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Abstract

Instructional strategies and curriculum sequences aimed at teaching process skills have received considerable attention in science education. On the other hand, the teaching of domain-independent, context-free skills has been subject to criticism on the ground that important aspects of cognitive activities are functions of meaningful contexts. The intent of this study was to examine the development of integrated process skills in the context of open-inquiry laboratory sessions. The data-collection approach was qualitative and included videotapes of laboratory sessions, laboratory reports of students, and the reflective journals kept by the two teachers involved in the study. Forty-eight students from the Grade 11 introductory physics course, 29 students from the Grade 12 physics course, and 60 students from the Grade 8 general science course from an all-boys private school participated in the study. An interpretive research methodology was adopted for construction of meaning from the data. Students worked in collaborative groups during all of the open-inquiry laboratory sessions. Findings from the study indicate that students develop higher-order process skills through nontraditional laboratory experiences that provided the students with freedom to perform experiments of personal relevance in authentic contexts. Students learned to (a) identify and define pertinent variables, (b) interpret, transform, and analyze data, (c) plan and design an experiment, and (d) formulate hypotheses. Findings of this study suggest that process skills need not be taught separately. Integrated process skills develop gradually and reach a high level of sophistication when experiments are performed in meaningful context.