Tag Archive: Sciences

How students combine resources to build understanding of complex topics (Education Papers posted on May 15th, 2014 )

The field of Physics Education Research (PER) seeks to investigate how students learn physics and how instructors can help students learn more effectively. The process by which learners create understanding about a complex physics concept is an active area of research. My study explores this process, using solar cells as the context. To understand how a photovoltaic cell works involves drawing knowledge from many different areas of physics, so this provides a fertile area to study how students build understanding of complex ideas. I have used the “knowledge in pieces” theoretical framework to understand how students learn about solar cells by activating cognitive resources. In this framework, we can see learners building understanding out of more Basic bits of knowledge, known as resources, that are derived from students’ prior experience. This study seeks to learn more about how students combine multiple resources as they construct understanding of a complex physics topic. To achieve this goal, I have created instructional materials and assessment instruments used to collect written and spoken data on students’ reasoning. The analysis of this data revealed that students are most likely to successfully build understanding when they activate multiple types of resource simultaneously. I propose possible explanations for this pattern and present ways this finding could impact instruction.

Significant life experience: Exploring the lifelong influence of place-based environmental and science education on program participants (Education Papers posted on May 14th, 2014 )

Current research provides a limited understanding of the life long influence of nonformal place-based Environmental and science Education programs on past participants. This study looks to address this gap, exploring the ways in which these learning environments have contributed to Environmental identity and stewardship. Using Dorothy Holland’s approach to Social practice theory’s understanding of identity formation, this study employed narrative interviews and a close-ended survey to understand past participants’ experience over time. Participants from two place-based Environmental Education programs and one science-inquiry program were asked to share their reflections on their program experience and the influence they attribute to that experience. Among all participants, the element of hands-on learning, supportive instructors, and engaging learning environments remained salient over time. Participants of nature-based programs demonstrated that these programs in particular were formative in contributing to an environmental stewardship identity. Social practice theory can serve as a helpful theoretical framework for significant life experience research, which has largely been missing from this body of research. This study also holds implications for the fields of place-based environmental education, conservation psychology, and sustainability planning, all of which look to understand and increase environmentally sustainable practices.

Student perceptions of secondary science: A performance technology application (Education Papers posted on May 13th, 2014 )

The primary purpose of this study was to identify influences blocking or promoting science performance from the lived K-12 classroom experience. Human Performance Technology protocols were used to understand factors promoting or hindering science performance. The goal was to gain information from the individual students perspective to enhance opportunities for stakeholders to improve the current state of performance in science Education. Individual perspectives of 10 secondary science students were examined using grounded theory protocols. Findings include students science learning behaviors are influenced by two major themes, Environmental supports and individual learning behaviors. The three Environmental support factors identified include the methods students receive instruction, students opportunities to access informal help apart from formal instruction, and students feelings of teacher likability. Additionally, findings include three major factors causing individual learners to generate knowledge in science. Factors reported include personalizing information to transform data into knowledge, customizing learning opportunities to maximize peak performance, and tapping motivational opportunities to persevere through complex concepts. The emergent theory postulated is that if a performance problem exists in an educational setting, then integrating student perspectives into the cause analysis opens opportunity to align interventions for influencing student performance outcomes. An adapted version of Gilberts Behavioral Engineering Model is presented as an organizational tool to display the findings. The boundaries of this Performance Technology application do not extend to the identification, selection, design, or implementation of solutions to improved science performance. However, as stakeholders begin to understand learner perspectives then aligned decisions may be created to support learners of science in a direct, cost effective manner.

Teacher challenges, perceptions, and use of science models in middle school classrooms about climate, weather, and energy concepts (Education Papers posted on May 13th, 2014 )

Research suggests that scientific models and modeling should be topics covered in K-12 classrooms as part of a comprehensive science curriculum. It is especially important when talking about topics in weather and climate, where Computer and forecast models are the center of attention. There are several approaches to model based inquiry, but it can be argued, theoretically, that science models can be effectively implemented into any approach to inquiry if they are utilized appropriately. Yet, it remains to be explored how science models are actually implemented in classrooms. This study qualitatively looks at three middle school science teachers’ use of science models with various approaches to inquiry during their weather and climate units. Results indicate that the teacher who used the most elements of inquiry used models in a way that aligned best with the theoretical framework than the teachers who used fewer elements of inquiry. The theoretical framework compares an approach to argument-based inquiry to model-based inquiry, which argues that the approaches are essentially identical, so teachers who use inquiry should be able to apply model-based inquiry using the same approach. However, none of the teachers in this study had a complete understanding of the role models play in authentic science inquiry, therefore students were not explicitly exposed to the ideas that models can be used to make predictions about, and are representations of, a natural phenomenon. Rather, models were explicitly used to explain concepts to students or have students explain concepts to the teacher or to each other. Additionally, models were used as a focal point for conversation between students, usually as they were creating, modifying, or using models. Teachers were not observed asking students to evaluate models. Since science models are an important aspect of understanding science, it is important that teachers not only know how to implement models into an inquiry environment, but also understand the characteristics of science models so that they can explicitly teach the concept of modeling to students. This study suggests that better pre-service and in-service teacher Education is needed to prepare students to teach about science models effectively.

