Stellenbosch University (SOUTH AFRICA)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2013 Proceedings
Publication year: 2013
Pages: 3660-3668
ISBN: 978-84-616-3847-5
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 6th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 18-20 November, 2013
Location: Seville, Spain
The purpose of this study conducted in 2012 was to compare students’ evaluations of their experiences of scientific inquiry in their science fair projects with their evaluations of their experiences of scientific inquiry in scientific investigation in the classroom. A mixed-methods approach was used involving a questionnaire survey and structured interviews. The survey design was used in which a convenient sample of 334 (105 males and 229 women) grades 7-12 learners from 34 Stellenbosch Region schools in South Africa responded to an adapted two-part Principles of Scientific Investigation (PSI-S) questionnaire designed and validated by Campbell et al.’s (2010). The questionnaire sought to determine the extent to which learners experienced science fair projects and classroom based scientific investigations to be conforming to scientific inquiry principles.

That is, the extent of open-endedness or learner-centredness with respect to how much information or direction is given to learners in
a) the formulation of research questions,
c) the design of the investigation procedure
d) the conduct of the investigation procedure and
e) drawing of conclusions in the solution process. Bell et al’s (2005) four-level model of inquiry was used to analyse the extent of open-endedness and teacher-directedness.
The interviews sought to establish the main sources of science fair project assistance.

Findings suggest that the science fair project experience was evaluated as offering significantly greater opportunities for learners to experience more authentic scientific inquiry than classroom scientific investigations. However, neither the science fair nor the classroom offered perfect scientific inquiry. The Internet, professional parents and public facilities such as libraries and science centres seemed to be the main sources of out-of-school support solicited by students who participated in the Stellenbosch Regional Science Fair.

The implications of the study are that since learners who participate in science fairs have an additional opportunity to experience the true nature of science (NOS) science fair activities should be decentralised to afford mass participation. Governments in developing countries should expand the provision of school IT infrastructures to democratise Internet access and narrow the gap between students from socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged communities. In-service (and indeed pre-service) science teacher education should be adequately resourced to support teachers in entrenching authentic scientific inquiry in their classrooms and in science fair project preparation.

Bell, R. L., Smetana, L., & Binns, I. (2005). Simplifying inquiry instruction. The Science Teacher, October , 30-33.
Campbell, T., Abd-Hamid, N. H., & Chapman, H. (2010). Development of instruments to assess teacher and student prerceptions of inquiry experiences in science classrooms. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 21, 13-30
Expo for Young Scientists, science fair, principles of scientific inquiry, practical work, scientific investigations, creativity, out-of-school support.