Secondary school students' understanding of science processes: an interview study

Thompson, Jeffrey Roland (1990) Secondary school students' understanding of science processes: an interview study. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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    Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.
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Abstract

For many years educators have recognized the need to identify students’ existing beliefs about scientific phenomena because these beliefs often play a major role in the learning of new information, especially when they are at variance with the views commonly accepted by scientists. Beliefs which are inconsistent with scientific consensus are commonly referred to as misconceptions. -- Many researchers have reported student misconceptions about a variety of concepts in all disciplines of science. However, no research efforts have explored the range and prevalence of misconceptions about science process skills. Thus, the need to pursue students’ conceptions about these skills became apparent. The current study investigated the selected processes of planning experiments, hypothesizing, identifying and controlling variables, inferring, observing, interpreting data and predicting. -- Based on interest and participation in science fairs, four groups of eight students from grades 7 to 10 (13 to 16 year olds) were interviewed to identify their conceptions about science process skills. These 32 subjects were grouped as science fair winners (group A), science fair non-winners (group B), science fair participants (group C), or science fair non-participants (group D). The interviews were conducted using a semi-structured interview protocol and each session typically lasted 35 to 45 minutes. All interviews were tape-recorded and subsequently transcribed for later analysis. The transcribed tapes served as the data-base for the construction of conceptual inventories. -- Each conceptual inventory contained the subject's actual beliefs about the specific process skills investigated. All conceptions were organized under the specific headings explored and these inventories were used to identify misconceptions held by each subject. Misconceptions common to at least two subjects were tabulated for further discussion. -- The data collected indicate that students from all four groups have a very inadequate understanding about the processes of science. A wide range of misconceptions were exhibited by subjects from all groups, regardless of interest and participation in science. Much of the confusion experienced by the subjects appears to have originated from confusion with terms that have common sense meanings and scientific meanings which differ. This was particularly evident with the terms independent variables, dependent variables, controlled variables, and observing. -- Some of the most common misconceptions identified in the study include: A hypothesis is a guess about the outcome of an experiment; an independent variable is one that is separate from, or independent of, the rest of an experiment; an independent variable is the same as a controlled variable; a dependent variable is the opposite of an independent variable; a dependent variable is the same as a controlled variable; controlled variables are those whose effects on an experiment are determined and controlled by the experimenter; inferring is the same as observing; an inference is a person's thoughts about a particular phenomenon; observing is seeing or watching what happens; a prediction is a guess about the outcome of an experiment; and a prediction and a hypothesis are the same. -- In all, a total of 58 different misconceptions were identified. Some of these misconceptions were held by over 70% of the subjects, while others were expressed by less than 10% of them. The findings facilitated the identification and discussion of several educational implications.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/5166
Item ID: 5166
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 150-158.
Department(s): Education, Faculty of
Date: 1990
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Science--Study and teaching (Secondary); Science--Methodology--Study and teaching (Secondary)

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