Ark of Inquiry project. UNESCO kicks off the pilot phase in Italy with Veneto teachers

Teachers and schools from the Veneto region were invited to participate in the pilot phase this fall of the inquiry-based science education project, “Ark of Inquiry: Inquiry Awards for Youth over Europe”. The project, funded by the European Commission and involving 13 project partners from 12 countries, aims to create a “new science classroom”, which would provide more challenging, authentic and higher-order learning experiences for pupils, using the discourse of science and working with scientific representations and tools.

An introductory session to the Ark of Inquiry project involving teachers from around the Veneto region was held successfully on 14 October 2015 at Palazzo Zorzi, premises of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, Venice. This first meeting marked the launch of the project’s pilot phase in Italy. It will last until spring 2016.

Fifteen teachers were selected to take part by the UNESCO Office in Venice from secondary schools located around the Veneto region. The teachers’ eligibility for this pilot phase was determined based on a number of criteria, such as a good knowledge of the English language, both reading and writing; an interest in inquiry-based science education approaches and methodologies as demonstrated by both the teachers and the schools they represented; a positive attitude towards innovative methods of teaching and learning and using new technologies, demonstrated by both the teachers and the schools they represented; basic computer literacy; and employment in schools equipped with classrooms or laboratories with personal computers connected to the internet.

Although they were united by a desire to improve their pupils’ grades in science and their own techniques and knowledge, the interests and education of the participating teachers varied, ranging from agronomy to chemistry, education to physics, and mathematics to environmental studies. This wide range of interests will make a positive contribution to the Ark of Inquiry in the sense that the teachers will bring multifaceted approaches to the project and to the activities that will be implemented.

“It was overwhelming to witness such great interest in this endeavour on the part of the teachers,” remarked project team leader and Coordinator of the Science Unit, Philippe Pypaert, during the meeting. “We are confident that not only will the participating teachers learn something new from this experience, but that their contributions will serve to further improve the functionality and usability of this ambitious and exciting European project.”

During the pilot phase, participating teachers will complete a “homework” assignment where they will evaluate the new online platform that is being developed to search through dozens to hundreds of ready-to-use inquiry-based science activities in their classrooms. Between now and the end of the year, they will try to implement at least 3 inquiry-based activities from the platform. They may also be involved in interviews on different pedagogical scenarios and/or a focus group reflecting on the awards and evaluation systems developed for the project and platform.

After the pilot phase concludes in the spring of 2016, opportunities for science teachers to participate in this exciting project will be expanded to include all of Italy, including teachers who are not yet familiar with inquiry-based science education (IBSE) but who would like to be.

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“Ark of Inquiry: Inquiry Awards for Youth over Europe” is a  research and development project on teacher training, oriented towards raising science awareness, particularly that of youth aged 7 to 18, to Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). The project is funded by the European Commission and involves 13 project partners from 12 countries.  The project started in 2014 and has a duration of 4 years.