/ 12 June 2024

Hands-on inquiry-based training offered to grades 8 and 9 natural sciences teachers 


They learned how to perform simple experiments that can easily be transferred to their daily natural science classes

Advancing Knowledge Non-Profit Company (AK NPC) held its second round of training for natural sciences teachers in the science laboratory of Portia Primary School in Lansdowne. Four sessions of training were held in May 2024 for educators teaching natural sciences in the senior phase (grades 8 and 9). The first round was conducted in April 2024 for intersen phase (grades 4-7) teachers. A total of 28 grades 8 and 9 natural science teachers from 20 western cape schools registered for the course. 

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 promotion posts. The central theme of the training was inculcating critical inquiry skills using a practical approach. 

Teachers were involved in hands-on training from experienced facilitators using mostly everyday resource materials, developing teaching aids in natural science and performing simple experiments that can easily be transferred to their daily natural science classes. They 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. 

The course was supported by the Garden Cities Archway Foundation and the GET Natural Sciences provincial office of the Western Cape Education Department. The Natural Sciences curriculum is divided into four knowledge areas, each of which was addressed in the sessions held throughout the month of May 2024.

Investigating chemistry with an inquiry-based approach

The senior phase (grades 8 and 9) chemistry component (matter and materials knowledge area) of Natural Science was facilitated by Weedaad Haas, supported by the AK NPC science interns Saadiqah Fraden and Michaela Willoughby on Wednesday 8 May 2024. Teachers were guided through the elements of inquiry-based science lessons and drawn in discussing this approach by conducting simple chemistry experiments themselves and critiquing the outcomes they reached. 

The different pedagogical approaches used to distinguish between experiments and investigations led to many challenges in teachers’ understanding of dependent, independent and constant variables. Many teachers were taken by the hand in doing the experiments, as confidence in doing practical work varies between teachers and schools. 

In the end, the environment created was one where teachers needed to feel safe to ask questions and challenge their own understanding, knowledge and skills as well creating a supportive community of practice amongst the participating natural science teachers. As one science teacher expressed as part of their evaluation of the session: “I certainly enjoyed the session especially the experiments where accuracy in measurement influences the results you obtain. And in chemistry everyone can see from the outcomes, whether your experiments work or not. This would be very exciting to do with our science learners.”

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Delving into astronomy as an inquiry-based adventure

On Wednesday 15 May 2024, Facilitator Andrew Firth supported by Mark Ogilvie and AK NPC interns took the senior phase teachers on a journey from earth to the other planets in our solar system, from our Milky Way to other galaxies. Teachers were challenged on their basic understanding of astronomy, the changes from day to night, how the moon influences tides, and what happens during eclipses. 

Software packages like Stellarium (a programme for viewing stars, constellations and folklore) and Celestria (viewing planets, comparing planets and individual planets, moons, etc.) were loaded on teachers’ laptop computers and they were guided how to use these programmes as part of their teaching resources, to make lessons more interesting for their learners. One teacher said: “We were never given courses in astronomy during our studies, and we had to basically develop our own resources. This session has not only provided us with much-needed resources, but also guided us on how to use the software in our natural science lessons.”

Viewing life sciences through an inquiry-based lens

The life sciences sessions for senior phase natural sciences were facilitated by Fadlie Wagiet and Dawn Faro, supported by AK NPC interns on Wednesday 22 May 2024. Teachers were engaged with a series of hands-on inquiry-based activities including preparing slides for microscopy, working with the microscope to view slides of different organelles, developing models to represent how human vital organs work, testing the various parts of photosynthesis in leaves including demonstrating the role of starch, oxygen and carbon dioxide in photosynthesis process. 

The activities were specifically developed to allow ease of application in teachers’ everyday natural science classes. This is indeed what a group of three teachers agreed on, who said: “What is nice is that we can basically take these life sciences activities and let our learners do this as part of their practical work.”

Sparking physics with inquiry-based activities

The senior phase physics component (energy and change knowledge area) of natural science was presented by experienced facilitator Robert Solomon supported by the science interns of AK NPC on Tuesday 28 May 2024. During this session teachers were involved in a number of inquiry-based investigative activities which they could directly apply in their natural science classes including energy transfers (convection, conduction and radiation), electromagnetism and especially electric circuits. 

A number of scenarios were presented to teachers where they were challenged to build circuits, change aspects of the circuits and make predictions and defend their explanations based on the practical activity on which they were working. The session was very lively. One group of teachers said that they would keep their learners very busy with the activities that they were exposed to in the session.

Course evaluation

The following are excerpts from grade 8 and 9 natural sciences teachers’ views, as expressed in their evaluation forms: 

  • As a novice teacher and sometimes getting demotivated learners it can be really difficult. With the training, I will be able to make my learners have fun and engage, rather than to give them more notes that they don’t enjoy.
  • The sessions allowed me to discover new ways in which a lesson can be interpreted in class. They were all so different and made me excited for when I need to eventually teach the topic.
  • As a first-year teacher, I really needed a broader perspective on the topics and this training helped me with that. It made it easier for me to understand and pass it to the learners.
  • Definitely learnt a lot. Got new insights on most of the topics. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • The training added significant value towards my professional development both in terms of how I viewed practical work and how important it is to have our learners do it as it plays a huge role on how they grasp the content.
  • This programme training was extremely beneficial and interesting. One could relate to the various activities that were completed and even use everyday products to create experiments.
  • Each session was different and benefitted the variety of content of the work. Doing the content physically and without long theory explanation, and just getting into it helps in understanding the topic.
  • I’m more confident with practical, hands-on experiments, for example I was afraid to operate electronic devices like resistors, and now I’m confident to do practicals in class. I definitely liked the inquiry-based training.

Teachers received their Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE01) course certificates at the end of the last session.

For more information, contact Professor Shaheed Hartley ([email protected]), Academic Head of Advancing Knowledge NPC.