Critical Evaluation of the ILA.

The TechnoPush Inquiry Learning Activity (ILA) sits mainly within the science curriculum addressing learning outcomes in Science & Technology at Stage 3:

  • Investigating (Inv 3.7), Design and making (DM 3.8) and Using technology (UT3.9)
  • Physical Phenomena (PP3.4) and Products and service (PS3.5)

In addition to this it also provides strong links with the Stage 3 Key Learning Areas of English, Mathematics and PDHPE.

“Inquiry” has been a central goal of science education for decades and is the hallmark for current science education reform efforts (Quigley ,Marshall, Deaton & Cook, 2011; Abd-el-Khalick et al. 2004; Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005). The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) views inquiry as “basic” to science education stressing that teachers’ should focus on conducting inquiries and developing understanding (NSTA 2004). However, contained within current research, (Donham, 2010; Abd-el-Khalick et al., 2004; Zion et al. 2007) is much discussion and debate as to what authentic inquiry learning constitutes and how one would recognise it in a classroom. In this ILA it was clearly recognisable and the learning experiences sat for the most part in the Guided Inquiry domain whereby students investigate a teacher-presented question using student designed/selected procedures (Bell, R., Smetana, L., Binns, I. 2005, p.7). There were however some instances of Structured Inquiry whereby students investigate a teacher-presented question through a prescribed procedure (Bell, R., Smetana, L., Binns, I. 2005, p.7). These instances occurred when students needed intervention to help them develop particular skills. As is the case with Guided Inquiry, the project was determined by the teacher and students were responsible for designing investigations to answer the questions that occurred during the project. For example, “Which type of braking system will be the best for our Pushcart?” Students had to develop each component of the ensuing investigation including a hypothesis, procedures, data analysis and conclusion. The teacher, and other experts, (an engineer in this case) were used as ‘guides on the side’. A carefully planned and supervised approach is necessary for children in this upper primary age group as they are in a transition to more abstraction in learning. These students need guidance as they “explore ideas from various sources and integrate those ideas into their own thinking” (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007, p.28).

(For more information about the Levels of Inquiry that can be experienced in a Science classroom read the blog post Synthesizing the Information.)

Schools that participated in the TechnoPush challenge were provided with a package of suggested learning experiences for students to participate in and teachers were left to teach the lessons as they thought suited the needs of their students. Although there was no Inquiry Learning model attached to this, from my observations, the students in this ILA mostly followed the process of the SAUCE model (Figure 1. Bond, 2010). Most of the Inquiry Learning models follow a sequence that is influenced by Kuhlthau’s Model of the Information Search Process. This involves students moving through stages of Initiation, Selection, Exploration, Formulation, Collection, Presentation and Assessment.

Figure 2.The SAUCE model (Bond 2010)

This is certainly the case with Bonds SAUCE model, where students, Set the scene, Acquire and Use, however what was particularly pertinent to this ILA was the next step, Celebrate understanding. As the students in this ILA designed and built a working product in the form of the Pushcart there was a lot of excitement around their highly visible achievement which aligns with Bond’s model as there was a celebration of their understanding. Students were proud of their achievement and their efforts were recognised in the school newsletter and local media. Students were invited to include their Pushcart in a local festival as part of the parade and it was also on display and admired throughout several fundraising activities and the school fete. The wider community shared in the students achievements which made the students more aware of their sense of accomplishment. The Evaluation component of the SAUCE model where” the major focus will be on the process that the learner has moved through to complete the task” (Bond 2010) occurred when the students had to explain the entire process they had engaged in to a panel of judges at the two Challenge race days.

This ILA operated under the objectives set out in the NSW Board of Studies Syllabus Document –Science and Technology K-6. In this syllabus Science is described as, “concerned with finding out about the world in a systematic way… Science is not just a body of knowledge but is also a process of investigation” (1993, p.7) This reflects the view widely held by most scientific educators, as discussed previously in this blog, that scientific inquiry is viewed as both content and a vehicle for learning content. Although there is no specific discussion of Inquiry Learning in the syllabus, in the Designing and Making strand a flow chart (Figure 2) that strongly resembles the Guided Inquiry process is provided as a possible way to sequence learning experiences. The students in this ILA closely followed the process outlined with the exception of ‘reflecting’ which is discussed later.

