POST 209: INVESTIGATIONS

Just back from a weekend of SQA marking in Dalkeith.

This is important to my progression in teaching as it expands my role from formative assessment in the classroom/studio to summative assessment and involvement in mark allocation and assessment of markers. This role is particularly important to practitioner enquiry as I was heavily involved in assessment of investigations at Advanced Higher level, using skills which I will also be assessed in for practitioner enquiry.

Outline of duties I have performed during the marking process

As a Team Leader  have been responsible for supporting the Principal Assessor in maintaining national standards for the qualifications relating to Advanced Higher Assignments and question setting. All tasks associated with the quality assurance of externally assessed components of Course assessments were completed in secure conditions, timescales and in line with the assessment criteria set by SQA.

My primary role is to work within the marking team to support the Principal Assessor (Lesley Sutherland) and Senior Team Leaders (Kevin Devaney and Terri ??) to ensure that national standards are being consistently applied and maintained.

These activities were under direction of staff from SQA’s Qualification Development and Operations directorates. Most activities like this weekend are in my own time in weekends and holiday periods.

  • Support the quality assurance processes (marking programme and post-examination quality assurance procedures) in accordance with SQA policy and specification.
  • Be available to monitor, manage and provide support to Markers as they complete quality assurance (Practice and Qualification) scripts and throughout the marking period.
  • Support post examination quality assurance procedures, carrying out activities assigned by the Principal Assessor to ensure they are concluded within agreed time frames and that resources are used effectively and efficiently to achieve best value
  • Assist in the performance management activity of markers against Key Performance Measures.
  • Undertake the role of a marker and the marking of any unmarked scripts or scripts requiring to be remarked when required.

    I have seen the process through form the start from writing questions to deciding the marking to preparing standardisation materials for marker training, the marker training, standardisation of markers, and finalisation of results before the remark of scripts.

    This last weekend was the remark of scripts (formally appeals) and I have been invited to be part of the Glasgow Understanding Standards event as well as to take on a similar role next year.

  • I have been recommended to undertake the following additional activities:
    • Prepare performance reports for centres
    • undertake in-service training
    • participate in workshops/seminars/networking events
    • contribute to Understanding Standards programmes

Skills I have learnt

  • I have informed competence in assessing to the national standard at Advanced Higher level in  Biology theory and Assignments.
  • Through working in the marking team and collaborating with other teaching professionals, I developed interpersonal skills and enhanced my ability to engage positively with all levels of understanding and have provided leadership and support as required.
  • I have communicated professionally, confidently and effectively; work professionally and co-operatively with stakeholders, other appointees and SQA staff. I led marker training, participated in question setting and marking, graded markers, reviewed marking and worked with the team to decide standards and determine grades for students and markers
  • This process required organisational and administrative skills; good forward planning and time management skills, and provide attention to detail.
  • I developed skills that enabled me to work with the SQA marking team onsite, markers at training and remotely with the team and with markers using RM assessor.
  • I was involved at all stages of Quality Assurance to ensure preparation and check of all materials for post examination procedures in accordance with SQA policy and instructions by specified dates.
  • I have monitored, managed and provided support to team Leaders throughout the marking period.
  • My train has meant I have fulfilled the KPMs of the Marker role.
  • I have worked to the best of my abilities to demonstrate behaviours outlined in the Terms and Conditions of Appointment which support SQA’s values.
  • I have written report on markers and supported Key Performance Measures for all tasks on and by specified dates.

Skills I have learnt which are of benefit to practitioner enquiry

Completing the investigation process has emphasised the development in investigative skills. I have observed in practice and when marking the growth of students vocational understanding and self-motivation, independent learning gained through planning and designing of appropriate experiments.  I have marked and developed a clear understanding of the marking criteria for investigations and the appropriate scientific writing. The Reports I have marked show findings f scientific significance and have added to scientific enquiry through critical and scientific analysis of the results, demonstrating knowledge and understanding of the biological basis of the Investigation.

I understand the importance of planning and involvement of the supervising teacher/lecturer in directing an appropriate early focus on an appropriate topic and clear direction as to the suitability of the topic chosen for investigation. I realise the need for initial reading and research but also the negative effect and loss of direction resulting from over researching. I identified the difference between projects where early discussion with the candidate has occurred.

