A study of the implementation of scientific investigations at grade 9 with particular reference to the relationship between learner autonomy and teacher support.
Ramnarain, Umesh Dewnarain.
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The purpose of the study was to investigate the implementation of scientific investigations at Grade 9. The study focussed in particular on the autonomy learners have in doing scientific investigations, and the strategies that teachers employ in supporting learners when they are doing investigations. The study adopted a mixed methodology research design which involved the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative data was collected by means of questionnaires which were administered to teachers and learners. Qualitative data was collected by means of classroom observations, teacher interviews and learner interviews. The general trends that were quantitatively established were validated and explicated by the qualitative analysis. A finding of the study was that at schools where scientific investigations are taking place, the learners have varying degrees of autonomy across the different stages of the investigation. In general, autonomy increases from little autonomy at the start when formulating the investigation question to significant autonomy in drawing conclusions. The study also revealed that both teachers and learners believe that when learners do their own investigations, it facilitates conceptual understating, leads to the development of scientific skills, and helps to motivate learners. In addressing the question of teacher support, the study found that teachers support learners by asking questions at all stages of the investigations, offering suggestions when necessary, giving learners a prompt sheet, and instructing learners in the use of practical techniques. Finally, the study identified class size, the availability of resources, the availability of time, and teacher competence as significant factors which affect the degree of learner autonomy in the implementation of scientific investigations in the classroom. These findings have implications for the implementation of scientific investigations at schools. Firstly, the findings it is believed will inform the practice of teachers who would want to introduce learner-centred investigations in their teaching. Secondly, the study has identified factors which will need to be considered by curriculum planners if the scenario of learners doing their own investigations is to become a reality in South Africa.