Johnston, A. T. (2000). A conceptual change analysis of nature of science conceptions: The deep roots and entangled vines of a conceptual ecology.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

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ABSTRACT

This research used theories of conceptual change to analyze learnersí understandings of the nature of science (NOS). Ideas regarding the NOS have been advocated as vital aspects of science literacy, yet learners at many levels (students and teachers) have difficulty in understanding these aspects in the way that science literacy reforms advocate. Although previous research has shown the inadequacies in learnersí NOS understandings and have documented ways by which to improve some of these understandings, little has been done to show how these ideas develop and why learnersí preexisting conceptions of NOS are so resistant to conceptual change. The premise of this study, then, was to describe the nature of NOS conceptions and of the conceptual change process itself by deeply analyzing the conceptions of individual learners.

Toward this end, 4 individuals enrolled in a physical science course designed for preservice elementary teachers were selected to participate in a qualitative research study. These individuals answered questionnaires, surveys, direct interview questions, and a variety of interview probes (e.g., critical incidents, responses to readings/videos, reflections on coursework, card sorting tasks, etc.) which were administered throughout the duration of a semester. By utilizing these in-depth, qualitative probes, learnersí conceptions were not only assessed but also described in great detail, revealing the source of their conceptions as well as identifying many instances in which a learnerís directly stated conception was contradictory to that which was reflected by more indirect probes.

As a result of this research, implications regarding NOS conceptions and their development have been described. In addition, various descriptions of conceptual change have been further refined and informed. Especially notable, the influence of a learnerís conceptual ecology and its extrarational influences on conceptual change have been highlighted. It is argued that conceptual change theory must continue to look at the nature and importance of learnersí conceptual ecologies and that the learning of NOS concepts cannot be viewed as purely rational constructions.


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