SA NC Doing Investigations/Chapter 4



What is a resource book and why a resource book for investigations?

Introduction to the book and its theme: investigations

The wisdom of the winners: hints and ideas for science and mathematics educators

Ideas for investigations

Managing and assessing investigations

Examples of investigative activities in science and mathematics

Materials developed by the winning educators

Clusters, support networks and communities of practice

Scientific and mathematical literacy

Some useful URLs (internet addresses) for educators

Ideas for investigations edit

Ideally learners should choose their own questions because a true investigation will follow a topic that is of interest to and stimulates the imagination of the investigator. In reality the educator may have to prompt learners or even assign questions. One hopes that by doing investigations learners will start developing a more critical eye for their own questions.

At the MSTotY workshop in March 2004, the participants were asked to brainstorm ideas for investigations and then to classify them according to a classification scheme. The purpose of the exercise was to gain a better understanding of what one might expect from investigations on these topics. The process of classifying ideas for investigations also gave the participants the opportunity to imagine the directions these ideas might take a learner and the potential pitfalls and complexities hidden in the topics. One can never determine these exactly because by the very nature of an investigation that we cannot, nor should not, be precise about the end point. However, if an investigation activity is to be well managed, educators had better try to gain some insight into the possibilities presented by a topic for investigation before agreeing to it. Obviously one's knowledge of particular learners must be taken into account.

A classification scheme for investigation topics edit

Is the topic from one or some of these disciplines?



Concerning living things including plants and simple animals



Concerning the macroscopic, physical world of our everyday experience



Concerning the reactions between substances and the energy that is lost and gained during reactions.



Concerning the physical features of and changes to the Earth



Number and relationships

What is the phase level of the topic?



Intermediate or Senior Phase or the FET Band

Which of these categories does the topic fit into?

Investigation of effect on acceleration when mass is increased


Refers to study or research concerning a focused question in which one converges on one or some possible answers



Refers to a study where, at the start, one does not have a definite focus, more of a data gathering exercise and there-after an examination of the data to look for points of interest.

... and which of these?



A study where one deals with abstract ideas (e.g. an exploration of number patterns) or models of reality but not directly with the real thing itself



A direct, hands-on study of an object or objects.

... and which of these?



Observation, collection of data and a treatment of that data



Where one deliberately changes something to see what happens measurements are taken before and after any change

Do I have any concerns about the topic itself of where it may lead?

Classifying science and mathematics investigations edit

Imagine learners are asked to come up with questions for their own investigations. You collect the questions in the class and the list looks like the example below. By classifying the ideas you can determine whether they are appropriate for the age and phase of the learners. For the purposes of managing the investigation you can determine what resources the learners will need and what sort of inputs you may have to make. The final judgment you must make &Acirc &shy and the analysis should help you make it - is whether the topic is feasible. To classify an intended investigation accurately you must discuss it with the learner. A discussion will help you to advise the learner if his/her intentions seem too ambitious and together you can agree on appropriate modifications or a complete re-think. This negotiation places you, the educator, in a much stronger position to monitor the investigation's progress.

As an exercise try to classify some of the topics suggested here. Most of the topics are appropriate to more than one phase but this will depend on the conceptual level at which learners attack the problems and analyse their results.



e.g. Height of water from sprinklers

e.g. Phys (Math) / Int or Sen / Inv / Pr / Exp /Eth

Analysis of beverages

Analysis of health juices

Ants, foraging and food

Bicycles and balance

Bird beak shapes and feeding habits

Choices of fabrics for items of clothing

Communication amongst horses

Computer memory

Dog food: manufacture and composition

Dogs' hair: distribution and thickness

Durability of paints

Edible flowers

Effects of coffee

Exhaust pipes and form of pollution control

Factors affecting dissolving

Freezing seawater: recovering fresh water

Fuels: paraffin, petrol, "Blitz" and spirits

Grasshopper wings

Heartbeats and heart rates

HIV/AIDS &shy what it is, what it does and how to prevent it

Hydraulics and temperature

Investigating toothpaste

Mirrors, reflection and radiation


Patterns in shells / flowers / Nature

Plant- and flower patterns

Pleasing shapes

Pool balls: analysing collisions

Rates of evaporation

Rates of melting and cooling &shy ice and water

Recall levels after reading aloud and reading silently

Recovery of salts from seawater

Relative dimensions of cats and kittens

Running and fitness levels

Seagull/garden bird habits / habitats

Seawater and skin itching

Seeds: what budgies eat and don't/can't eat

Sense of direction in animals

Shopping patterns

Sounds horses react to

Sunflower seeds and oils

Tartrazine's effects on teen-agers, toddlers and adults

The effects of fruit diets

The flight of soccer balls

Using seawater in drought

Water droplets

Why fruits change colour

These topics have already been classified according to their phase-appropriateness. Do you agree with the classification? Are any of the topics too advanced for the senior phase or too simple for the intermediate phase? Which topics could be investigated at either phase? Are any of these topics suitable for the FET band? How would you modify the topics for FET? What aspects of any topics would you ask an FET learner to concentrate on?

Intermediate Phase

`Breathe in oxygen & breathe out carbon dioxide'?

Calendar patterns

Cell phone tariffs

Compass patterns

Divisibility of numbers

Electronic mousetrap

Investigate number sequences

Net patterns

Number patterns from 1-100

Patterns in stars

Patterns in the presentation of food

Plants in our school garden


Probabilities &shy heads or tails

Water pumps

Weaving patterns

Senior Phase

Applications of calculus

Automatic shoe polisher

Census 2004

Colours and hues

Disseminating information

Fuel consumption

Geometric theorems


Pricing patterns

Replacing the electric bulb

Savings and investments

Survey of teenage drinking habits

Temperature regulation and materials

The history of numbers

Toothbrush effectiveness

Trig Wheel

Weather forecasting

FET Band

Applications of calculus

Weaving patterns

Economics of fashion

Global warming