Biological Knowledge Is More Tentative Than Physics Knowledge: Taiwan High School Adolescents' Views about the Nature of Biology and Physics

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INTRODUCTION

Many psychologists assert that students' beliefs about the nature of knowledge (their epistemological beliefs), are essential to their learning process (Bendixen, Dunkle, & Schraw, 1993; Hofer & Pintrich, 1997; Hofer, 2001). Educators have also stressed the importance of helping students acquire a better understanding of the nature of knowledge of particular domains of learning, such as science (Duschl, 1990; Tsai, 1999a). The tentative and creative nature of science is often emphasized by contemporary science educators (Abd-El-Khalick, Bell, & Lederman, 1998; Lederman & O'Mally, 1990; Tsai, 1999a, 2002). From this perspective, the status of science knowledge is always tentative, and science inquiry involves creative acts. However, science curricula, science teachers, as well as students may not perceive or present these views very well (Duschl, 1990; McComas, 1996; Tsai, 1998a). Previous studies have investigated students' (or teachers') views of the tentative and creative nature of science in general (Lederman, 1992). Few have explored students' views of a specific domain such as biology or physics.

Recent research concerning students' views of the nature of knowledge has also suggested that these views, to a certain extent, are domain-specific (Buehl & Alexander, 2001; Buehl, Alexander, & Murphy, 2002; Hofer, 2000; Tsai, 2004). These views are related to students' learning strategies, reasoning modes, and decisions when encountering new information (Hofer, 2001; Hofer & Pintrich, 1997). In particular, science education research has repeatedly found an interaction between students' views about the nature of science and their learning approaches to science (Edmondson & Novak, 1993; Songer & Linn, 1991; Tsai, 1998a, 1999b, 2000a, 2000b). Students' views about the nature of science should be considered as part of their prior knowledge (Tsai, 1998b). Educational psychologists and science educators have proposed that prior knowledge is the most important factor in subsequent learning (e.g., Ausubel, Novak, & Hanesian, 1978; Taber, 2001; Wandersee, Mintzes, & Novak, 1994). To have a better understanding of students' prior knowledge in science, a careful exploration of their views about the nature of science is necessary.

Biology and physics are two important, but different domains of science. For example, biology explores living things while physics focuses on objects, matter, and energy. Since students' views of the nature of knowledge are probably domain-specific, it is hypothesized that students may have different views of the nature of these two domains, which may influence their learning in each. Hence, this study developed a questionnaire to assess students' views about the tentative and creative nature of biology and physics.

Gender is also an important issue in science education research. Females are generally considered as relatively disadvantaged in learning science (Kahle & Meece, 1994). In particular, female high school students have often expressed lower motivation as well as unfavorable attitudes toward learning science (e.g., Kenway & Gough, 1998; Lightbody et al., 1996; Trankina, 1993). Some educators even assert that normal educational practice in science is conducive to "epistemological marginalization" of females (Nichols, Gilmer, Thompson, & Davis, 1998, p. 968). Since it is plausible to predict that female students may have more inappropriate views toward learning science as well as the nature of science (Tsai, 1999a), this study explored possible gender differences in high school adolescents' views about the nature of biology and physics.

In addition, exposure to the knowledge domain or years of relevant education may also be important for students' epistemological beliefs (Hofer & Pintrich, 1997; Tsai, 1999a). It is hypothesized that students with more experience in science education may develop a better understanding of the tentative and creative features of science. …