The idea that a high quality science education will encourage children to pursue, evaluate and apply knowledge with a degree of autonomy hardly needs a defence. Yet, in England, scientific enquiry has had a difficult time under the influence of Sc1 in the National Curriculum. In other parts of the United Kingdom it has been less controversial. It is probable that there is a range of innovative work occurring in this field, across all educational stages from nursery to undergraduate, which is not as widely disseminated and supported as it might be.
The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) has therefore commissioned a team at CSSME to undertake a survey of innovative uses of enquiry in the teaching of science across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. NESTA, under its remit through the Lottery Act, provides support for a wide range of creative and innovative projects in education, and more widely. This survey will contribute to the strategic planning of NESTA's Learning Programme and provide a database which will inform its support of innovative work in this field.
The project, which will run from March to June, 2005, aims to gather information about the full range of innovative activity which has occurred during the last five years. It will be as inclusive as possible, but the broad interpretation of science enquiry to be employed relates to activity in which:
- students are responsible for some elements of decision-making about key aspects of their work, such as aims, methods and outcomes, though not necessarily all of these;
- students undertake activities such as raising questions and hypotheses, designing and carrying out the enquiry, revising it based on observations and findings, and presenting the conclusions to others;
- students learn about the methods of science, its outcomes or its uses.
Such activity might occur in specific projects involving schools (such as the Children Challenge Industry project at the University of York, or the Pupil Researcher Initiative), competitive activities (such as those of the Salters Chemistry Club), LEA initiatives for clusters of schools or innovative enquiry work which is part of the formal assessment system. Several other forms of activity might fit the criteria given above, including of course activity which occurs within timetabled science lessons.
The team is particularly anxious to know about work which extends across more than one institution, or across educational phases (e.g., between nursery and primary stages, between primary and secondary school, or between schools, colleges and higher education). We also aim to include work which involves industrial firms or museums.
We have not sought to offer a definition of what we consider 'innovative', but to gather information about as wide a range of activity as possible. In our report we will seek to identify work which is innovative, and to conceptualize this work along various dimensions, including type of activity, location, scale and sustainability.
NESTA intends that this database will be regularly updated, and that it will eventually be made available to other organizations with an interest in supporting enquiry in science education.