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Theses Doctoral

Critical Science Education in a Suburban High School Chemistry Class

Ashby, Patrick Decla

To improve students’ scientific literacy and their general perceptions of chemistry, I enacted critical chemistry education (CCE) in two “regular level” chemistry classes with a group of 25 students in a suburban, private high school as part of this study. CCE combined the efforts of critical science educators (Fusco & Calabrese Barton, 2001; Gilbert 2013) with the performance expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (NGSS Lead States, 2013a) to critically transform the traditional chemistry curriculum at this setting. Essentially, CCE engages students in the critical exploration of socially situated chemistry content knowledge and requires them to demonstrate this knowledge through the practices of science. The purpose of this study was to gauge these students development of chemistry content knowledge, chemistry interest, and critical scientific literacy (CSL) as they engaged in CCE. CSL was a construct developed for this study that necessarily combined the National Research Center’s (2012) definition of scientific literacy with a critical component. As such, CSL entailed demonstrating content knowledge through the practices of science as well as the ability to critically analyze the intersections between science content and socially relevant issues. A mixed methods, critical ethnographic approach framed the collection of data from open-ended questionnaires, focus group interviews, Likert surveys, pre- and post unit tests, and student artifacts. These data revealed three main findings: (1) students began to develop CSL in specific, significant ways working through the activities of CCE, (2) student participants of CCE developed a comparable level of chemistry content understanding to students who participated in a traditional chemistry curriculum, and (3) CCE developed a group of students’ perceptions of interest in chemistry. In addition to being able to teach students discipline specific content knowledge, the implications of this study are that CCE has the ability to affect students’ critical science thinking in positive ways. However, to develop longer lasting, deeper critical insights that students use to participate in science-related issues outside of class, critical science education must be enacted longitudinally and across disciplines. Furthermore, it must be enacted in ways that either prompt or help students to transfer classroom learning outside of the classroom as they engage in critical issues in the classroom.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Science Education
Thesis Advisors
Mensah, Felicia
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 20, 2016