Strategies for assessment of inquiry learning in science in a Danish context

Morten Rask Petersen, Thomas R. S. Albrechtsen, Claus Michelsen

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Since the publication of the Rocard report (European Commission, 2006) the focus on implementing an IBSE approach in science education has intensified. The report was from one of the first EU projects where it specifically was the IBSE that was wanted. In an international overview on inquiry in science education Abd-El-Khalick and colleagues (2004) discuss the purpose of using IBSE and distinguish between two approaches namely inquiry as means and inquiry as ends. Inquiry as means is using IBSE as an approach to get more scientific knowledge while inquiry as ends is getting to know and understand scientific inquiry in itself.
For an assessment purpose these different approaches clearly gives two distinct different ways. If we are to assess specific scientific knowledge we can do so through summative assessment and tests. But if we are to assess skills, competencies and procedural knowledge it would be more appropriate to use a more formative assessment (Black, 2002).
In several European science curricula there is room for this latter approach but it seems that it is not carried out in practice. In a review of national curricula among partners of the SAILS (Strategies for Assessment of Inquiry Learning in Science) project shows that the valuing of skills and competencies is present but it is not implemented in the assessment approaches:

“This review of national contexts indicates that although inquiry and its associated skills and competencies are valued in the national curriculum in all countries, it is not reflected in the assessment used in most of the participating countries. We feel that this highlights a need for assessment instruments and tools that measure the inquiry skills of students. If these skills are not being assessed, it is difficult for teachers and students to realise the value of inquiry based methodologies.” (McLoughlin et al., 2013, p. 108)

It is the aim of the SAILS project to develop materials for teachers to use in assessing student skills and competencies obtained by IBSE. It is done by finding exemplary lesson plans with inquiry approaches. To these plans we develop assessment materials for the specific skills and competencies within. This presentation contains results from an investigation of the usage of such materials in a Danish context with material from five teachers trying out 2 different materials – one on UV-radiation for lower secondary level and one on natural selection for upper secondary level. This aim is to answer the question:
How do teachers in Danish secondary schools approach the challenge of assessing student skills and competencies obtained through inquiry?

To inform us on our research question we use a case study approach combined with qualitative analysis of interviews with teachers and students.
In the first case groups of 4 to 6 students worked on UV-radiation for 2 lessons (90 minutes). The task was first to find any indicators of UV- radiation, then to find sources for UV-radiation and then finally to design and carry out investigations on how to protect themselves from UV-radiation. Before and during work teachers explicitly pointed out to the students that a key focus was to design scientific investigations and manage different variables.
In the second case groups of 5 to 6 students worked on simulating natural selection with LEGO® bricks (Christensen-Dalsgaard & Kanneworf, 2008) for four lessons (180 minutes). The task was to see effects of natural selection on a specific trait (movement) and on the combination of gene pools within small populations.

For both cases we made video recordings of students work and wrote field notes during the lessons. Afterwards the teachers from both cases were interviewed as well as the students from the case of natural selection.
Field notes and video recordings were analyzed as cases (Flyvbjerg, 2010). Semi-structured interviews were conducted with three teachers from the first case of UV-radiation and with two teachers and 21 students form the second case on natural selection (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009). The interviews were transcribed, coded and analyzed through “Directed content analysis” (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005).
In analyzing the materials we found that there were a number of findings crossing the boundary between lower secondary and upper secondary school. In the following we therefore refer to both teachers at both levels:
• Teachers find it important to focus on assessing skills and competencies in science education.
• Teachers also find that there is no hindrance in the curriculum for changing the assessment approach in the direction of skills and competencies on behalf of a more content based approach.
• Teachers find it hard to assess student’s skills and competencies during their inquiry work.
• Teachers find the developed assessment structures useful in their daily work both as tools for planning and conducting assessment and as tools for student’s self-assessment.
• Teachers find that the main hindrance for implementing an assessment approach for skills and competencies is a strong content focused identity among science teachers.

Discussion and conclusions
The findings show that teachers at both levels would like to do more inquiry teaching in their classes. It shows that teachers use approaches with IBSE both as means and as end and they differentiate between these approaches. They feel somewhat competent to do so and they do not find any hindrances in doing so when analyzing their curricula. The biggest hindrance is at both levels an identity among science teachers that focusses on content knowledge instead of skills and competencies.
This is an area that we did not expect to show up in our investigation. We would like to unfold this area more to both uncover the scale of such an understanding of colleagues and to find possible solutions for overcoming this hindrance for assessment of skills and competencies.
This work was granted through the EU FP7. We would like to thank the other participants in the SAILS project for contributing amongst other with inquiry materials and assessment strategies.

Abd‐El‐Khalick, F., Boujaoude, S., Duschl, R., Lederman, N. G., Mamlok‐Naaman, R., Hofstein, A., Niaz, N., Treagust, D. & Tuan, H. L. (2004). Inquiry in science education: International perspectives. Science Education, 88(3), 397-419.

Black, P. (2002). Working inside the black box: Assessment for learning in the classroom. Granada Learning.

Christensen-Dalsgaard, J., & Kanneworff, M. (2009). Evolution in Lego®: a physical simulation of adaptation by natural selection. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 2(3), 518-526.

European Commission (Ed.). (2006). Science education now: A renewed pedagogy for the
future of Europe. Brussels: European Commission Directorate-General for Research.
Retrieved from

Flyvbjerg, B. (2010). Fem misforståelser om casestudiet (Five Misunderstandings about Case-Study Research). Kvalitative metoder, København: Hans Reitzels Forlag, 463-487.

Hsieh, H. F., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative health research, 15(9), 1277-1288.
Kvale, S., & Brinkmann, S. (2009). Interview: introduktion til et håndværk. Hans Reitzel.

McLoughlin, E., Finlayson, O., van Kampen, P. & McCabe, D (2013): Report on how IBSE is involved in national curricula and assessment in the participating countries, SAILS consortium, EU.
Original languageEnglish
Publication dateJun 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014
EventNordic Research Symposium on Science Education - Helsinki University, Helsinki, Finland
Duration: 4. Jun 20146. Jun 2014


ConferenceNordic Research Symposium on Science Education
LocationHelsinki University

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