Theses Doctoral

Applications of the Nature of Science to Teacher Pedagogy Through the Situation of Neuroscience Within the Context of Daily Classroom Practice

Hopkins, Kristina

Educational research has established a positive influence of learning the nature of science (NOS) on teachers’ practice when an explicit reflective approach to instruction is employed (Abd-El-Khalick, 2001; Abd-El-Khalick & Akerson, 2004; Akerson, Abd-El-Khalick, & Lederman, 2000; Duschl & Grandy, 2013; Lederman, 2007; Pintrich, Marx, & Boyle, 1993; Schwartz & Crawford, 2004). Additionally, research focused on the utility of teaching teachers neuroscience has indicated a positive connection between learning neuroscience in professional development settings and effective classroom practice (Dubinsky, Roehrig, & Varma, 2013; Roehrig, Michlin, Schmitt, MacNabb, & Dubinsky, 2012). Therefore, this study hypothesizes that there is an important connection between neuroscience and teachers’ conceptions of NOS, in that neuroscience can be used as a tool to better understand the complex NOS, and that this understanding has connections to classroom practice. This study presents an approach for NOS instruction that utilizes a situated approach for teaching NOS in addition to using “catalytic groups” to push forward the discussions about the potential connections that could be made between neuroscience and NOS. The goal of this study was to explore the potential relationship between neuroscience and NOS as a method for better understanding the complex NOS and define that relationship more clearly. Additionally, the study was designed to measure the effectiveness of the alternative design approach for situated NOS instruction. This novel design approach consisted of the use of ‘catalytic groups’, or small groups that met outside of class time, whose conversations guided the conceptual changes for students in the larger class setting.
A mixed-methods analysis was utilized to investigate how the 17 participants in this study interacted over the course of the four weeks, how their understandings of NOS and their attitudes and beliefs toward integrating neuroscience and NOS change over time into one cohesive understanding of NOS. Additionally, a case study was conducted that provided deeper insight into participant interactions during the four-week course. Evidence collected in this study included Likert surveys, open-ended reflection reports, observations, a researcher journal, and transcriptions of catalytic group settings. Using a theoretical framework of conceptual change, a number of findings were realized from the evidence collected. These findings are presented in the form of a manuscript approach to the dissertation, where each Results chapter is presented as a single, separate research paper that is appropriate for formal publication. These two separate manuscripts use conceptual change as the theoretical framework for data analysis. Chapter 4 presents the mixed-methods analysis of all 17 participants in the study and Chapter 5 presents a mixed-methods, case study approach of three participants.
Based on the evidence in Chapter 4, three major findings were realized: (1) previous exposure to NOS may help students to apply the abstract tenets of NOS to a scientific context, (2) the use of neuroscience as a situated approach for NOS instruction was particularly effective for areas of neuroscience most closely related to teachers’ practice, and (3) added time for critical reflection and small-group discourse impacted the perceived importance of NOS on daily classroom practice. The three findings provide evidence for a meaningful re-design of the novel instructional approach used in this study for further implementation in NOS instruction, with an emphasis on utilizing small-group discussion settings for students to reflect on their changing understandings of NOS in relation to teacher pedagogy.
Based on the evidence in Chapter 5, three main findings are reported: (1) the degree of appropriateness of neuroscience for contextualized NOS instruction may be varied based on students’ perceived intelligibility of neuroscience, (2) when context-specific NOS instruction is utilized, it is imperative that students connect the specific context used for instruction to their own scientific knowledge and experiences, and (3) when students are learning NOS, those learning opportunities must have perceived value and relevance to the professional development of students. The findings from this study provide evidence of the usefulness of integrating neuroscience and NOS in the quest to better understand how students comprehend the nature of the scientific discipline. In this study, neuroscience was particularly useful because of its character as a ‘contemporary science story’, where the tenets of NOS are explicit and easy to see. Areas of future research are also explored, with suggestions on the use of neuroscience to teach the complex NOS.
Three common themes describe the findings from each of the Results chapters that comprise this study. First, neuroscience can prove as a useful scientific context for NOS instruction even when students are not necessarily familiar with neuroscience content. However, this usefulness depends on students’ ability to connect neuroscience to classroom practice and/or to their own science disciplinary focus. Second, critical reflection proved to be an important aspect of NOS instruction, as it allowed students to reflect on their own understandings of NOS with a focus on how those understandings have changed over time. Last, the catalytic groups that define the alternative model for NOS instruction that was used in this study positively impacted NOS learning. These groups impacted students’ ability to synthesize neuroscience with NOS into a cohesive understanding of NOS at a general level. These findings leave a variety of implications for future NOS instruction in addition to suggestions for the future use of the instructional approach presented in this study. Those implications include the use of more catalytic groups for NOS instruction, where all students are engaged in small-group discussions that inform future NOS instruction, and more targeted metacognitive strategies for NOS instruction, where specific strategies are employed to allow all learners to develop a ‘deep processing’ orientation toward NOS.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Science Education
Thesis Advisors
Emdin, Christopher
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2018