct electricity? What is this substance?) 9 2

Pattern seeking

(Do dandelions in the shade have longer leaves than those in the light?) 2

2

Exploring

(What happens when you mix these liquids together?)......... 16 3

Making things or developing systems

(How can you make a weighing machine from elastic bands?)... 12 4

Investigating models

(Does the mass of a substance increase or decrease during combustion?) 0 0

No response or insufficient detail............................ 11 7

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