Six of the science assessment tasks involved groups of students working together to perform scientific experiments. Almost all groups had four randomly assigned members, but absences from school meant that about twenty percent of the groups had three members present for their session, and one or two groups had only two participants.
Five of the tasks included a phase in which students were asked to plan their experiment before receiving the equipment required to complete it. The instructions for the sixth task included a plan for the experiment. All team performances were videotaped for later detailed analysis.
Four of the tasks were completely or largely the same for year 4 and year 8 students. Of these four tasks, one is a link task (to be used again in 1999), and three are released tasks for which full details are given.
One task was attempted only by year 8 students and another was attempted only by year 4 students. Both of these tasks are link tasks, so will not be described in detail.
This chapter presents the assessment results for the released tasks first, followed by the results for the link tasks.
Each released task occupies one page. The information provided includes the supplies available to the team, the task instructions and questions, and a table showing the percentages of students performing at identified levels on each task component.
Link tasks are grouped on one page. A broad indication is given of the nature of the task, and a table is provided showing the percentages of students performing at identified levels on each task component or aspect.
Averaged across major components of the four tasks attempted by both year 4 and year 8 students, 51 percent of year 8 teams produced correct or highly rated responses, compared to 32 percent of year 4 teams. Year 8 students are clearly more skilled than year 4 students in conducting collaborative scientific investigations.
Both year 4 and year 8 teams gained much better results when performing experiments than when planning them. Once students had the equipment in their hands and could try ideas out, they often realised that their planning had been inadequate and refined it accordingly. This is not unexpected, but perhaps suggests that many students have had little experience in planning scientific experiments.
Very few teams recognised the importance of replication (repeating trials more than once), which is a core requirement of good scientific investigation. It allows checks on the consistency of results, together with greater precision through averaging across trials.
Detailed research is currently being completed on collaborative processes within the teams, the affects of gender composition of the groups on these processes, and relationships between these factors and task performance. Results will be reported over the next two or three years.
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