This research brief is based on a project aimed at supporting a school to strengthen and more closely align its school science curriculum to the New Zealand Curriculum and to introduce 21st century learning principles.

The 27 teachers of science in the school along with the education researchers worked to establish a shared understanding of authentic scientific inquiry, 21st century thinking skills and what inquiry learning in science might look like.

Phase 1

The first phase of the project focused on setting up a lead group called the Science Development Group and learning about content representation (CoRe) design, the SLH and the 5Es approach for curriculum design and professional learning – engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate (Australian Academy of Science, 2014).

Phase 2

The second phase involved the establishment of professional learning goals and needs in relation to the school’s science education programme. The goals included development of a science implementation plan for the following year, enhancing teacher pedagogical content knowledge and identifying teacher resource needs related to the implementation plan.

Phase 3

For phase 3, teachers trialled CoRe design and unit planning featuring inquiry learning and the SLH. The researchers developed and used a protocol for classroom observations. The process of unit design and implementation was then evaluated. Some teacher comments on the process follow.

The SLH as a pedagogical content knowledge development and planning support tool:

“The SLH is a ‘go to’ place and helps us to explain the concepts in a New Zealand context.” (Middle school teacher)

CoRes and the development of teacher pedagogical content knowledge:

“I am excited about teaching this science unit because of the outcome. This has shaped my focuses around the big ideas. Choosing the topic, brainstorming what students need to know or may already know is a great way to find the big ideas. This has also been helpful in understanding that teaching pure science can be found in and linked to other curriculum areas and life – holistic. I also have become aware that planning as inquiry and using self and other teachers as resources supports and extends expert teaching in a supportive and ‘scientifically sound’ environment.” (Middle school teacher)

Implementation of the CoRe designed science unit.

“I liked the way a number of children brought things from home to share, some parents were asking me about it. Because the children had ownership of their mixture, it made the learning more relevant – what would happen when their cornflakes and milk had sat there for 3 days?” (Year 2 teacher)


The findings were very promising in relation to the impact of the SLH and CoRe design on teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge development in science. The teachers approached the second cycle of CoRe design, unit design and implementation with more confidence and sense of purpose and a greater appreciation of the support the SLH can offer in their science teaching.

As a result, they were able to produce a detailed science implementation plan incorporating their new understanding of authentic scientific inquiry, 21st century thinking skills and inquiry learning in science ready for full classroom implementation in 2015.

See related article: Primary teacher education in science.


Australia Academy of Science. (2014). Primary Connections: Linking science with literacy.

Hume, A. and Berry, A. (2013). Enhancing the practicum experience for pre-service chemistry teachers through collaborative CoRe design with mentor teachers. Research in Science Education. DOI: 10.1007/s11165-012-9346-6.

Loughran, J., Mulhall, P. and Berry, A. (2008). Exploring pedagogical content knowledge in science teacher education. International Journal of Science Education, 30(10), 1301–1320.


    Published 9 February 2015