Performance of students in three KwaZulu-Natal Colleges of Education of the Open University preparatory course 'Into science'.
Bailey, David Andrew.
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The aim of this research was to contribute towards the evaluation of a trialled preparatory science programme called 'Into Science', by investigating to what extent there was an improvement in the participating students' understanding of scientific concepts and their command of science skills. The sample group involved in the trialling ofthe 'Into Science' course was students from three interested KwaZulu-Natal Colleges of Education. The research instruments used to determine whether there was an improvement in scientific understanding were largely two sets of pre- and post-tests. The first set was designed around concepts and skills specifically taught by the 'Into Science' course whilst the second set attempted to assess whether there had been any development ofthe recognised science process skills, using questions which had been designed by the Assessment ofPerformance Unit (APU) in the United Kingdom. In addition to these preand post-tests, a qualitative dimension in the research was also included since it was felt that the impressions ofthe sample group involved in the trialling of these materials was also important. The results from this research indicate that the 'Into Science' programme could be successfully used in South Africa, despite some minor reservations discussed in this dissertation. Findings included the following. • Although almost all the students showed an improvement between the pre- and the posttest on the questions testing 'Into Science' concepts and skills, in the post-test many were still scoring poorly on fairly simple questions. Noticeable improvements were made in areas such as the understanding and application of scientific topics such as area, volume, density, concepts and tenninology associated with basic chemistry, and the plotting and understanding of graphical representations. • Although it became apparent during the research that certain of the questions used in the 'APU' derived pre- and post-tests were problematic in various ways, answers from the students to the questions did complement some of the results obtained from the 'Into Science' pre- and post-tests. For example, responses to 'APU' derived questions also showed an improvement with respect to the interpretation of graphical representations and the plotting of graphs. In addition however, their answers also provided for some other interesting feedback such as the following. Many of the students experienced problems in answering questions where the data was presented less sequentially or the question was posed in a fonnat which they were not used to. Problems were experienced with the application of conceptual knowledge to experimental situations. • During interviews conducted at the three colleges, it was found that the majority of the students involved in the trial were most enthusiastic and positive about the 'Into Science' materials and the type of teaching and learning fonnat that they had been introduced to during the 'Into Science' course. Indeed, the students indicated their interest in pursuing further studies along similar lines, should the opportunity present itself to them at a later date. If the 'Into Science' programme is to be successfully used in South Africa, the recommendation 11 is that a variety of support structures will also need to be made available in order to ensure the success ofthe programme. These support structures include the following. • Weekly tutorial sessions. • Additional explanation inserts, exerCIses and assignments III areas of perceived difficulty. • The establishment of greater confidence with respect to experimental work through the use of frequent laboratory sessions. • Telephonic and e-mail help lines, fax facilities etc.