Digital Learning in Science Education: Teaching and Assessment of Scientific Inquiry

On-line Resources to suit Junior Cycle and Senior Cycle

At the moment, teaching, learning and assessment in Science Education is going through rapid policy change in Ireland, with new draft specifications for new curricula coming on stream in Senior Cycle chemistry, physics and biology and a new subject on Climate Action and Sustainability about to launch in September 2025 (NCCA, 2024).

The reforms signal a major change from a former focus (over-focus) on the transmission of (disciplinary) content knowledge toward new skill-based and just-in-time (bespoke) approaches that call on students to engage with Science and the Nature of Science (NOS) using collaborative learning approaches that rely on the acquisition of the capacities and skills of an inquiry-orientation. They also require new modes of formative assessment that provide students (and teachers) with a reliable system of feedback loops that allows students (and teachers) to constantly track their progress in the achievement of specified outcomes.

Inquiry-based learning in Science Education is increasingly being incorporated into science curricula worldwide. In Ireland, this approach is central to Junior Cycle and Senior Cycle Science Curricula (NCCA 2024), as it constantly encourages students to go beyond description, to ask critical questions and to learn how to analyze events and phenomena.

In addition to this new focus on Inquiry-orientation in Science Teaching and Learning, alongside inclusive pedagogies, there is a growing international research community working on new digital approaches for Assessing Students' Scientific Inquiry capabilities and skills.

Here in EPI•STEM National Centre for STEM Education, School of Education at the University of Limerick, Dr. De Van Vo, a post-doctoral researcher in Science Education is currently researching with Professor Geraldine Mooney Simmie, Director of EPI•STEM the design and development of a new digital platform to provide science students in post-primary schools nationally (and science teachers), with access to approaches that develop their competence in Self-Assessing Scientific Inquiry Capacities, in the area of Physics and The Physical World, aligned with outcomes in Junior Cycle and Senior Cycle.

This IRCET funded postdoctoral fellowship project aims to facilitate the design and development of appropriate interactive simulation tasks to support:

  • Post-primary school students in developing scientific inquiry competence
  • Science teachers in teaching and assessing students' scientific inquiry skills
  • Upskilling assessment literacy for classroom-based and formative assessments
  • Inclusive pedagogies and innovative teaching for an enjoyable learning experience

Currently, we are completing the design phase of these interactive assessment tasks aligned with the Science JC and SC Curriculum, focusing on scientific inquiry related to Physics and the Physical World. Eight trial interactive simulations are under development, as follows:

  1. Inclined Plane: This simulation supports inquiry-based learning and assessment related to the investigation of force and motion relationships.
  2. Spring - Hooke’s Law: Designed to explore the relationship between the extension of a spiral spring and the applied force, as well as the effect of spring strength.
  3. Investigating Free Fall: This simulation helps practice measuring basic quantities of motion and investigating the relationship between distance, time, speed, and acceleration.
  4. Lever Simulation: Supports inquiry-based instruction and assessment related to investigating the principle of the lever.
  5. Ohm's Law: Utilizes inquiry-based activities to explore the relationship between voltage, current, and resistance.
  6. Direct Current: Explores whether direct current can pass through different kinds of materials.
  7. Water Cycle: Simulates the water cycle and includes assessment tasks to evaluate students’ understanding of the cycle and related issues.
  8. Global Warming: Involves investigation activities to help students understand the greenhouse effect and factors contributing to global warming.

From September 2024, we will be inviting science teachers to sign up on our website to access the platform's full functionality and accompanying materials. For example, science teachers can create custom assessment tasks based on our interactive simulations, tailoring them to fit the specific needs and learning requirements of their students. Additionally, they can generate online tests, which can be administered using their item banks. This flexibility will allow science teachers to design and implement assessments that are both personalized and aligned with curricular goals, enhancing the overall teaching and learning experience. The platform will also support the administration of these tests, providing tools for efficient grading and feedback, thereby streamlining the assessment processes and ensuring that students receive timely and constructive feedback and evaluations of their performance.

This Post-doctoral Fellowship project is led by Dr. De Van Vo and Professor Geraldine Mooney Simmie, supported by the Irish Research Council under grant number GOIPD/2023/148. If  you would like to know more about the project, or to sign up to become involved in the autumn roll out of the digital resources, please contact Helen Fitzgerald, Senior Executive Administrator, EPI•STEM on