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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sea of images : a study of the relationships amongst students' orientations, beliefs, and science instruction Snively, Gloria Jean


Recent research in education has established that students at quite young ages bring to instruction beliefs which they construct from their own experiences, and that such beliefs are remarkably resistent to change. Although a growing body of research focuses on the nature of these beliefs, little attention has been given to the values underlying these beliefs and the way in which students’ beliefs and values may have an impact upon the ways in which they respond to and interpret instruction in science. One way of describing a set of beliefs and its underlying values is through the construct of an "orientation". In this study, an orientation referred to a tendency for an individual to understand and experience the world through an interpretive framework, embodying a coherent set of beliefs and values. The purpose of this study was to explore the relationships between the students' orientations towards the seashore, their beliefs about specific seashore relationships, and their experiences during science instruction. The study involved the collection and analysis, by metaphor and literal interviews, of students' orientations and beliefs before and after instruction. By looking for patterns in the students' responses, six different orientations were identified (scientific, aesthetic, utilitarian, spiritual, recreational, and health and safety), as well as a diversity of beliefs about specific seashore relationships (tidal cycle, habitat, predator-prey, food chain, community, pollution, conservation, etc.). In addition, observations were made during classroom instruction and interviews with individuals in the school and the community were conducted to aid in the analysis of the students' orientations and beliefs. The primary focus of instruction was to introduce a basic set of ecological concepts focused around seashore relationships. In order to increase a students' knowledge of beach ecology, the teacher attempted to use instructional metaphors which were sensitive to the student's preferred orientation identified prior to instruction. A second purpose of instruction was to enhance the student's ability to view the seashore from a variety of orientations. Results of the pre-instructional interviews showed that while all of the students used several orientations to describe the seashore, some students used one orientation predominantly. Only a few students held beliefs which were quite similar to accepted science ideas; most students held beliefs which were quite different. For most students, there was a reasonably strong relationship between their orientations and the nature of their beliefs about specific seashore relationships. Results of the post-instructional interviews show that for all of the students there was an increase in knowledge about basic seashore relationships, and a decrease of beliefs inconsistent with accepted science ideas. This increased knowledge was accompanied in most students by a willingness to use more frequently a scientific orientation. This new knowledge appeared to be relatively stable six months after instruction, implying that it was firmly integrated into the students' cognitive system. The fact that many students still used orientations which they possessed prior to instruction, and that for some students these orientations were more elaborated, provides evidence that they were willing and able to view the seashore from a variety of orientations. Implications for science instruction and research are discussed.

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