Date of Award

7-3-2007

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Lisa Martin-Hansen - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Geeta Verma

Third Advisor

Dr. Olga Jarrett

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Michael Dias

Abstract

Recent reform efforts in science education focus on scientific literacy for all citizens. In order to be scientifically literate, an individual must have informed understandings of nature of science (NOS), scientific inquiry, and science content matter. This study specifically focused on Science Olympiad students’ understanding of NOS as one piece of scientific literacy. Research consistently shows that science students do not have informed understandings of NOS (Abd-El-Khalick, 2002; Bell, Blair, Crawford, and Lederman, 2002; Kilcrease and Lucy, 2002; Schwartz, Lederman, and Thompson, 2001). However, McGhee-Brown, Martin, Monsaas and Stombler (2003) found that Science Olympiad students had in-depth understandings of science concepts, principles, processes, and techniques. Science Olympiad teams compete nationally and are found in rural, urban, and suburban schools. In an effort to learn from students who are generally considered high achieving students and who enjoy science, as opposed to the typical science student, the purpose of this study was to investigate Science Olympiad students’ understandings of NOS and the experiences that formed their understandings. An interpretive, qualitative, case study method was used to address the research questions. The participants were purposefully and conveniently selected from the Science Olympiad team at a suburban high school. Data collection consisted of the Views of Nature of Science – High School Questionnaire (VNOS-HS) (Schwartz, Lederman, & Thompson, 2001), semi-structured individual interviews, and a focus group. The main findings of this study were similar to much of the previous research in that the participants had informed understandings of the tentative nature of science and the role of inferences in science, but they did not have informed understandings of the role of human imagination and creativity, the empirical nature of science, or theories and laws. High level science classes and participation in Science Olympiad did not translate into informed understandings of NOS. There were implications that labs with a set procedure and given data tables did not contribute to informed NOS understandings, while explicit instruction may have contributed to more informed understandings. Exploring these high achieving, Science Olympiad students’ understandings of NOS was a crucial step to understanding what experiences formed these students’ understandings so that teachers may better their practices and help more students succeed in becoming scientifically literate citizens.

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