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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Learning about heat and temperature : a study of a grade nine science class Haggerty, Sharon May


Many students complete science units with little or no understanding of the concepts taught. Such students frequently cope with difficult science concepts by memorizing definitions, formulas and other school science facts. Some researchers have suggested that one factor which may be related to difficulties students have is the students' prior beliefs about the topic. If a student possesses well established beliefs about scientific phenomena, and if those beliefs are contrary to the view presented in school science, the student is placed in a conflict position. If instruction does nothing to discredit a prior alternative belief, a student may reject the school science view, in favour of his/her alternative view. Students' beliefs about heat and temperature were investigated prior to, and during a grade nine science unit. Many of the students' prior alternative beliefs persisted in spite of instruction. Instruction did not attempt to discredit the alternative beliefs. Rather, the school science view was presented and said to be correct. Many students responded by memorizing school science definitions and facts. Some students appeared to distinguish between correct answers for school science and what they believed to be true, giving one view on the school science test and another on the posttest. School science achievement was significantly related to success on the lowest level questions of the posttest, but not to higher level questions, presumably because many students relied on rote learning for their success in school science. Boys outperformed girls on higher level, but not lower level posttest questions. Boys contributed more to class discussion than did girls, and participation in class discussion was related to success on higher level posttest questions. Five factors appeared to account, in part, for many of the difficulties experienced by students: many phenomena were explained in terms of the mechanical energy of the particles of matter; some phenomena were not explained, and some of the more competent students expected to have explanations; some alternative beliefs were neither identified nor addressed during instruction; many students seemed unaware of the function of a scientific model; and, some concepts were not adequately discussed in class.

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