Exploring the Complexity of Students' Scientific Explanations and Associated NOS Views Within a Place-Based Socioscientific Issue Context

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Science & Education






In addition to considering sociocultural, political, economic, and ethical factors (to name a few), effectively engaging socioscientific issues (SSI) requires that students understand and apply scientific explanations and the nature of science (NOS). Promoting such understandings can be achieved through immersing students in authentic real-world contexts where the SSI impacts occur and teaching those students about how scientists comprehend, research, and debate those SSI. This triangulated mixed-methods investigation explored how 60 secondary students’ trophic cascade explanations changed through their experiencing place-based SSI instruction focused on the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction, including scientists’ work and debates regarding that issue. Furthermore, this investigation determined the association between the students’ post place-based SSI instruction trophic cascade explanations and NOS views. Findings from this investigation demonstrate that through the place-based SSI instruction students’ trophic cascade explanations became significantly more accurate and complex and included more ecological causal mechanisms. Also, significant and moderate to moderately large correlations were found between the accuracy and contextualization of students’ post place-based SSI instruction NOS views and the complexity of their trophic cascade explanations. Empirical substantiation of the association between the complexity of students’ scientific explanations and their NOS views responds to an understudied area in the science education research. It also encourages the consideration of several implications, drawn from this investigation’s findings and others’ prior work, which include the need for NOS to be forefront alongside and in connection with science content in curricular standards and through instruction focused on relevant and authentic place-based SSI.


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