It is hard to imagine how one can be scientifically literate without understanding
what science is about. One of the central elements of science education reform efforts
over the last twenty years has been ensuring that students have a deep understanding of
the nature of science (Abd-El-Khalick et al., 2008). However, research suggests these
efforts have done little to improve students’ understanding of the nature of science
(Sutherland et al., 2007). Much of the current research is aimed at evaluating the
correctness of students’ conceptions or classifying conceptions according to
philosophical positions (Bell et al, 2003; Khishfe 2008). This study attempts to build off
that work by using an emergent phenomenographic research approach to identify
variations in high school chemistry students’ thinking about the nature of science, using
open-ended written response data from a six-item questionnaire that probes the following
aspects of the nature of science:
• Purpose of science
• Tentativeness of scientific knowledge and the nature of theories
• Creativity & imagination
• Aim & structure of experiments
This analysis yielded 39 primary level codes, which were then collapsed based on
similarity into 14 categories of description. These categories reflect a wide range of
understanding about science. Further analysis highlighted relationships between the
categories and suggests two different orientations toward the nature of science. Some
high school students orient their thinking about science in terms of an activity driven to
prove or make certain, characterized by a collection of facts, whereas other students
orient their thinking about science in terms of a finding out activity that results in discovering new information. The results of this study reveal more nuanced conceptions
within these four aspects of the nature of science. Implications for science education and
future research are discussed.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2010. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Frances Lawrenz and Gillian Roehrig. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 197 pages, appendices A-D.
Keiser, Jonathan Charles.
Identifying variations in thinking about the nature of science: a phenomenographic study.
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