Being a scientist: the role of practical research projects in school science

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Publication details

Title of host publicationEngaging Learners with Chemistry
DateAccepted/In press - 2020
Number of pages19
PublisherRoyal Society of Chemistry
EditorsIlka Parchmann, Shirley Simon, Jan Apotheker
Original languageEnglish


Practical research projects are a feature of school science provision in several countries, very often linked to a belief that studying science in the context of real-life questions has benefits for students in relation to both academic performance and motivation to study science.

To assess the impact of practical research projects on students, a mixed-methods study was undertaken comprising a systematic review of the literature together with students and teacher interviews. The review encompassed thirty-nine papers reporting on work from twelve countries. The review indicated that practical research projects are often associated with wider initiatives such as authentic science, problem-based learning, and project-based learning.

The review demonstrated that there is considerable variability in the nature of practical research projects work in relation to their focus, models of provision, methods of assessment, the involvement of external partners such as universities and employers, and funding.

The review pointed to benefits of undertaking practical research projects including learning of science ideas, affective responses to science, views of pursuing careers involving science, and development of a range of skills.

Student interviews showed that views of practical research projects were largely positive. Students felt that the projects provided them with an authentic experience of being a scientist and influenced their future career and study choices.

Teacher interviews indicated that views of practical research projects were also positive, with projects being seen as motivational for their students. Some concerns were expressed over time demands. Teachers also felt that involvement with the projects provided them with good professional development and professional satisfaction.

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