Sri Lankan national level examinations are heavily weighted on measuring theoretical knowledge based on book learning. As a result, most of the students who acquire knowledge from the books and tuition are able to perform best in science streams at Advanced Level examination. University Medical, Engineering and Science faculties blame that most of the students don’t have skills or in-depth understanding on the concepts to apply on the situations successfully. I was thinking about how to make an active science learning culture to output skillful students from our schools. It was not easy to make a mind shift within the traditional routing.
But I found an opportunity to try it during Covid 19 pandemic lockdown period. Schools were closed. Continuing holistic curriculum focused on Digital Learning became a challenge. Most of the students don’t have digital equipment and internet facilities. Digital learning was successful at about 40% only. By considering the situation, I planned an exploration guideline to support the less facilitated students of my zone, to learn science with day to day experiences and practical work, within their residential environments, followed by learning theoretical concepts with the help of acquired skills. We implemented the designed activities for the students of grade 6. Led them to acquire skills on given activities with the help of exploration guidelines within their residential environments as well as in the school. Then students were facilitated to acquire knowledge with the help of their teachers in the normal classroom learning or digital learning. Evaluation based on application of concepts was given to the group of students who did prior activities and another grade 6 students who did not do the prior activities of the same region. Students did prior activities were succeeded in achievement of learning outcomes at a rate around 80%. Therefore, I recommend that acquiring knowledge via skills is more effective than acquiring skills via knowledge in science education even after Covid.
Keywords: Knowledge, Skills, Science Education
Thelaniya education zone is situated in Kandy district, Central province, in SriLanka. Few urban schools and large number of rural schools are situated in Theldeniya zone. As a Science educationist I wanted to uplift the quality of science education as well as the quantity of students involve in advanced level science subjects successfully.
I found some major challenges in science education in SriLanka.
On the other hand, Srilankan national level examinations are heavily weighted on measuring theoretical knowledge based on book learning. As a result, most of the students who acquire knowledge from the books and tuition are able to perform best in science streams at Advanced Level examination. University Medical, Engineering and Science faculty lectures blame that most of the students don’t have skills or in-depth understanding on the concepts to apply on the situations successfully.
I consider my experience in the field visit to study the Education system of Finland in 2019.
• Field study of world’s best education system in Finland
• Students acquire firsthand experiences joyfully through activities in Basic school up to age16
• Students learn all the scientific concepts softly within 2 years in Secondary school
• Professionals of general education stream of universities make sound decisions based on research
• Skillful manpower of vocational education stream of universities fulfill job market demands successfully
I was thinking about how to make an active science learning culture to output skillful students from our schools. It was not easy to make a mind shift within the traditional routing. During the Covid pandemic situation, the problem was severe. Online explanations were not sufficient to transform conceptual knowledge as well as skills of science curriculum at secondary level.
With the help of my observations during the field study of Finland Education System, I believe that the best way of learning science is to acquire skills during early stages followed by learning theoretical concepts easily.
Therefore, I designed a simple methodology to implement for grade 6 students at the age of 11. They were guided and facilitated to carry out some experiments and activities by their own science teachers in their residential set ups as well as school to acquire skills necessary for learning scientific concepts. After that, normal science lessons were taught as usual to the sample along with the students do not participate in the prior activities or experiments. At the end of each lesson achievement levels were evaluated. Result was marvelous, that the students did prior activities and experiments were performed better, by acquiring scientific concepts accurately than the students didn’t do the prior activities and experiments at all.
During capacity building workshops for science teachers of my zone, I explained how Finland students involved in the activities to get first-hand experiences under the guidance of teachers as facilitators during their basic education. At the end of 16 years basic education, they enter secondary education and then only they study all the theoretical concepts of science. They are able to catch-up the concepts easily with the help of skills they obtain. I presented some photos and presentations taken in Finland schools during my field visit.
Teachers were highly interested about everything. Some of them agreed to practice in their schools. We decided to start from grade 6. Then we designed some prior activities for science lessons of grade 6. Some activities have to be done in the school and some of them have to be done in their residential environments under the guidance of their teachers. It was highly important for the pandemic period which schools are not opened as usually.
