/ 11 May 2024

Advancing Knowledge NPC’s inquiry-based science education training for InterSen (grades 4-7) Natural Science teachers


The first step is walking teachers through the inquiry-based approach to teaching science and improving their pedagogic skills and content knowledge

Advancing Knowledge NPC (AK NPC) is an experienced outreach, support, training and research non-profit company in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education. It offers a range of training opportunities to STEM teachers throughout the year. The members of AK NPC are highly experienced practitioners in STEM Education and have over the years developed a comprehensive approach to STEM teaching and learning. 

The training of science teachers to be confident, effective and efficient propagators of science is central to the support provided to schools. Teachers undergo a rigorous hands-on training programme, which consists of model classes facilitated by experts in their discipline and a learning resource development section using readily available substances. As Professor Shaheed Hartley, Director of AK NPC, puts it: “The emphasis here is placed on teaching through an inquiry-based approach and allowing the theory and critical skills to emanate from the practice. Hence the first stage of our science development initiative is to take a cohort of science teachers by the hand and to walk them through the inquiry-based approach to teaching science and improving their pedagogic skills and content knowledge.” 

During April 2024, AK NPC started with a series of training sessions for InterSen (grades 4-7) Natural Science teachers using a SACE endorsed course called Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE01) as the basis for the training. The course was conducted in Lansdowne at the science laboratory of Portia Primary School. A total of 22 schools and 44 science teachers from four Western Cape education districts registered for the course. The course is divided into the four knowledge areas of the natural sciences curriculum. The training for each knowledge area was facilitated in different sessions using the inquiry-based approach. The course forms part of the ongoing science promotion, support and development endeavours supported by the AK NPC, Garden Cities Archway Foundation and Western Cape Education Department partnership.

Teaching Energy & Change (Physics) using inquiry-based methodologies

The first of four training sessions for Grades 4-7 Natural Science teachers was held on Tuesday 9 April 2024. The content of the first session dealt with the Natural Science curriculum knowledge area called Energy & Change (Physics). The session was facilitated by the experienced lecturer Robert Solomon, supported by AK NPC science interns Saadiqah Fraden and Michaela Willoughby. Teachers were introduced to critical inquiry skills through practical hands-on activities in energy and change. 

Teachers were guided, supported, motivated and challenged using elementary everyday products to illuminate scientific concepts, principles and theories by basic demonstrations followed by hands-on activities that teachers could implement in their science classrooms. By asking the right questions teachers could draw on answers obtained from the practical activities that lead to reinforcing basic inquiry skills. Teachers enthusiastically participated in every activity as they negotiated their way to mastering basic skills. The session was “challenging, interesting, informative, practical, engaging and thought-provoking” were some of the descriptions offered by participants.


Teaching Life & Living in Natural Science through an inquiry-based lens 

On Wednesday 17 April 2024, Advancing Knowledge NPC held the second session of the SACE endorsed Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE01) course for InterSen (grade 4-7) teachers. This session dealt with the Life and Living knowledge area of Natural Science and was facilitated by Dawn Faroe, supported by the two AK NPC interns. Teachers actively participated in the life sciences activities and enjoyed the challenges presented to them. 

From designing habitats, to guiding food chains, preparing slides for microscopy and chromatography on leaves, teachers were engaged in hands-on inquiry-based practical work eliciting critical questions and providing creative solutions. The activities were specifically selected to allow ease of application in their everyday natural sciences classes. 

In a discussion, teachers agreed with one participant when she stated that, “I like what this session is about as the resources we use to explain issues like food chains and habitats of animals are readily available and our learners would definitely be engaged, and would even add their own creativity in the practical aspect of the content”. Teachers were quite eager to participate in the discussions and to add their own experiences to the group.

Teaching Astronomy as an inquiry-based journey into space

On Wednesday 24 April 2024, Advancing Knowledge NPC held its third session for InterSen (grades 4-7) Natural Sciences teachers at the science laboratory of Portia Primary in Lansdowne. This session dealing with the knowledge area earth & beyond (Astronomy) was facilitated by Andrew Firth, assisted by Mark Ogilvie and AK NPC interns. Astronomy software was loaded on participating teachers’ laptop computers that allowed them access to some of the latest programs to view, study and interrogate planet Earth and other planets in our solar system as well as the Milky Way and other nearby galaxies, as part of their journey into space. 

A number of earth & beyond hands-on activities that teachers could replicate in their natural sciences classes were introduced. One group of teachers indicated that they never had Astronomy included in their studies and that the session served to challenge their own understanding of Astronomy as “it is one of the areas where we need more of these kinds of training sessions to make our science lessons more interesting for the learners”.

Teaching Matter & Materials (Chemistry) from an inquiry-based perspective

The last of four sessions of Advancing Knowledge NPC’s training for InterSen (grades 4-7) Natural Sciences teachers was held on Tuesday 30 April 2024. This inquiry-based programme was facilitated by the experienced science lecturer Zaiboen Ahmed, supported by AK NPC science interns Saadiqah Fraden and Michaela Willoughby. The session started with the basic understanding of chemistry, the periodic table, formation of compounds, chemical reactions and balancing of equations. Teachers were guided through the important components of the inquiry-based approach including the scientific method, conceptions around dependent, independent and constant variables and investigative activities in chromatography, compressibility of matter, acid-base reactions, forces and balancing of forces and testing the strength of materials.

The science activities used practical examples such as simple chemical reactions, strength and applicability of materials and chromatography to get every teacher hands-on and participating. Teachers agreed that they could use the activities in their science classes as part of their Matter & Materials lessons. The inquiry philosophy and hands-on activities had teachers asking the right questions which “will definitely be translated into our own lessons”.

Teachers received their course certificates at the end of the session.

Evaluation of the course

The following are examples of teachers’ perceptions of the course, as expressed in their evaluation forms: 

  • The course exposed me to easier ways to show learners how fun science in CAPS can be.
  • It has definitely changed my perception of presenting my lessons in natural science.
  • The course certainly challenged me in terms of my content knowledge and practical presentations for my lessons. 
  • The course provided me with ideas and tips of everyday materials and how to incorporate exciting experiments in my lessons.
  • I’m trained as a maths and economics teacher so teaching NS sometimes comes with challenges. This course improved my content knowledge but especially how to deliver content practically.
  • I am able to translate the skills learnt into my lessons using the practical approach.
  • Yes, the course has given me ideas on practicals that I can do with everyday resources, but also the discussion in the groups I worked in shared valuable insight into how others teach.
  • Yes, my expectations were actually exceeded by the course, because I implemented what we learnt here in my NS lessons and it worked great.
  • The practical examples were very helpful and it’s things that I can do in my classroom with my learners.
  • The course and facilitators have definitely whet my appetite for teaching science practically. We need more of these kinds of courses. We can take the practical examples done in the sessions straight into our NS lessons for our learners and resources are easy to get.