Beyond play: Learning through science investigation

Funding year: 
2 years
Victoria University of Wellington
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2014
Project end date: 
March 2016
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Azra Moeed
Research team members: 
Dayle Anderson, Rex Bartholomew, Craig Rofe
Research partners: 
Secondary schools: Wellington High School and Bishop Viard College Intermediate school: Bishop Viard College Primary schools: Muritai School; Karori West Normal School Wharekura: Te Wharekura o Porirua

Project description

This project explored how students and teachers from two secondary, one intermediate, two primary school and one wharekura conceptualise the educational role and purpose of investigative work in the context of science teaching and learning. Based on these findings, teachers made changes to their practice with a view to improving students’ learning from and about science investigation. The efficacy of these approaches was evaluated.


The central aim of the project explored how investigative work is currently implemented within the New Zealand (NZ) science curriculum, and how its use might be improved to enable it to achieve the learning goals of the curriculum more effectively. To achieve this, in the first phase we  investigated and documented the perceptions of both teachers and students of the educational role and purpose of investigative work in the context of science teaching and learning.  This provided the basis for focused reflection involving teachers, researchers and others on current practices, and how these might be modified or developed to become more effective in achieving agreed learning goals.  In the second phase of the project we implemented some specific ideas that emerged from this reflection and evaluated their effectiveness in encouraging students’ active and creative engagement with science, and promoting science learning.

Why was this research important

The science learning area of the NZ Curriculum requires students to learn about “features of scientific knowledge and the processes by which it is developed” and “carry out science investigations using a variety of approaches”. International evidence, however, suggests that students’ experience of science investigations and what they learn from it is limited. We wanted to find out if this was the case or not and to further look for ways in which learning through science investigation can be enhanced

What we did

The project spanned two years and involved multiple case studies undertaken by four academic researchers, nine teachers and their classes from five schools. A set of case studies allowed the research team to develop an in-depth understanding of the complexity of teaching and learning science investigation in a range of NZ school contexts. Data was collected through individual teacher interviews, student focus group interviews, classroom observations, student questionnaires, and document analysis. We took an inductive approach (Creswell, 2009) to analysis of the interview data, classroom observations, teacher document analysis and student artefacts. All qualitative data (documents, interviews, classroom records, hui notes) were transcribed, checked, and coded by the researchers. The data were analysed using two frameworks:

1 Millar’s (2010) framework linking the two domains of objects and ideas
2 Science Capabilities for Citizenship framework


Science investigations were more than play:

  • Teachers and students saw learning to investigate as purposeful.
  • Students experienced a variety of approaches to investigation.
  • An explicit and planned focus on the Nature of Science strand of the curriculum and the science capabilities supported students’ epistemological understanding.
  • Limiting the range of intended learning outcomes for a practical lesson appeared beneficial for science learning.
  • Wharekura teachers’ belief in the researchers’ understanding of and respect for the philosophy and practices of the kura gave wharekura teachers confidence to teach science investigation alongside Putāiao.

Project contact person

Dr Azra Moeed
Senior lecturer & Curriculum Leader Science Education
School of Education Policy and Implementation
Faculty of Education
Victoria University of Wellington
Ph: 04 4639643