Science apprentices
: the impact of an inquiry-based, authentic learning curriculum on student achievement and teachers' practice

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Many students at secondary level become disengaged with science, which they see as a dry, irrelevant body of knowledge. Teaching science through authentic tasks, solved through an inquiry process, is not only more engaging for students, it may lead to improved understanding. However, the evidence that these more relevant pedagogies improve achievement on standardised tests is mixed. In this two part study, using quantitative and qualitative approaches, I investigated whether WIKID, a 11-14 science curriculum in England, based on these pedagogies, increased students' understanding - whether they could transfer knowledge to new situations. I also explored whether the 'educative' curriculum materials used to communicate and support teachers' use of the pedagogies were effective as a tool for professional learning. In the first study, I used a quasi-experimental design to investigate how the academic achievement of 13-year old students, who had followed WIKID for two years, compared with schools following traditional curriculum. The measure was a broad summative test based on international test questions. On knowledge acquisition questions, students in both groups did similarly well. However, when the questions required students to transfer their knowledge to unfamiliar contexts, students who had experienced WIKID scored significantly higher. In the second study, I re-analysed the data to investigate student factors, and carried out a qualitative investigation to explore the impact of the authentic inquiry curriculum on the teachers and students. I found that students with either low or high cognitive ability achieved more with the innovative curriculum, but students with medium cognitive ability did not. In the qualitative study, I chose ‘positive case’ teachers who had observed positive effects on students learning and interviewed them. They reported many effects on their students' engagement and informal assessment, backing up with the findings of the quantitative study. There was also evidence that the educative curriculum materials contributed to teachers' effective use of authentic learning and inquiry, and changes in their pedagogical content knowledge and conceptions of their role. Overall, the findings from both studies suggest that authentic learning and inquiry have potential as a curriculum design concept for improving students' understanding, and may be most useful for lower achieving students. However, both studies had small samples making it difficult to generalise to the wider population. The studies also contribute to the growing evidence that educative curriculum materials can play a role in helping teachers learning innovative practice within the classroom.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorChristine Harrison (Supervisor)

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