Research in Science Education

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 171–187 | Cite as

The Practice of Field Ecology: Insights for Science Education

  • G. Michael BowenEmail author
  • Wolff-Michael Roth


In the past several years a number of authors have suggested that science education could benefit from insights gained by research in the social studies of science that documents and theorises science as it is actually done. There currently exist two gaps in the literature. First, most research in science studies are concerned with the practices enacted in male-dominated scientific disciplines including physics and chemistry; there is little research concerning field ecology, where there are many female graduate students. Second, little work has been done in translating findings from science studies to science education. In this paper, we present findings from our own ethnographic work in field ecology. Our research shows that many traditional claims about the nature of scientific research are not consistent with how ecological understandings are actually constructed. These practices are perhaps more accessible to female students because of how the work and community are constructed. Field ecology may be the one science discipline with features that make it particularly attractive for enculturating a diverse student population currently not enrolling in science. If science educators want to teach science that reflects how it is actually practiced, our work has considerable implications for what science teachers have to do in classrooms. In recent years, a number of science educators have suggested that science education curricula could be enriched by drawing inspiration from studies of scientists and science (e.g., Roth & McGinn, 1998). To provide insights for science education, they focused on aspects of the social studies of science including: methods used to investigate the work of scientists, the practices of the scientists themselves, and the effects on learning when designing learning environments that are based on science studies (e.g., Roth, McGinn, & Bowen, 1996). A better understanding of the characteristics of scientific practice also contributes to a shift in how we view science classrooms and may provide for greater authenticity and inclusiveness in today's science classrooms (Cunningham & Helms, 1998). The purpose of this paper is to provide a description of typical research practices enacted in field ecology. These descriptions provide evidence of authentic research that goes against the traditional image of science. We provide several starting points for discussing the implications to science education from studies such as ours.

