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Case-based learning of high school science subjects to support learning to learn


To establish a case-based teaching group to lead and promote case-based learning of science subjects, and to develop a portfolio of interesting and content-rich cases about decision making in locally relevant science issues.

Project Description

Between 2004 and 2006, a project entitled “Case-based learning of high school science subjects to support learning to learn” was carried out with funding from the Quality Education Fund of Hong Kong. The project investigators included the Dean of the Faculty of Science at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and professors from the Faculty of Science, the University’s Centre for Promoting Science Education and the Centre for Learning Enhancement And Research. Many high-school teachers also participated in the project by assisting with CBL teaching sessions at their schools, attending workshops, and contributing feedback and ideas. The goals of the project were to produce a portfolio of interesting and content-rich cases about decision-making on locally relevant science issues with a view to leading and promoting the case-based learning of science subjects in Hong Kong, and to promote the adoption of case-based learning as a practical pedagogic option in schools.

In the first six months of the project, the project team wrote a set of six cases on the topics “Scientific Investigation,” “Life and Living,” “the Material World,” “Energy and Change,” “the Earth and Beyond,” and “Science, Technology, and Society.” In the second six months, the cases were trialed by high-school students, and the process was monitored and evaluated by experts in learning enhancement research. A second set of cases was also written during this period. At the beginning of the second year, the team conducted the first trial of the second set of cases and the second trial of the first set of cases. In the latter part of that year, the revised cases were promoted among high-school teachers in Hong Kong through workshops. The developed cases, each of which came with a teaching guide and student’s learning guide, were distributed with the help of the Science Education Section of the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB).

The achievements of the project over the two years included the creation of case-based teaching materials, the promotion of the CBL method to teachers, and the enhancement of learning among the students who were involved in the actual case-based teaching sessions.

By the end of the project, 13 cases for S3 to S7 students had been developed on the aforementioned topics, and more than 200 teachers had been trained in the workshops. Most of the teachers remarked that they would feel comfortable adopting the case-based method and our materials in their classes (based on the assumption of 40 students per class). About 340 students attended the case-based teaching sessions that were organized by the project, and reported gains in knowledge and “learning to learn” skills and attitudes from the experience.

An important strategy of the project was to reflect on practice through various forms of evaluation. The purpose of the evaluation was to provide insights into two of our main research objectives: to investigate the usefulness of the case-based teaching and learning method in the context of Hong Kong science education, and to accumulate experience about strategies to enable effective case-based teaching.

This process of reflection was based on comments from commentators who were external to the project and from the teachers and students who were involved in the trial sessions. These comments were collected during reviews of the case materials, and from the workshops and case-based teaching sessions that were organized as part of the project.

Message from The Dean of Science

I am pleased to give my greatest gratitude to the Quality Education Fund (QEF) for its generous support of this project. This project is the first of its kind in Hong Kong and perhaps one of the first anywhere. Prof. Leo Lau conceived the idea, QEF provided the financial support and a dedicated team from our Faculty were assembled to make it a reality. A dedicated team indeed, under the strong leadership of Professors David Tsang and Wai-Yin Poon, colleagues from Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Statistics, Centre for Promoting Science Education and Science Faculty Office contributed their greatest efforts to this project which aims to design, write and test-run cases for science teaching. The results will be used and judged by you, teachers and students. The milestones and activities we have accomplished include the completion of 13 cases, introduction of the case-based teaching and learning principles and practices to teachers through teacher workshops, trial-runs with student workshops and on site at schools, and ten concluding workshops. The enthusiastic support of Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) ensured the participation of a good number of teachers and students at the activities. During the whole course of the project, at almost every stage, the team and the CUHK Centre for Learning Enhancement And Research (CLEAR) carried out evaluations for the process, providing feedbacks from team members, teachers, and students. The responses have been positive and very encouraging. Equally important, observers were invited and provided valuable comments and suggestions. Critical comments and suggestions in the responses form the basis of further improvement of the cases and how they are run.

The reform of the secondary school system and curriculum is around the corner. This reform provides great challenges and opportunities for us to design and test innovative educational approaches to teach science more effectively, and to stimulate students to learn more actively and to better appreciate science.

Faculty of Science of CUHK has always supported science education in secondary schools with an array of science educational projects and activities, to name a few, Iron man of Science, Popular Science Talks, Science Summer Camp, another project on talented student training, and many enrichment and out-reach programmes organized by departments of the Science Faculty. This project, Case-based Learning of Science, will be recognized as one of the most important and successful endeavors of the Science Faculty to enhance of science education in schools of Hong Kong.

I thank the project leaders, the team, CLEAR, EMB, observers, participating schools, teachers and students for your dedication and contribution to this project. Again, on behalf of all of us, I thank QEF for its recognition of inquiry-based learning and generous financial support to this project.

Professor KWAN Hoi Shan
Dean of Science
October 2006

Message from The Project Leader

Around the world many countries have engaged themselves in education reform, and this has led to the development of a rich set of documentation and analysis data on failures/successes and problems/solutions. In the context of science education, I like to draw the following remarks from this database:
  • The prime common motive behind these science education reforms is to enhance regional or global economic competitiveness of the task owners, with the belief that scientific literacy will enable individuals to appreciate and competently use the common scientific inquiry approaches in filtering data, analyzing issues, and making decisions. The expected outcomes are citizens with the power of creativity, appreciation of diverse views, acceptance of open-end solutions, and capability of making evidence-based decisions and continuous improvements.
  • The traditional pedagogy of transmissive teaching and passive learning is seemingly efficient for both the transmitters and receivers but in reality it neither guarantees effective communication nor good learning outcomes. In science education, the tolerance and encouragement of passive learning fundamentally violate the essence of science – scientific inquiry, and they suffocate curiosity and creativity.
  • Education reform is not just about changing curriculum, pedagogy, teachers and students. It is about managing these changes properly. When a company performs poorly in business due to failures in making changes to improve its market competitiveness, it can only blame its ineffective management rather than the workers and customers. Similarly, to succeed in setting up inquiry-based science education, the relevant administrators are responsible of designing practical strategic plans with inputs from all stakeholders and deploying these plans with proper change management and resource supports. There are many bolts and nuts required in such a reform. With the reform in USA as an example, these bolts and nuts include its National Science Education Standards; various inquiry-based science education curricula; supply centers of science materials kits for inquiry-based teaching; new assessment techniques and support; professional development considerations and logistics; and administrative and community support.
The present QEF project on developing case-based teaching and learning of science at high schools aims to support our current education reform, particularly inquiry-based science education. Our project team, with members including all investigators and participating school teachers and students, is proud to contribute our teaching cases, teaching/learning guides, and professional training exercises as “bolts and nuts” for making our education reform successful. In comparison to the related “bolts and nuts” made around the world, I must say that the “products” of our project are truly innovative and world-class. More importantly, they are locally relevant and practical. I trust that the relevant administrators responsible for the education reform will continue to practice good change management and put the “bolts and nuts” developed in this project to the “supply-chain” of the education reform in the right place at the right time. In closing the project, I thank the generous financial support from QEF and The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the great inputs and efforts of many conscientious colleagues from QEF, EMB, local high schools, resource centers in science education around the world, and CUHK

Professor LAU Woon Ming Leo
Project Leader
October 2006