Life science teachers’ decision making on sex education (Education Papers posted on May 13th, 2014 )

The desires of young people and especially young bodies are constructed at the intersections of policies that set the parameters of sex Education policies, the embodied experiences of students in classrooms, and the way bodies are discussed in the complex language of science. Moreover, more research points to the lack of scientifically and medically accurate information about sex Education. Through this research, I hope to extend the discussion about sex education to life science classrooms, where youth can discuss how sex occurs according to scientific concepts and processes. However, science classrooms are caught in a double bind: They maintain positivist methods of teaching science while paying little attention to the nature of science or the nature and function of science that offer explanations of scientific phenomena. In this study, I describe how science teachers made decisions about what to include or not include about sexuality in a life science classroom and the discursive frameworks that shaped these decisions. I also analyzed the ways that these relationships functioned to produce certain truths, or discourses. The current trends in research concerning SSI are pointing to understanding how controversial issues are framed according to personal philosophies, identities, and teaching approaches. If we can understand science teachers inner aspects as they relate to sexuality education, we can also understand the deep-seeded motivations behind how these specific issues are being taught. In science classrooms where a discussion of the body is part of the curriculum, specific discourses of the body and sex/sexuality are excluded. In this study, I describe how science teachers made decisions about what to include or not include about sexuality in a life science classroom and the discursive practices that shaped these decisions.

Fostering science literacy, environmental stewardship, and collaboration: Assessing a garden-based approach to teaching life science (Education Papers posted on May 13th, 2014 )

Recently, schools nationwide have expressed a renewed interest in school gardens (California School Garden Network, 2010), viewing them as innovative educational tools. Most of the scant studies on these settings investigate the Health/nutritional impacts, Environmental attitudes, or emotional dispositions of students. However, few studies examine the science learning potential of a school garden from an informal learning perspective. Those studies that do examine learning emphasize individual learning of traditional school content (math, science, etc.) (Blaire, 2009; Dirks & Orvis, 2005; Klemmer, Waliczek & Zajicek, 2005a & b; Smith & Mostenbocker, 2005). My study sought to demonstrate the value of school garden learning through a focus on measures of learning typically associated with traditional learning environments, as well as informal learning environments. Grounded in situated, experiential, and contextual model of learning theories, the purpose of this case study was to examine the impacts of a school garden program at a K-3 elementary school. Results from pre/post tests, pre/post surveys, interviews, recorded student conversations, and student work reveal a number of affordances, including science learning, cross-curricular lessons in an authentic setting, a sense of school community, and positive shifts in attitude toward nature and working collaboratively with other students. I also analyzed this garden-based unit as a type curriculum reform in one school in an effort to explore issues of implementing effective practices in schools. Facilitators and barriers to implementing a garden-based science curriculum at a K-3 elementary school are discussed. Participants reported a number of implementation processes necessary for success: leadership, vision, and material, human, and Social resources. However, in spite of facilitators, teachers reported barriers to implementing the garden-based curriculum, specifically lack of time and content knowledge.

Teaching genetics using hands-on models, problem solving, and inquiry-based methods (Education Papers posted on April 11th, 2014 )

Teaching genetics can be challenging because of the difficulty of the content and misconceptions students might hold. This thesis focused on using hands-on model activities, problem solving, and inquiry-based teaching/learning methods in order to increase student understanding in an introductory biology class in the area of genetics. Various activities using these three methods were implemented into the classes to address any misconceptions and increase student learning of the difficult concepts. The activities that were implemented were shown to be successful based on pre-post assessment score comparison. The students were assessed on the subjects of inheritance patterns, meiosis, and protein synthesis and demonstrated growth in all of the areas. It was found that hands-on models, problem solving, and inquiry-based activities were more successful in learning concepts in genetics and the students were more engaged than tradition styles of lecture.

The dilemma of guidance in scientific inquiry teaching (Education Papers posted on March 27th, 2013 )