At the moment students, teachers, in service advisers and I myself had frequent connections through WhatsApp groups. We were able to observe how teachers guide students to carry out practical work. We observed how students involved in the work joyfully. Teachers asked the students to record their findings / observations only. Sometimes students have to made reports, demonstrations or presentations as well.
Student activity – Exploration guidelines
Take an umbrella and a silver paper sufficient to cover inner surface of it and a small tin with little water. Go to an open area with strong sunlight. Make a set up to heat up the water in the tin. Draw your set up and label. Write a small description about your effort and results.
Classroom teaching – learning process was implemented after the prior activities. An evaluation was given to measure the achievements of the students. Same evaluation was given to the students who did not do the prior activities but participated the classroom teaching – learning process. Achievement levels were compared to check whether acquiring knowledge via skills is effective than acquiring skills via knowledge.
Science process skills (SPS) are defined as transferable skills that are applicable to many sciences and that reflect the behaviors of scientists.1) They are the skills that facilitate learning in physical sciences, ensure active student participation, have students develop the sense of undertaking responsibility in their own learning, increase the permanence of learning, and also have students acquire research ways and methods, that is, they ensure thinking and behaving like a scientist. For this reason, it is an important method in teaching science lessons. SPS are the building-blocks of critical thinking and inquiry in science (Ostlund, 1992). Learning science lessons by apprehending requires using science process skills (SPS). Having science process skills acquired, at the same time, means preparing future scientists, having scientific literacy acquired, that is enabling students to use science information in daily life (personal, social, and global) (Harlen, 1999). Science process skills are based on scientific inquiry and teaching science by inquiry involves teaching students science process skills, critical thinking, scientific reasoning skills used by scientists (Pratt & Hackett, 1998) and inquiry is defined as an approach to teaching, the acts scientists use in doing science and it can be a highly effective teaching method that helps students for to understanding of concepts and use of process skills (Yager & Akçay, 2010). Due to the above-mentioned importance of science process skills, many researchers have focused on this subject matter. In recent years, many studies have been conducted on students’ acquisition of basic science process skills (BSPS) and integrated science process skills (ISPS). Science- A Process Approach (SAPA) grouped science process skills under two main headings.1) The first is called as basic science process skills (BSPS), such as observing, measuring, and using number, and classifying. BSPS provide the intellectual groundwork in scientific inquiry (Walters & Soyibo, 2001). These skills are those which must be acquired in the first level of primary education. And the latter is called integrated science process skills (ISPS), such as controlling variables, formulating hypotheses, and experimenting. These skills are structured on basic skills. Some studies have indicated that there is a positive relationship between SPS and Piagetian development level and finding supports the separation of process skills into a two-levelhierarchy, namely basic and integrated (Brotherton & Preece, 1995). The role of science process skills in science learning the studies aiming at developing school programs to improve science process skills began in 1960s. A perennial issue in science education concerns the emphasis to be given to methods of science the science process skills- in the school curriculum. AAAS started the studies on the issue in the USA in 1967 while DES did it in England in 1960s (Brotherton & Preece, 1995). Many studies have noted that science process skills are effective on teaching and learning about science (Brotherton & Preece, 1995; Harlen, 1999; Chang & Mao, 1999; Keys & Bryan, 2001; Walters & Soyibo, 2001; Turpin & Cage, 2004; Wilke & Straits, 2005). Children are like scientists. For in many children is already the curiosity for searching and this curiosity leads them to search. In this way, children begin to search at early ages. That is to say, the skills and processes students use and develop are the same as those that scientists use while studying. These studies are necessary for understanding the functioning of nature and preparing livable environments. Scientists make observations, classifications, measurements, and inferences, propose hypotheses, and make experiments as well. Ways of thinking in science are called the process skills (Rezba et al, 1995). When we are doing science, we ask questions and find answers to questions, these are actually the same skills that we all use in our daily lives as we try to solve everyday questions. When we teach students to use these skills in science, we are also teaching them skills that they will use in the future in every area of their lives. The use of science process skills by students increases the permanence of learning. For learning by doing, student uses almost all of his or her senses and learning becomes more permanent and hands-on activities get them to acquire experience. The development of science process skills enables students to solve