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Development & evaluation of a project week for meaningful learning and teaching of nature of science in a german biology class

1. Theoretical background

Nature of science (NOS) is widely accepted to be a key aspect of science education, since NOS addresses general scientific issues such as what science is and how it works, thereby contributing to an enhanced development of scientific literacy (Lederman, 2007; Urhahne, Kremer & Mayer, 2008; Bell, 2009). As a consequence, students are considered to learn about NOS in order to judge socio-scientific issues and thus are able to participate in decision-making processes. Science should therefore be seen as a major element of contemporary culture (Driver, Leach,  Millar & Scott, 1996).

However, in many countries, including Germany, teaching about NOS face several drawbacks (Lederman 2007). For example, science curricula are not specific about teaching of NOS, thereby making it difficult for teachers to recognize when NOS could be applied to science content (Hipkins et al. 2005). Furthermore, teachers may often face a lack of time, since they have to focus on the content of curricula instead of NOS because it is reinforced by assessment practices (Hipkins et al. 2005). Such constraints and obstacles may be the reason that NOS is considered as a mere appendage to science education (Kircher & Dittmer 2004). Therefore, it would be helpful to teach NOS within a framework which does not comply with such constraints.

In Germany, schools regularly conduct project weeks in which pupils focus on a special topic for about four to five consecutive days. Additionally, project weeks need not to comply with regular science curricula and thus can focus on topics that are not relevant for students with regard to assessment in content-focused standards. Thus, on the whole, project weeks are a good opportunity to teach about NOS. Therefore, we designed a 4-day project week, which includes hands-on activities dealing with climate change. The project week is designed in an explicit-reflective way (reviewed in Lederman, 2007), because we offer an actual public topic, combined with hands-on activities in a project week of four consecutive days in which NOS aspects are made explicit each day.


2. Objectives

The aim of the study presented here is to develop an instrument for meaningful learning & teaching about NOS. Thus, we hypothesize that pupils can achieve a meaningful understanding of the NOS aspects considered in this project week (table 1).


3. Research design and methodology

3.1 Conception of project week

Pupils of a seventh grade biology class (aged between 11 to 13 years) from a secondary school take part in the 4-day project week, which takes place in a school lab at the University of Cologne. The project week is designed to increase understanding of some aspects of NOS, including i) imagination, ii) scientific method, iii) objectivity and iv) nature of observation (after Chen 2006) To address these aspects, we designed an individual experiment for each day of the project week. All experiments deal with climate change with focus on the relevance of carbon dioxide and its implications for a) global warming, b) acidification of oceans, and c) algae systems.

Educationally the project week accounts for an effective and engaging instructional form, since we consider three important aspects for teaching about NOS (Bell 2009). Firstly, we make NOS explicit (Khishfe, R., & Abd-El-Khalick, F., 2002) by finishing each day with a summary of the NOS aspect considered that very day. Secondly, we provide contextual learning (Bell 2009), since each NOS aspect is directly linked to experiments & socio-scientific issues. Finally, we link NOS aspects directly to process skills (Bell, Toti, McNall, & Tai, 2004) by involving students to practice scientific skills, which are necessary for scientific activity. A more detailed description of relationships between experiments, process skills, and NOS aspects is given in table 1.


3.2 Evaluation of the project week

We evaluate our project week by combining two different approaches in a pre-post-follow up-test design: Firstly, we use the questionnaire “Views on science and education (VOSE)” as developed by Chen (2006). The questionnaire is a standardized, ten item, large-scale assessment tool to evaluate, among other things, views on seven aspects of NOS (tentativeness of scientific knowledge, nature of observation, scientific methods, hypotheses, laws, and theories, imagination, validation of scientific knowledge, and objectivity and subjectivity in science). Each question is followed by several items, which allow determining naïve conceptions and views on NOS. We excluded questions regarding NOS aspects that are not part of our project week. The questionnaire was translated into German and piloted with scientists, teachers, and pupils.

It is recommended to use further methods to draw conclusive statements about someone’s views on NOS. Therefore, secondly, we use concept maps in order to assess prior knowledge and knowledge gain of pupils participating. Additionally, concept maps are considered a useful tool for evaluating program effectiveness (Cañas, Novak & Gonzáles, 2004).

Collection of data starts one week before, and is continued immediately and 6 weeks after the project week.


4. Results

Analysis of VOSE and concept maps starts after completion of the project week.


5. References

Bell, R.L. (2009). Teaching the Nature of Science: Three Critical Questions.

Bell, R.L., Toti, D., McNall, R.L., & Tai, R.L. (2004). Beliefs into action: Beginning teachers’ implementation of nature of science instruction. A paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Associataion for the Education of teachers in Science, Nashville, TN.

Cañas, A.J., Novak J.D., González F.M. (2004). Concept Maps: Theory, Methodology, Technology. Proceedings of the First International Conference on Concept Mapping, Pamplona, Spain 2004.

Chen, S. (2006). View on science and education (VOSE) questionnaire. Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, 7(2), Article 11.

Driver, R., Leach, J., Millar, R. & Scott, P. (1996) Young People’s Images of Science, Open University Press, Buckingham.

Hipkins, R., Barker, M., & Bolstad, R. (2005). Teaching the ‘nature of science’: Modest adaptations or radical reconceptions? International Journal of Science Education, 27(2),243-254.

Khishfe, R., & Abd-El-Khalick, F. (2002). Influence of explicit and reflective versus implicit inquiry-oriented instruction on sixth grader‘ views of nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching,39, 551-578.

Kircher E. & Dittmer, A. (2004). Lehren und lernen über die Natur der Naturwissenschaften – ein Überblick. In: Hößle, C., Höttecke, D. & Kircher, E. (Eds.), Lehren und lernen über die Natur der Naturwissenschaften. Schneider Verlag Hohengehren GmbH.

Lederman, N.G. (2007) Nature of Science: Past, Present, and Future. In: Abell, S.K. and Lederman, N.G. (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Science Education p. 831-880

Novak, J. D., & Gowin, D. B. (1984). Learning how to learn. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] ;, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Urhahne D., Kremer K., Mayer J. (2008) Welches Verständnis haben Jugendliche von der Natur der Naturwissenschaften? Entwicklung und erste Schritte zur Validierung eines Fragebogens. Unterrichtswissenschaften 36(1):71-93.