, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 149-161

Can We Be Scientists Too? Secondary Students' Perceptions of Scientific Research from a Project-Based Classroom

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Abstract

A research effort between science educators at the University of New Hampshire and Valley High School (pseudonym) was initiated to examine the conceptual development of high school students' understanding of scientific research over an entire school year. Students were involved in a series of classroom projects that were guided by curricula designed to foster “student scientist partnerships” (SSPs). Data for this research consist of audio-recorded, semi-structured student interviews which were transcribed verbatim. Seven students were interviewed six times over the school year. A content analysis of the transcripts was performed and the results were compared to a model of scientific research developed for the purpose of this study. This model comprises the major phases of the scientific enterprise, including the development of researchable questions, data collection, data analysis, drawing of conclusions, and communication of results. Results indicate that students' conceptual understanding of scientific research rarely evolved over the course of the year, remaining rudimentary. Students had uniformed notions of scientific questioning, viewed data collection as only following prescribed steps and ultimately repetitive, and had little experience with data analysis or the communication of scientific findings. Critical factors contributing to these student perceptions were insufficient exposure, a lack of a sense of partnership by students, and the design of the SSP.