EXPLORING PROSPECTIVE SECONDARY SCIENCE TEACHERS’ UNDERSTANDINGS OF SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY AND MENDELIAN GENETICS CONCEPTS USING COMPUTER SIMULATION

Open Access
Author:
Cakir, Mustafa
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
May 17, 2004
Committee Members:
  • Barbara Crawford, Committee Chair
  • William Carlsen, Committee Member
  • Peter A Rubba Jr., Committee Member
  • Hoi Kin Suen, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • Learning Mendelian Genetics
  • Inquiry Learning
  • Secondary Science Teacher Education
  • Understandings of scientific inquiry
  • Using Simulations in Science Learning.
Abstract:
The primary objective of this case study was to examine prospective secondary science teachers’ developing understanding of scientific inquiry and Mendelian genetics. A computer simulation of basic Mendelian inheritance processes (Catlab) was used in combination with small-group discussions and other instructional scaffolds to enhance prospective science teachers’ understandings. The theoretical background for this research is derived from a social constructivist perspective. Structuring scientific inquiry as investigation to develop explanations presents meaningful context for the enhancement of inquiry abilities and understanding of the science content. The context of the study was a teaching and learning course focused on inquiry and technology. Twelve prospective science teachers participated in this study. Multiple data sources included pre- and post-module questionnaires of participants’ view of scientific inquiry, pre-posttests of understandings of Mendelian concepts, inquiry project reports, class presentations, process videotapes of participants interacting with the simulation, and semi-structured interviews. Seven selected prospective science teachers participated in in-depth interviews. Findings suggest that while studying important concepts in science, carefully designed inquiry experiences can help prospective science teachers to develop an understanding about the types of questions scientists in that field ask, the methodological and epistemological issues that constrain their pursuit of answers to those questions, and the ways in which they construct and share their explanations. Key findings included prospective teachers’ initial limited abilities to create evidence-based arguments, their hesitancy to include inquiry in their future teaching, and the impact of collaboration on thinking. Prior to this experience the prospective teachers held uninformed views of scientific inquiry. After the module, participants demonstrated extended expertise in their understandings of following aspects of scientific inquiry: a) the iterative nature of scientific inquiry; b) the tentativeness of specific knowledge claims; c) the degree to which scientists rely on empirical data, as well as broader conceptual and metaphysical commitments, to assess models and to direct future inquiries; d) the need for conceptual consistency; e) multiple methods of investigations and multiple interpretations of data; and f) social and cultural aspects of scientific inquiry. This research provided evidence that hypothesis testing can support the integrated acquisition of conceptual and procedural knowledge in science. Participants’ conceptual elaborations of Mendelian inheritance were enhanced. There were qualitative changes in the nature of the participants’ explanations. Moreover, the average percentage of correct responses improved from 39% on the pretest to 67% on the posttest. Findings also suggest those prospective science teachers’ experiences as learners of science in their methods course served as a powerful tool for thinking about the role of inquiry in teaching and learning science. They had mixed views about enacting inquiry in their teaching in the future. All of them stated some kind of general willingness to do so; yet, they also mentioned some reservations and practical considerations about inquiry-based teaching.