Figure 2. NSW K-6 Science and Technology Syllabus (1991, p.32)

This ILA was highly successful in that students met all of the requirements of the criteria outlined by the brief at a stage 3 (years 4-6) level. Specific criteria are described below, and from my observations students also demonstrated that they met the criteria for Information and Communication even though this was not listed as a component required for the project.

InvestigatingINV S3.7Conducts their owninvestigations and

makes judgements

based on the results

of observing,



predicting, testing,

collecting, recording

and analysing data,

and drawing


PhysicalPhenomenaPP S3.4Identifies and

applies processes

involved in

manipulating, using

and changing the

form of energy.

UsingTechnologyUT S3.9Evaluates, selects

and uses a range of




materials and other

resources to meet

the requirements

and constraints of

investigation and

design tasks.

Designing andMakingDM S3.8Develops and

resolves a design

task by planning,


managing and

evaluating design


Products andServicesPS S3.5Creates and

evaluates products

and services,


consideration of


aesthetic, cultural,

safety and

functional issues.

Information andCommunicationIC S3.2Creates and



products and



consideration of the

type of media, form,

audience and

ethical issues.

Outcomes: Science & Technology K-6. Content and Learning Processes (2006, P.16-17)

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), in the national curriculum document for Science, recommends that students in Years 3–6 (typically from 8 to 12 years of age), work within a Curriculum focus of: recognising questions that can be investigated scientifically and investigating them

“In the early years of primary school, students will tend to use a trial-and-error approach to their science investigations. As they progress through these years, the expectation is that they will begin to work in a more systematic way. The notion of a ‘fair test’ and the idea of variables will be developed, as well as other forms of science inquiry. Understanding the importance of measurement will also be fostered” (2009, p.7)

If the TechnoPush ILA is considered in terms of requirements needed to meet the aims of the Australian Curriculum Science document it was a highly successful project. As represented in Table 1, there are ranges of ‘unifying ideas’ that are organised under three strands. ACARA states; “The unifying ideas are developmental in nature with subsequent unifying ideas building on those for the previous year grouping. In this way, unifying ideas enable students to accumulate knowledge over time for deeper understanding” (2009, p.6).

The students who participated in the ILA were given the opportunity to participate in the ideas highlighted in Table 1 and in most cases achieved the understanding and results indicative of the experiences.

Science understanding
  • properties and uses of materials
  • forces and motion
  • forms, use and transfer of energy
  • structures and functions of living things
  • life cycles of organisms
  • living things and the environment
  • changes on earth and in space
  • relationship between earth, moon and sun

  • earth’s resources and their uses.
Science inquiry skills
  • identify questions and predictions for testing
  • plan and conduct simple investigations
  • observe, describe and measure

collect, record and present data as

tables, diagrams or descriptions

  • analyse data, describe and explain relationships
  • discuss and compare results with predictions
  • draw conclusions and communicate ideas and understandings.
Science as a human endeavour
  • consider how science is used in work and leisure
  • become aware of science-related careers
  • recognise the effect of science and technology on our environment

  • be aware of the historical nature of science ideas.

Table 1. ACARA Unifying Ideas for Years 3- 6 in Science. (2009, p.8)

The learning experiences involved in the ACARA Science Inquiry Skills domain link to the thinking skills illustrated in Blooms Revised Taxonomy (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Blooms Revised Taxonomy (Overbaugh And Schultz nd.)

Each of the categories has a number of key verbs associated with it that describe learning experiences, as illustrated in Figure 4. Each of the levels allows students to engage either higher or lower order thinking skills. (For more information on the ILA and Higher Order Thinking Skills watch this video). Learners generally begin with the most basic tasks of remembering facts, figures, and other information then progress through understanding that information, applying it in new ways, analysing it to understand its parts, evaluating the information and supporting decision with it, and finally creating new information, a product , or a new point of view based on the original information (Overbaugh & Schultz, Bloom’s Taxonomy). The ILA was very successful in that students were continually required to access Higher Order Thinking skills.

Figure 4. Higher and Lower Order Thinking Skills. (Churches, 2007)

However, given that the students arrived at the remembering part of the process at the end of the ILA would seem to support the ideas put forth by Shelly Wright (2012) and Justin Marquis (2012) that it is time to flip Blooms Taxonomy so students start with creating right from the outset. Wright (2012,) states that the basic idea behind the flip is that students start by creating something within the area that is being introduced. This is a largely uninformed creation based on tacit knowledge, akin to a pre-reading, prior knowledge activation activity. Students then evaluate their creation based on comparing it to professional examples from the field. This is how the ILA students began, drawing ideas and making models of what a pushcart might look like. It was only after this that they began to research to make sure their pushcart met the specific design requirements. Their process is represented in the posters below.



