/ 21 November 2023

Inquiry-based science education training for natural sciences teachers in Oudtshoorn

An interesting, exciting, engaging and rewarding experience for all who attended

Advancing Knowledge NPC held a series of interactive Natural Science training sessions for InterSen (Grades 4-7) and Senior Phase (Grades 8 and 9) in the first week of October 2023 during the school vacation period. The training was offered in the form of a short course called Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE01) endorsed by the South African Council of Educators (SACE). The SACE endorsement means teachers who successfully complete the course obtain Professional Development (PD) points which can be used to demonstrate their development, especially when they submit applications for new posts. The course was offered in collaboration with the science subject advisors of the Eden and Central Karoo Education District and supported by The Albert Wessels Trust and Garden Cities Archway Foundation.

A total of 30 natural science teachers attended the course. The central theme for both InterSen and SP streams was inculcating critical inquiry skills from a practical and experimental perspective. Teachers were guided through the important elements of inquiry-based approach dealing with the scientific method and clarifying challenging conceptions around dependent, independent and constant variables through the practical application of curriculum content. 

In both phases teachers received hands-on training from experienced facilitators using mostly everyday resource materials, developing teaching aids in natural science and managing IBSE in each of the four curriculum knowledge areas in Natural Science, namely matter and materials (chemistry), energy and change (physics), Earth and beyond (astronomy) and life and living (life sciences). The InterSen and SP programmes were conducted in parallel along these four knowledge areas.

Inquiry-based science education (Ibse01) course: Matter and Materials


The INTERSEN (grades 4-7) chemistry component produced an environment of excitement and enthusiasm with the participants as they engaged with the inquiry-based activities presented by the facilitator Zaiboen Ahmed and science intern Nabeelah Layloo. Teachers delved into investigative activities in chromatography, compressibility of matter, acid-base reactions and testing the strength of materials. The Senior Phase (grades 8 and 9) chemistry component of Natural Science was facilitated by Portia Naidoo supported by science intern Nabeelah Layloo.

Teachers were presented with the important elements of inquiry-based approach to science teaching and allowed to discuss the approach they use for various parts of the chemistry component. Teachers were taken by hand and assisted with the preparation, testing and reaction of various gases such as oxygen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The preparation of oxygen drew special attention as individual teachers had to do the experiment on their own and demonstrate how they would burn metals and non-metals in oxygen jars they prepared — they were tested on this aspect in the practical examination.

Energy and Change (Physics)

Both InterSen and Senior Phase physics components of the course were presented by experienced facilitator Robert Solomon, supported by project coordinator Melissa Petersen. InterSen teachers were exposed to elementary experiments and investigative activities which they could directly apply in their natural science classes including energy transfers (convection, conduction and radiation), forces, electricity and electromagnetism. 

The use of everyday substances to illustrate the concepts, principles and theory in Natural Science had a direct resonance with teachers as they keenly used the practical investigation to explain their understanding. The Senior Phase teachers were introduced to various every day and alternative (to the textbook) examples of teaching energy changes (potential, kinetic, electrical) and forces including the aspects of forces that play a role in everyday life.

Various scenarios were presented and teachers had to make predictions, build circuits, draw circuits and stipulate whether their predictions were correct or not.

Life and Living (Life Sciences)


The life sciences sessions for InterSen and Senior Phase respectively were facilitated by Dawn Faroe, supported by SAASTA intern Rushda Benjamin. InterSen teachers were engaged from the start of the session with preparing live plants cells under the microscope, specimens of different animals, food chains with specimens of real animals and plants, illustrating and creating habitats of animals, extracting chlorophyll from leaves, testing for starch, etc as some of the science activities conducted. 

Senior Phase teachers were constructively engaged through inquiry-based activities in a hands-on creative space designed to illustrate the different practical aspects of photosynthesis, representations of how human vital organs work, as well as microscopy. The activities were specifically developed to allow ease of application in teachers’ everyday natural science classes. 

Earth and Beyond (Astronomy)


Facilitator Andrew Firth supported by Mark Ogilvie tested both InterSen and Senior Phase teachers on their basic understanding of astronomy, how day and night occurs, the role of the moon on tides as well as how eclipses occur. Teachers were introduced to constellations and the folklore behind them, especially South African folklore. Teachers were exposed to computer programs like Stellarium (program for viewing stars, constellations and folklore) and Celestria (viewing planets, comparing planets and individual planets, moons, etc.) as part of their teaching material to make lessons more interesting for their learners. 

Practical examinations

At the end of each of the InterSen and SP courses, every teacher was individually assessed in a practical examination in each of the knowledge areas, where they had to set up apparatus and equipment, measure and mix the right ratio of chemicals, conduct experiments, connect the electric circuits, measure current, voltage and resistance, extract chlorophyll from leaves, test for starch, identify heavenly bodies, predict seasons, time and dates, etc as required by the four knowledge areas.


During the evaluation session, teachers and subject advisors expressed their appreciation for the professional value-addition of the course and for making it an interesting, exciting, engaging and rewarding experience to attend during their vacation period. They were also very positive towards the course and requested additional support in the evaluation forms completed.

You are welcome to contact Professor Shaheed Hartley ([email protected]), Academic Head of Advancing Knowledge NPC, should additional information be required.