This specification allows teachers to employ a variety of teaching strategies depending on the targeted learning outcomes, the needs of their students, and their personal preferences.
The importance of the processes of science as well as knowledge and understanding of concepts are reflected throughout the learning outcomes, which describe the understanding, skills and values that students should be able to demonstrate at the end of junior cycle. It is envisaged that opportunities for student-led inquiry, with appropriate levels of scaffolding, will be provided within each year. In this way students may pursue the outcomes of the Nature of science strand through the content and skills identified in the contextual strands. It is recognised that the skills, knowledge and understanding of the scientific concepts as set out in the learning outcomes take time to develop and often need to be carefully revisited and reinforced. Any one activity would seldom require students to develop the full range of skills.
The inquiry-based design emphasises the practical experience of science for each student. It supports the use of a wide range of teaching, learning, and assessment approaches that support different levels of inquiry. Most students will need frequent practice to develop their understanding of scientific processes to use evidence to support explanations and to develop their inquiry skills to a point where they can conduct their own investigations from start to finish. Providing opportunities for students to develop a range of inquiry skills will be necessary to progress along the continuum of inquiry. The levels on the continuum are often categorised as limited inquiry, structured inquiry, guided inquiry and open inquiry.
Figure 3: Continuum of inquiry
The first two levels are lower-level inquiries but they can be used to develop students’ inquiry skills so that they can engage in scientific inquiry which has less teacher guidance and more student self-direction. Students often engage with these two levels of inquiry before more open forms of inquiry are used; however, this practice merely reflects a common order of adopting inquiry approaches, and extending the range of approaches available to teaching classes; it does not suggest a progression or improvement along the way. Opportunities to apply inquiry skills in increasingly complex learning situations can be included when students have developed confidence and capacity in inquiry processes.
Contemporary issues in science
Increasingly, arguments between scientists are discourses that extend into the public domain. This specification enables teachers to provide opportunities for students to investigate contemporary scientific issues, supporting students to make connections between science, other subjects and everyday experiences. Students will engage with contemporary issues in science that affect everyday life. They will learn, interpret and analyse data—a skill that has a value far beyond science wherever data are used as evidence to support argument. In presenting evidence and findings, they will engage in objectively justifying and discussing conclusions.
Science also develops by people pursuing their individual interests and this specification affords a reasonable degree of flexibility for teachers and students to make their own choices and pursue their interests. For example, aspects from the different contextual strands may be woven together and large pieces of the specification may be organised around themes or 'big ideas' that focus on areas of personal, local, national, and/or global interest. This specification offers many possible routes for an integrated science approach; the most obvious are provided by the crosscutting elements, Energy and Sustainability.
Inquiry and assessment
As well as varied teaching approaches, varied assessment approaches can be designed to support learning and provide information that can be used as feedback, so that teaching and learning activities can be modified to meet individual needs. Through engaging tasks, asking higher-order questions, and giving feedback that promotes student autonomy, assessment can support learning as well as summarising achievement.