The Investigation must consist of a topic commensurate with the course content and level. I feel care must be taken to ensure that the Investigation is not purely a technical exercise without purpose to the candidate in, for example, statistics or computing. I noted markers were most effective where group discussion took place and the same would then be true of students even although joint investigations are not permitted. The Investigation must involve planning, collection and analysis of information through experimental work carried out by the candididate for them to benefit from the process. The outcome report is less important. Investigators need to consult a wide variety of up to date sources in selecting topics for investigation to allow them to be up to date in their field. I noted sources included

    • textbooks
    • journals and periodicals,
    • medical or government reports
    • newspapers
    • reliable e-journals but not websites especially wiki

I noted that, while not wishing to stifle a candidate’s enthusiasm, the teacher/lecturer must sound a note of realism and discourage candidates from embarking on over-ambitious investigations. Focused investigations completed in the time available are likely to be the most successful and gain the greatest marks with less errors due to completion of several graphs or calculations or too many input variables from which valid conclusions cannot be drawn. I noticed some investigations were incomplete or not correctly performed due to time constraints, laboratory facilities, availability of equipment, costs and safety are all factors that need to be considered when candidates choose investigation topics. I am effective at detecting results which are tooo prefect or have values one higher and one lower to keep the mean the same but with additional replicates. This suggests that the Investigation is not the candidate’s own work. Additionally, over marking by the teacher can result in sophisticated language that cannot be the students own. This is why the teacher and student sign the flyleaf. I believe that the investigation should be creative and original but it does not require to be a piece of original research just new to the candidate. This is the same for practitioner enquiry.

How to develop a plan for an investigation.

(a) A record is maintained in a regular manner.

(b) The aims of the investigation are clearly stated.

(c) Hypotheses or questions relevant to the aims of the investigation are formulated.

(d) Experimental, observational and sampling procedures, techniques and apparatus devised are appropriate for the investigation.

(e) The need for controls and replicate treatments or survey samples is considered.

(f) Relevant problems associated with the use of living materials or natural habitats are considered.

How to collect and analyse information from the investigation.

(a) The collection of experimental information is carried out with due accuracy.

(b) Relevant measurements and observations are recorded in an appropriate format.

(c) Recorded experimental information is analysed and presented in an appropriate format.

Evidence for planning, collection of data and analysis requires records at each stage. I am do this in the MEd through blog posts but can also be completed in the form of a notebook.

To support attainment of the performance criteria requires supportive criticism as part of the on-going learning and teaching process. Those who leave it to the end have too much to correct or direct and the candidate ultimately looses marks.

The Investigation Report s orders of priority which act as a guide at University and Secondary level alike:

1 Presentation (12 %)

2 Introduction (16 %)

3 Procedures (24 %)

4 Results (20 %)

5 Discussion (28 %)

The marking scheme for an AH level project follows

Note to self: The one for a masters needs to be an extended version of this:

1 Presentation (3 marks)

(a) The Report must have a logical structure appropriate to the Investigation and must include:

      • a title page with an appropriate and informative title for the Investigation, the candidate’s name and number and the name and number of the centre
      • a contents page which lists the contents and page numbers for ease of cross-referencing, with pages numbered throughout the report

 

    • a brief summary stating the overall aim(s) and finding(s) of the Investigation
  • an introduction, procedures, results and discussion

 

    • references
    • acknowledgements where appropriate.

(b) (i) There must be references from a minimum of 3 sources with entries made in standard form. These references should be consulted during the planning stage if the Investigation and not just when writing up the report.

 

References

A reference is any piece of material to which a writer ‘refers‘ in the text. More specifically, it is an entry at the end of the Report giving information about the source of the material ‘referred to‘. Such an entry allows the reader of the Report to consult the original work if necessary and is also an acknowledgement of the work of other authors.

Each reference must be cited in the main body of the text using the author’s surname and the year of publication as in the exemplar below:

The replacement of marram grass in sand dunes may be due to a build-up of organisms in the soil that feed on its roots, resulting in its death (Bardgett, 2001).

 

References should be listed in alphabetical order and must be written in standard form as follows:

Books

Author(s), (surname followed by initials) (Year of publication) Title, Publisher, Place of publication, Page number(s).

eg Aldridge, S (1998) Magic Molecules: how drugs work, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p134.

Journals/Periodicals

Author(s), (surname followed by initials) (Year of publication) Title of article, Name of Journal, Volume number (Part number if appropriate), Page number(s).

eg Bardgett, R (2001) Plant succession, Biological Sciences Review, 14(2), pp2-6.

