C. Vasconcelos1, F. Amador2, J. Torres1

1Universidade do Porto, Faculdade de Ciências, Centro de Geologia (PORTUGAL)
2Universidade Aberta, Centro de Geologia da Universidade do Porto (PORTUGAL)
The physics and natural sciences curriculum of the third cycle of basic education began being implemented in Portugal in 2001. The Ministry of Education adopted a curriculum based in the development of competencies and suggested an inquiry approach to students activities in which they develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas as well as to the activities in which they develop an understanding of how scientists study the natural world. This inquiry-based approach is expected to provide students with the opportunity to plan empirical experiments and/or to research theoretical evidence, in order to find an answer to one specific problem related to daily life. The coordinator of the curriculum design suggested that, in order to be assimilated by students, the latter has to be understood in terms of content knowledge which follows the European recommendations on new forms of teaching and learning. According to the same authors, this emphasis highlights the importance of inquiry-based approaches, the need to facilitate students’ active intellectual engagement and the relevance of learning environments, which facilitate personal and meaningful knowledge construction mediated by social interaction. The present study is integrated in a research project to evaluate the physics and natural sciences curriculum of the third cycle of basic education in Portugal, and reflects the perceptions of 173 students who answered to a short questionnaire. Within the scope of this research project a multi-case study is being conducted. Thus, the evidence resulting from the application of the questionnaire will be combined and analyzed in the wider scope of the results of other study-cases. The questionnaire, validated by the research team and applied during the second trimester of the present scholar year, led to the collection of some data concerning learning experiences of students such as activities developed by teachers, collaborative work, autonomous learning, assessment methods, teaching instructional methodologies and opinions regarding the interest, difficulty, motivation and applicability of scientific knowledge in daily life. Surprisingly (or not so much), the majority of answers indicate that experimental work is only sometimes (Physics Sciences: n= 124; 71,7%) or even rarely or never undertaken (Natural Sciences: n=114; 65,9%). On the other hand students reported that teachers use the textbook in all classes (Physics Sciences: n= 50; 34,7%; Natural Sciences: n=79; 45,7%) and give too many lectures (Physics Sciences: n= 104;60,1%; Natural Sciences: n=95;54,9%). One other particular answer is related to scarcity of technological applications (Physics Sciences: n= 63; 36,4%) and the ongoing excessive use of tests to asses students (Natural Sciences: n=65;37,6%). The communication also presents a profile analysis to compare the Physics Sciences Lessons and Natural Sciences Lessons within each other and with an inquiry-based approach. The results of the questionnaire will be combined with those obtained through other instruments in order to further validate and reinforce any claim. Nonetheless, the students’ perceptions of the implementation of the physics and natural sciences curriculum already give some relevant indication as to the ways curricula designers in Portugal should rethink their designs. Furthermore, they also give relevant information as how to reinvent ways to implement inquiry in science classes.