Research in Science Education

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 97-120

First online:

A Study of Students' Focal Awareness when Studying Science Stories Designed for Fostering Understanding of the Nature of Science

  • Ping-Kee TaoAffiliated withThe University of Hong Kong

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Using Marton's theory of the structure of awareness as a theoretical framework, this study investigated the aspects that students discerned and brought into their focal awareness while they studied four science stories in an instruction designed for fostering understanding of the nature of science (NOS). The data showed that when students studied the stories many focused only on one or two aspects, from among a range, presented in the stories. Further, the aspects of the stories in the students' focal awareness were closely linked to the views of NOS that they developed subsequent to the instruction. Students who focused on certain appropriate aspects acquired adequate views of NOS while those who focused on other aspects acquired inadequate views of NOS. The theory therefore offers a viable explanation for why students often construct idiosyncratic meanings from learning experiences that differ from those intended – by attributing it to students attending to certain aspects rather than others. However, the data also show that students' prior conceptions strongly influence their construction of meanings from the learning experiences. The complementarity of the theory of the structure of awareness and the constructivist view of learning are considered. Implications for classroom practices are discussed.