Websites

As many of the following items as are available should be given: author, date, title, publisher, date the material was accessed (because the ‘site’ may be updated between the time the writer uses it and the point at which a reader refers to it) and the URL.

eg Nixon, W (1999) Why energy efficiency? The EIC Guide Online. Visited: May, 2002. URL: http://www.eic-guide.co.uk/tech1.html.

(b) (ii) Acknowledgements where appropriate.

 

Any assistance received while the Investigation was carried out should be acknowledged. Specific reference should be made where resources such as university departments are used.

(c) The Report must be clear and concise.

The Report should be about 2000-2500 words in length excluding the title page, contents page, tables, graphs, diagrams, references, acknowledgements and any appendices.

The Report should be written in the past tense and the impersonal voice should be used.

While the Report may be word-processed, a handwritten Report is equally acceptable. Candidates may also wish to consider word-processing the bulk of the Report leaving gaps to add subscripts, superscripts, equations, structural formulae, calculations, graphs etc. by hand if preferred.

2 Introduction (4 marks)

(a) The introduction must include an account of the underlying biology in which terms are used accurately and ideas are clearly explained.

(b) The introduction must include a clear statement of the aim(s) of the Investigation together with relevant hypotheses or questions.

This section must include a concise account of the relevant background theory to the investigation and must justify the biological importance of the Investigation. Diagrams, formulae and equations should be included as appropriate. The aim(s) need to be clear and explicit since these are key to the overall Report.

 

3 Procedures (6 marks)

(a) The procedures must be appropriate to the aim(s) of the Investigation.

(b) The procedures must be clearly described and in sufficient detail to allow the Investigation to be repeated.

(c) The procedures must be at an appropriate level of demand for Advanced Higher Biology in relation to:

  • consideration of the need for controls and control of variables
  • replicates and sample size
  • the complexity of the design of the experiments
  • creativity and originality
  • modifications to procedures in the light of experience and accuracy of measurements.

The procedures must be presented in a meaningful and coherent way and not as a set of instructions. It would be appropriate in this section to include labelled diagrams or photographs of assembled apparatus. There must be evidence that the candidate has been involved in the planning of the Investigation and has not simply followed a given set of instructions.

4 Results (5 marks)

 

(a) (i) The results must be relevant to the aim(s) of the Investigation.

(ii) Readings (raw data) must be recorded and be within the limits of accuracy of measurement.

(b) All raw and processed results must be presented in a clear and concise manner with appropriate use of tables, graphs, diagrams and calculations.

(c) A statement of results from tables and/or graphs must be included.

(d) In descriptive components of the work, observations must be detailed and suitably recorded and, where appropriate, quantitative.

 

It is essential that results are summarised adequately. Where results are presented graphically, a table containing the relevant processed data must support each graph. Extensive raw data may be presented in an appendix. Where Excel or other software packages are used to present graphs, it is important that axes are adapted to suit the data in order that the results are presented in the most appropriate way.

 

NB How the sections on Procedures and Results are structured is entirely up to the candidate, e.g. if the Investigation falls into two distinct parts then the candidate may wish to describe the two procedures before going on to give the results of both parts or describe the first procedure and immediately follow this up with the results pertaining to that part before going on to the procedure and results of the second part.

5 Discussion (7 marks)

 

(a) (i) The overall conclusions must relate to the aim(s) of the Investigation.

(ii) The overall conclusions must be valid for the results obtained.

(b) The evaluation of the procedures addresses points such as:

      • accuracy of measurement
      • adequate replication
      • adequate sampling
      • adequate controls
      • sources of error in relation to measurements
      • the ways in which problems encountered in the Investigation were dealt with

 

    • ways in which procedures might have been modified to improve the Investigation.

In the evaluation of the procedures it is appropriate to emphasise positive aspects relating to the procedures.

  • The evaluation of the results includes as appropriate:
  • analysis and interpretation of the results
  • an account taken of the errors described
  • consideration of the effect of error on the outcome(s)
  • suggestions for further work
  • discussion of the significance of the findings in a critical and scientific manner
  • demonstration of a reasonable depth of biological knowledge and understanding.

The discussion section must include a clear statement of the overall conclusion(s) and a critical evaluation of the Investigation as a whole. It would be appropriate in this section to include a discussion of experiments which were carried out and which did not produce results or for which results were not presented.

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