problems, think critically, make decisions, find answers, and satisfy their concerns. Not only do research skills get students to learn some information about science, but also learning these skills helps them think logically, ask reasonable questions, and seek answers, and solve the problems they encounter in their daily life. Problem solving is the essence of scientific investigations. Students are given a problem, or they identify a problem, then they follow the guidelines of problem-based learning to solve in the problem. As they follow the investigative process, they use the science process skills which are the methods and procedures of scientific investigation.2) Teaching methods such as inquiry teaching, problem solving, problem-based learning and project-based learning relies heavily on the effective use of the science process skills by students to complete an investigation (Colley, 2006). Inquiry science teaching is teaching science by having students engage in more science activities and exercises and encourages children to learn science and learn about science (Olson & Louks-Horsley, 2000). Also, students engaged in simple inquiry engage in processes such as observing, comparing, contrasting and hypothesizing (Cuevas et al., 2005). One area of contemporary research on inquiry is related to children’s understanding and use of science process skills in designing investigations (Keys & Bryan, 2001). Scientific inquiry exercises typically serve as the primary source of science process skill development and inquiry is used to teach science process skills (Wilke & Straits, 2005). According to Minner et al. (2010), the term inquiry has figured prominently in science education, three distinct categories of activities: what scientists do, how students learn, and a pedagogical approach that teachers employ. In a study done in Texas to compare the traditional program and inquiry-oriented science program Mabie & Baker (1996) report that in favor of those following inquiry-oriented science programs there was found a 75% difference in terms of the students’ attitudes towards science. Furthermore inquiry-based instruction produced positive outcomes on student concept learning, (Chiappetta & Russell, 1982; Ertepinar & Geban, 1996; Gabel et al., 1977; Geban et al., 1992); and problem-solving, laboratory instruction, cooperative learning, and discovery instruction methods are commonly referred to as the inquiry science teaching, which often emphasizes extensive use of science-process skills and independent though (Basaga et al., 1994; Mao et al., 1998; Chang & Taipei, 2002; Brickman et al., 2009). It could be concluded here that having science process skills is a prerequisite to learn about science. From a science perspective, inquiry-based science teaching engages students in the investigative nature of science. Inquiry involves activity and skills, but the focus is on the active search for knowledge or understanding to satisfy a curiosity. According to Ketpichainarong et al. (2009) inquiry teaching and learning methods affect student performances, for example in solving problems, reflecting on their work, drawing conclusions, and generating prediction. These qualities are necessary for a high-achieving graduate.
I directly observed the teachers and students’ involvement in the schools and other environments physically as well as digitally.
Students were rather interested in learning science lessons with firsthand experiences. Teachers were happy with the students’ attractive behavior during classroom teaching – learning process which they do not experienced in traditional method. Since this is the first time that students study science as a subject in grade 6, they were highly motivated to learn theories behind day-to-day experiences practically than the students who learn science with textbook, teacher explanation, black/whiteboard only were not interested mostly.
I was able to get opinions of teachers and students on activity-based learning. It reveals how they were involved in the process and the attitudes towards new strategy.
Some opinions of the students:
“I like to learn science very much. I saw my elder sister memorize science textbook before term test. She hates science. But I never forget the things I did and understood what teacher said in the classroom. I don’t memorize the textbook before term test”.
“My parents ask me to attend tuition for science. But I told them that no need for me, I learn and understood everything very well with my teacher”.
“When I do the activities, it’s really joyful to me. Science is in the real world, not in the textbook”.
“I love science. I can do lot of things”.
“Everything around us are miracles”
Some opinions of the teachers who involved in activity-based learning.
“At the beginning I was hesitated that I’m going to do a useless thing. But finally, I wonder about everything …… students’ interest, their achievement, and everything”
“I satisfied a lot. Now students are interested to learn science”
“Really interesting to me also”
“Book learning is not science. I got the real science teaching-learning method”
“Students enjoyed in learning science. I’m happy”
“Grade 6 is the best stage to introduce activity-based science learning”
“Students do the activities more than I thought”
“I appreciate the excellent guidance you provide me to improve my teaching. I never think like this before”
“We changed….our students changed……results will be wonderful”
Results and analysis
Science teaching – learning process should be designed to carry out activity-based experiences followed by learning theoretical concepts for grade 6 -9 students at the age 11 – 14.