Theses Doctoral

Skill Development, Meaningful Content, and Broad Practice as Contributors to a Deep Understanding of Science

Lesperance, Rosiane

Scientific literacy entails mastery of basic scientific thinking practices. Rather than focus attention exclusively on students’ acquisition of science content knowledge, students should be engaged in the practice of science in order to support development of the critical thinking skills essential to scientific work. Previous research (Kuhn et al., 2017) has demonstrated the advancement of high-school students’ scientific reasoning and understanding of the nature of science following participation in a problem-based inquiry activity based on a socio-scientific issue. The present research investigates whether superior maintenance and transfer of scientific practices and understandings occur when students engage in investigations involving multiple such issues, including one of particular personal relevance for the population of students who participated.

The intervention employed in the current work is the same one as in the study by Kuhn et al. (2017). However, in this study 84 ninth-grade students were assigned to one of three intervention groups who addressed different topics in a classroom activity that took place over five sessions of eighty minutes each. One group (the Astronaut group) addressed a neutral topic. The second group (the Asthma group) addressed a personally relevant topic. The third group addressed both of these topics. Students worked in pairs in a guided problem-based investigation to identify relations between multiple factors and an outcome. Students’ investigations began with comparisons of individual data points, and then proceeded to comparison of entire samples depicted graphically in Inspire Data, a data analysis tool for beginners. Thirty days following completion of the intervention, students were assessed on their ability to design controlled comparisons, to coordinate the effects of multiple-variables on an outcome, and to understand principles of scientific method.

Results showed no statistically significant differences across groups in the maintenance and transfer of skills; the development of an experimental design, counterargument, and selection of informative evidence, although all groups showed gains compared to an earlier non-intervention group (Kuhn et al., 2017). However, the third multiple-topic group showed superior performance to the first two groups, in particular with respect to the understanding of multiple causes contributing to an outcome. These results suggest that the relevance of content and provision of multiple contexts to apply skills and understandings can enhance the development of science skills and understandings and aid in understanding their real-life relevance.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cognitive Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Kuhn, Deanna
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 3, 2021