Students presented the learning process on posters and in PowerPoint presentations.

Marquis (2012 para.9) argues that this process is very much in line with Inquiry or Discovery based learning where students are introduced to a problem or explore something to see how it really works; then they work towards developing an understanding of the principles underlying that discovery. However, in order for students to truly embrace the creative process, they must feel that the product that they are creating has real world value. This can be accomplished by linking the exercise to real clients or by providing a public venue for sharing the finished work. This was the case with the TechnoPush project, the final product and the application of it had real world value and it was shared publicly both at a local and state level with the general public and other communities of learners.

Marquis in his model of the flipped taxonomy (Figure 5) accounts for the social constructivist view that learning and knowledge creation are social activities. The students in the TechnoPush ILA were actively engaged with their peers collaboratively creating their products, discussing their decisions, and negotiating the underlying rules and principles behind what they were learning.

Figure 5. Blooms Flipped Taxonomy for the 21st Century (Marquis 2012)

The term Information Literacy is commonly applied to the ability to access and use information sources in the rapidly growing technological information environment (Kuhlthau et al. 1997 p, 77). The GeST windows (Lupton and Bruce) is a model by which one can view the different experiences of Information Literacy through the windows of:-

  • Generic – a set of discrete, neutral generic skills related to reading, writing and the use of technology (behavioural).
  • Situated – social practices involving solving personal, work, family and community problems (sociocultural).
  • Transformative – effecting social change through an emancipatory process (critical). (Lupton & Bruce 2010)

The literacy skills are not hierarchical but rather embedded or nested. Students in this ILA were required to go beyond simply locating and using information and experienced

 “relational” learning. They experienced Information Literacy mainly through the situated window as highlighted in Figure 6.

Figure 6. GeST windows (Lupton & Bruce 2010)

At times students worked between both the generic and situated window depending on what was required of them and also depending on their level of ability. The students experienced learning information literacy by ‘engaging in collaborative and participatory information practices’ when they created two group PowerPoint presentations that were published on the internet. These did not however critique society or lead to social action, nor was this a requirement of the task. They may however be accessed by students who are participating in this challenge in the future thus they have contributed to the existing body of knowledge on this particular topic.

If we consider the following descriptors for information Literacy from ALIA (2003) it is clear that the ILA has been successful as students have demonstrated their ability to achieve these and would be able to now apply these descriptors to themselves.

  • Information literacy means being information wise. It means knowing when a book may be more helpful than a computer. It means knowing how to find, evaluate and use information in all forms.
  • Information literacy is more than print literacy, computer literacy or media literacy.
  • It means knowing when you need information, where to find it and how to evaluate and use it in your everyday life.

They found the information they needed from a variety of sources, not just print, but also from experts. They have evaluated the validity and usefulness of this information and used it in their everyday life by designing, building and racing the pushcart. Overall this ILA has provided learning opportunities and experiences for the students that have allowed them to investigate scientifically, use Higher Order Thinking Skills, develop Information Literacy and collaboratively contribute to the existing body of knowledge on the topic of Pushcarts. Due to the nature of this ILA a community of learners has been created in which “knowledge that students have from the outside world consistently joins together with the curricular content, helping them to inform their own worldviews” (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.34). A successful Inquiry Learning Activity indeed.

Recommendations for Future Practice


Given that this ILA was highly successful there are only a few recommendations that I have to make and I believe that these would have occurred in the first instance if budgetary constraints weren’t a consideration. Effective inquiry-based learning requires a team of professionals to design implement and assess student learning (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007). One solution to help meet this challenge within a school context is collaboration, particularly between a teacher and teacher-librarian with a common vision. The teacher responsible for this ILA was both the library and science specialist who had the 4/5/6 class one day per week as part of the relief from face to face (RFF) requirements. Considering that all the research underpins collaboration (Kuhlthau, 2007; Quigley, Marshall, Deaton & Cook, 2011; Donham 2010) and the use of an instructional team (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007) as essential for the success of an Inquiry Learning project it would be ideal for the classroom teacher to have RFF on another day and collaborate with the ILA teacher during the TechnoPush project. This would have been particularly useful given the large amount of organisation throughout the project, particularly travelling and competing in the Challenge days and also for intervening in student learning, which is the next recommendation.