The dilemma of guidance is a universal predicament that lies at the core of teaching. That is, teachers must simultaneously allow students to explore and learn on their own, while making sure that students efforts result in the particular understandings that we want them to learn. The space between is occupied by some level of guidance provided by the teacher to support students learning; yet the nature of that guidance remains unknown for many teachers. This study is a mixed-method, multiple case study that explores the guidance four teachers provided their students during discussions in scientific inquiry investigations. The scientific inquiry reform movement has been around for over 40 years, and has shown positive impact on student learning; however, present descriptions of scientific inquiry teaching are vague and have led to large variations in how teachers actually implement this method in their classrooms. Through a review of literature on the role of discourse in classrooms, I developed a collection of strategies that are indicative of more or less guidance provided by the teacher during discussions. I then applied this framework in a larger study that examined the impact of formative assessment on teachers teaching a middle school, physical science unit on sinking and floating that helps students develop a relative-density based, universal explanation for sinking and floating. From the 12 teachers who were trained to use this curriculum the larger study, I selected four for this dissertation. Two of these teachers had students who showed higher learning gains from pre- to posttests of student learning, while the other two teachers students showed lower learning gains. This dissertation used three sources of data—videotapes of classroom discussions, teacher interviews, and measures of student learning—to explore the nature of guidance and its relationship to student learning. The four teachers lessons were examined and their whole-class discussions were identified; these discussions were then segmented and coded according to the directedness of guidance provided by the teacher and the level of conceptual understanding evident in the discourse. The resulting coding summaries were paired with teacher interviews and used to triangulate propositions about each teachers pattern of guidance. In addition, students learning was measured at four points through the unit to determine the state of students explanations of sinking and floating. The findings of this study revealed large differences in the guidance teachers provided students during the unit. Teachers whose students showed lower gains in learning exhibited patterns of alternating between high and low levels of guidance. The teachers whose students showed higher gains had more mixed patterns of guidance. The results suggested that the teachers whose students had higher gains illustrated more instructionally responsive teaching, and took an active role to move students toward learning goals, whereas the lower-gain classes received little meaningful guidance from teachers. Measures of student learning indicated teacher effects. This dissertation suggests that current descriptions of scientific inquiry teaching have led to interpretations of the method that do not acknowledge the vital role of the teacher in actively guiding students to reach learning goals.

Developing resident learning profiles: Do scientific evidence epistemology beliefs, EBM self-efficacy beliefs and EBM skills matter (Education Papers posted on March 26th, 2013 )

This study investigated resident scientific evidence epistemology beliefs, evidence based medicine EBM) self-efficacy beliefs, and EBM skills. A convenience sample of fifty-one residents located in six U.S. based residency programs completed an online instrument. Hofers epistemology survey questionnaire was modified to test responses based on four types of scientific evidence encountered in Medical practice Clinical Trial Phase 1, Clinical Trial Phase 3, Meta-analysis and Qualitative). It was hypothesized that epistemology beliefs would differ based on the type of scientific evidence considered. A principal components analysis produced a two factor solution that was significant across type of scientific evidence suggesting that when evaluating epistemology beliefs context does matter. Factor 1 is related to the certainty of research methods and the certainty of Medical conclusions and factor 2 denotes Medical justification. For each type of scientific evidence, both factors differed on questions comprising the factor structure with significant differences found for the factor 1 and 2 questions. A justification belief case problem using checklist format was triangulated with the survey results, and as predicted the survey and checklist justification z scores indicated no significant differences, and two new justification themes emerged. Modified versions of Finney and Schraws statistical self-efficacy and skill instruments produced expected significant EBM score correlations with unexpected results indicating that the number of EBM and statistics courses are not significant for EBM self-efficacy and skill scores. The study results were applied to the construction of a learning profile that provided residents belief and skill feedback specific to individual learning needs. The learning profile design incorporated core values related to Believer populations that focus on art, harmony, tact and diplomacy. Future research recommendations include testing context and case problems in other domains with larger sample sizes, offering belief feedback profiles to understand how individuals value and apply belief knowledge, and conducting belief and skill testing using online access.

Developing resident learning profiles: Do scientific evidence epistemology beliefs, EBM self-efficacy beliefs and EBM skills matter (Education Papers posted on March 26th, 2013 )

This study investigated resident scientific evidence epistemology beliefs, evidence based medicine EBM) self-efficacy beliefs, and EBM skills. A convenience sample of fifty-one residents located in six U.S. based residency programs completed an online instrument. Hofers epistemology survey questionnaire was modified to test responses based on four types of scientific evidence encountered in Medical practice Clinical Trial Phase 1, Clinical Trial Phase 3, Meta-analysis and Qualitative). It was hypothesized that epistemology beliefs would differ based on the type of scientific evidence considered. A principal components analysis produced a two factor solution that was significant across type of scientific evidence suggesting that when evaluating epistemology beliefs context does matter. Factor 1 is related to the certainty of research methods and the certainty of Medical conclusions and factor 2 denotes Medical justification. For each type of scientific evidence, both factors differed on questions comprising the factor structure with significant differences found for the factor 1 and 2 questions. A justification belief case problem using checklist format was triangulated with the survey results, and as predicted the survey and checklist justification z scores indicated no significant differences, and two new justification themes emerged. Modified versions of Finney and Schraws statistical self-efficacy and skill instruments produced expected significant EBM score correlations with unexpected results indicating that the number of EBM and statistics courses are not significant for EBM self-efficacy and skill scores. The study results were applied to the construction of a learning profile that provided residents belief and skill feedback specific to individual learning needs. The learning profile design incorporated core values related to Believer populations that focus on art, harmony, tact and diplomacy. Future research recommendations include testing context and case problems in other domains with larger sample sizes, offering belief feedback profiles to understand how individuals value and apply belief knowledge, and conducting belief and skill testing using online access.