Key words

ecology practices sociology of science science teaching and learning 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. American Association for the Advancement of Science (1989). Science for all Americans: Project 2061. Washington, District of Columbia: AAAS.Google Scholar
  2. Bowen, G. M. (1999). The “socialization” and enculturation of ecologists: Formal and informal influences. Paper presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association — Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities, Sherbrooke, Quebec, June.Google Scholar
  3. Bowen, G. M., & Roth, W.-M. (2002). The “socialization” and enculturation of ecologists in formal and informal settings. Electronic Journal of Science Education, 6(3), (
  4. Brown, J. S., Collings, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carlone, H. (1998). Learning to become a scientist: The enculturation of the newcomer into the practice of science. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, San Diego.Google Scholar
  6. Cicourel, A. V. (1990). The integration of distributed knowledge in collaborative medical diagnosis. In J. Galegher, R. E. Kraut, & C. Egido (Eds.), Intellectual teamwork: Social and technological foundations of cooperative work. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  7. Cobb, P., & Bauersfeld, H. (1995). Introduction: The coordination of psychological and sociological perspectives in mathematics education. In P. Cobb & H. Bauersfeld (Eds.), The emergence of mathematical meaning: Interaction in classroom cultures (pp. 1–16). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  8. Collins, H. M. (2001). Tacit knowledge, trust, and the Q of sapphire. Social Studies of Science, 31, 71–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cunningham, C. M., & Helms, J. V. (1998). Sociology of science as a means to a more authentic, inclusive science education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35, 483–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Eflin, J. T., Glennan, S., & Reisch, G. (1999). The nature of science: A perspective from the philosophy of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 107–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Eisenhart, M. A. (1996). The production of biologists at schools and work: Making scientists, conservationists, or flowery bone-heads? In B. A. Levinson, D. E. Foley, & D. C. Holland (Eds.), The cultural production of the educated person: Critical ethnographies of schooling and local practice (pp. 169–185). New York: State University of New York.Google Scholar
  12. Eisenhart, M. A., & Finkel, E. (1998). Women's science: Learning and succeeding from the margins. Chicago: University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  13. Fernandez-Manzanal, R., Rodriguez-Barreiro, L. M., & Casal-Jimenez, M. (1999). Relationship between ecology fieldwork and student attitudes towards environmental protection. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 431–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fox-Keller, E. (1983). A feeling for the organism: The life and work of Barbara McClintock. San Francisco: WH Freeman.Google Scholar
  15. Gray, N. F. (1982). The use of percolating filters in teaching ecology. Journal of Biological Education, 16, 183–186.Google Scholar
  16. Gross, A. G. (1996). The rhetoric of science. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Guba, E., & Lincoln, Y. (1989). Fourth generation evaluation. Beverly Hills, California: Sage.Google Scholar
  18. Haraway, D. (1989). Primate visions: Gender, race, and nature in the world of modern science. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Jordan, K., & Lynch, M. (1993). The mainstreaming of a molecular biological tool: A case study of a new technique. In G. Button (Ed.), Technology in working order: Studies of work, interaction, and technology (pp. 162–178). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Jordan, K., & Lynch, M. (1998). The dissemination, standardization and routinization of a molecular biological technique. Social Studies of Science, 28, 773–800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Larochelle, M., & Desautels, J. (1991). “Of course, it's just obvious”: Adolescents' ideas of scientific knowledge. International Journal of Science Education, 13, 273–389.Google Scholar
  22. Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Lynch, M. (1985). Art and artifact in laboratory science: A study of shop work and shop talk in a laboratory. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  24. Milne, C. (1998). Philosophically correct science stories? Examining the implications of heroic science stories for school science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35, 175–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Nutch, F. (1996). Gadgets, gizmos, and instruments: Science for the tinkering. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 21, 214–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Orion, N., & Hofstein, A. (1994). Factors that influence learning during a scientific field trip in a natural environment. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31, 1097–1119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Richmond, G., Howes, E., Kurth, L., & Hazelwood, C. (1998). Connections and critique: Feminist pedagogy and science teacher education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35, 897–918.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Roth, W.-M. (1994). Experimenting in a constructivist high school physics laboratory. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31, 197–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Roth, W.-M. (2004a). Emergence of graphing practices in scientific research. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 4, 595–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Roth, W.-M. (2004b). Perceptual gestalts in workplace communication. Journal of Pragmatics, 36, 1037–1069.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Roth, W.-M. (2005). Making classifications (at) work: Ordering practices in science. Social Studies of Science, 35, 581–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Roth, W.-M., & Barton, A. C. (2004). Rethinking scientific literacy. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  33. Roth, W.-M., & Bowen, G. M. (1993). An investigation of problem solving in the context of a grade 8 open-inquiry science program. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3, 165–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Roth, W.-M., & Bowen, G. M. (1994). Mathematization of experience in a grade 8 open-inquiry environment: An introduction to the representational practices of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31, 293–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Roth, W.-M., & Bowen, G. M. (1995). Knowing and interacting: A study of culture, practices, and resources in a grade 8 open-inquiry science classroom guided by a cognitive apprenticeship metaphor. Cognition and Instruction, 13, 73–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Roth, W.-M., & Bowen, G. M. (2001a). ‘Creative solutions’ and ‘fibbing results’: Enculturation in field ecology. Social Studies of Science, 31, 533–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Roth, W.-M., & Bowen, G. M. (2001b). Of disciplined minds and disciplined bodies. Qualitative Sociology, 24(4), 459–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Roth, W.-M., & Bowen, G. M. (2003). When are graphs ten thousand words worth? An expert/expert study. Cognition and Instruction, 21, 429–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Roth, W.-M., & Lee, S. (2004). Science education as/for participation in the community. Science Education, 88, 263–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Roth, W.-M., & McGinn, M. K. (1998). Knowing, researching, and reporting science education: Lessons from science and technology studies. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35, 213–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Roth, W.-M., McGinn, M. K., & Bowen, G. M. (1996). Applications of science and technology studies: Effecting change in science education. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 21, 454–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rudolph, J. L., & Stewart, J. (1998). Evolution and the nature of science: On the historical discord and its implications for education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35, 1069–1089.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Ryder, J., Leach, J., & Driver, R. (1999). Undergraduate science students' images of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 201–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Traweek, S. (1988). Beamtimes and lifetimes: The world of high energy physicists. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Vellom, R. P., & Anderson, C. W. (1999). Reasoning about data in middle school science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 179–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of EducationMount Saint Vincent University,Nova ScotiaCanada
  2. 2.University of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

Personalised recommendations