Given that there were a number of small schools in the region competing in the TechnoPush Challenge for the first time it would be beneficial for the teachers involved to collaborate amongst schools. Rather than delivering the learning experiences as an isolated, individual process teachers could share resources and ideas and support each other through the teaching experience. This could serve to foster greater links between schools and also give students a greater awareness of what others are doing on their TechnoPush project.


In Guided Inquiry it is recommended that the Instructional team employs intervention strategies at relevant times to assist students in “that area in which the student can do with advice and assistance what he or she cannot do alone or can do only with great difficulty”
(Kuhlthau, 2007, p.140). Throughout this project there were periods of great intensity when students were w0orking in small groups on tasks that required them to learn new curriculum content, social skills, physical skills and information literacy and with only one teacher in the room there was great difficulty providing useful intervention. If another teacher had been available, the types of interventions as recommended by Kuhlthau, in Figure 7, would have been able to occur.

Interventions for Learning in the Inquiry Process

Five Kinds of Learning

Types of Intervention

Curriculum Content gaining knowledge, interpreting, and synthesizing
Information Literacy locating, evaluating, and using information
Learning How to Learn initiating, selecting, exploring, focusing, collecting, presenting, and reflecting
Literacy Competence reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing
Social Skills cooperating, collaborating, flexibility, and persistence

Figure 7. Interventions for Learning in the Inquiry Process (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.141)

In the findings from this project students recorded ‘research’ as the hardest to do. It would have been ideal to intervene whilst the students were experiencing the Information Searching Process as they needed guidance to help develop their information literacy. Students were looking for sources of information and needed advice on how to find relevant, useful and pertinent sources of facts and ideas. Added to this was the affective component where the students were feeling frustration, confusion and uncertainty, intervention at this point would have allowed students to articulate their thoughts and feelings, thus giving them insight into the process of learning, which leads directly to the next recommendation, Reflection.


“Reflection and thinking about the ideas encountered in the inquiry process enable students to construct knowledge and meaning” (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.25). Given that reflection is a fundamental component of Inquiry (Kuhlthau, 2007; Alberta, 2004) it would have been worthwhile to utilise it more as a means of thinking about learning during each step of TechnoPush project. Students can learn by reflecting on their experiences (Dewey 1933). The goals for reflection in this case would be to ‘de-brief’, encourage group problem solving, develop a range of speaking and listening skill and develop higher order thinking skills. Given that the students engaged in the TechnoPush learning activities over the course of one day the ideal format would be for students to re-group for a period of time at the end of that day and be led through a reflection process by the teacher. This could include individual reflection in the form of a journal or answering specific questions i.e. those on the SLIM Learning Reflection sheets. Students could then discuss their feelings, observations, report on successes and difficulties and this could frame up the direction that the activities needed to take during the next session. All thinking and dialogue requires some form of reflection if learning is to take place. Students of this age in particular need time and reconsideration of events to put facts and ideas into sequence. Reflection activities would allow them a sense of intellectual ownership and a better understanding of oneself and one’s own abilities and of the learning process they are experiencing.


As this ILA was very successful the final recommendation that I would make is to share the story of the learning experiences and findings from the research project to parents and the wider community. Parents are important stakeholders in their children’s education… they want their children to be prepared for success. Parents can be most enthusiastic supporters when they see the engagement and interest their children have in school (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.59). In the case of this ILA parents also took on the role of experts, consulting with students during the design and building phases, this helped to bring the outside world into the classroom and enriched the learning environment, they were able to “give pertinent information at the point when it is needed” (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.73). The video presentation was completed for the purpose of presenting to parents, to allow insight into the valuable learning their children experienced, share the projects findings and show how their expertise had assisted their children and the others in the class. Parents also have access to this blog for these purposes.

In the future teachers could keep parents informed through the school newsletter and students could also present to the P&C and parent groups as a method of preparing for presenting on the Challenge days. Students also completed two PowerPoint presentations that are available on the internet that share the process they experienced. The school also received attention from the local media that included a variety of photos and articles about this project, particularly during fundraising efforts and they were also invited to participate in a parade for a local Arts festival with their pushcart. The positive acknowledgement that students’ experienced through sharing this project increased their pride in their achievements and fostered a greater sense of community within the school.


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