University of Tasmania
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The purpose and assessment of practical work in school science : an enquiry into the purpose and assessment of practical work in high schools and matriculation colleges in Tasmania as perceived by teachers of general science, physics and chemistry, and school students taking those subjects

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posted on 2023-05-26, 19:22 authored by Ndyetabura, Veddy Laurean
Practical work has always been Considered by the majority of science teachers and educators to be fundamental to the teaching of the physical sciences. However, there has been less agreement by experts on the purpose, most suitable type of practical work, most suitable assessment procedures and the optimum time that should be spent on it. Inevitably, these differences in opinion have affected the nature and emphasis given to the assessment of practical work. The last twenty years has seen a dramatic upsurge in curriculum development which in the physical sciences has been strongly oriented towards pupil-centred practical work. This 'curriculum phase' in the developed countries including Australia, would seem to have finished. The emphasis is now on consolidation. It would seem an opportune time to review the. present situation with regard to the purpose and assessment of practical work and at the same time place it within historical perspective. This thesis is mainly concerned with purpose and assessment of practical work in Tasmanian High Schools and Matriculation Colleges. In considering the notion of purpose it was decided to examine the relative importance of the aims of practical work as perceived by teachers, then to establish the orientation of students towards these perceived aims (called influences by us) and finally to make a comparison of the aims of teachers with the influences as perceived by 'students. Regarding the assessment procedures of practical work, an examination of the current practices, its historical evolution and a study of preferences are made. Three questionnaires were constructed in this descriptive Survey in order to obtain the information necessary for the examination of the above mentioned problem's. All High and Matriculation science teachers (N=256 response rate) received one set of questionnaires, a. sample of High School students (N=459 response rate) received the second set, and all Matriculation students studying physics and chemistry' at second year matriculation level (N=265 response rate) received the third set. The samples in the latter two cases are representative of the Tasmanian populations. Also, it was possible to interview six of the seven supervisors/superintendents of science for the period 1950-1982, and they responded specifically to their role; prompts concerning: major changes in the science syllabuses; major changes regarding practical work; policy regarding assessment of practical work during their period of office. Our findings would suggest that teachers' perceptions of the aims of practical work, appear, in some respect, to be Misjudged or misguided at present, and when viewed against student perceptions indicate some major mis-matches. High School students would seem to perceive practical work as more of a visual aid than an experimental enterprise, while Matriculation students perceive their practical work to be much more technique-oriented than it was intended to be ccording to teachers and curriculum developers. With regard to the assessment of pratical work, specifically, teachers and students in Tasmanian schools are strongly in favour of it being school based, with a particular strong preference for continuous assessment at all levels by teachers. There is clearly considerable mistrust of external examinations in this area. On the other hand, Tasmanian teachers and and students favour a contribution of practical work to the students' overall mark which far exceeds its real weighting at present. There is a strong commitment to laboratory based teaching within the profession and a recognition that such skills must substantially affect the students' overall mark. This study of aggregate perceptions of teachers and students, and the individual perceptions of science supervisors is hoped could provide an evaluative imension for Australian teachers and educators regarding this particularly important aspect of science teaching - the assessment of practical work. In conclusion a comparative examination is made of similar surveys of students' and teachers' perceptions regarding practical work in the U.K. and South Africa. There are some quite striking differences particularly in regard to orientations 'careful observation.', 'finding out' and 'acquisiton of skills and techniques' which suggest that aggregate perception of the purpose of practical work is not the same in these three countries.


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Thesis (M. Ed.)--University of Tasmania, 1983

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