Preservice Elementary Teachers' Images of Clay Scientists

By Rule, Audrey C.; Cavanaugh, Berislava et al. | Journal of Geoscience Education, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Preservice Elementary Teachers' Images of Clay Scientists

Rule, Audrey C., Cavanaugh, Berislava, Waloven, Valerie, Journal of Geoscience Education


The Draw-A-Scientist test, a popular projective test in use for decades, reveals the drawer's attitudes toward science. This study examined and compared images of "scientists" and "clay scientists" drawn by 87 preservice elementary teachers before and after participating in instruction about the origin of clay minerals and their uses in everyday products. Images of "scientists" shifted from stereotyped white male chemists in lab coats to an increase in persons of color and females engaged in outdoor science. "Clay scientist" images shifted from white males working indoors or outdoors with clay or ceramics to include more females, more everyday clothing, and a broader range of clay products. The effective clay science instruction included pre-instructional assessment of student ideas, small group discussions, structuring of activities, hands-on concrete materials, visuals, and connections to real life.


Clays minerals are important components of soils and are used is a vast assortment of industrial products including ceramics of different types, paper coating and filler; as thickeners in paints, shampoos, soaps; as fillers in plastics, rubber, cement; in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals; as carriers of perfumes, fertilizers, insecticides; in drilling muds and landfill/pond liners; for filtering/ absorbing water, oils, and other liquids; and as high-tech nanocomposites and pillared clays (See Rule, 2007 or Murray, 1997 for more details).

Clay science activities provide concrete opportunities to apply concepts from national standards (Rule and Guggenheim, 2007), but most preservice elementary teachers know very little about clay's origin or uses beyond common ceramic products (Rule, 2007a). In this study, we examine preservice teachers' drawings of both "scientists" and "clay scientists" before and after lessons in a science methods course that included effective instruction about clay minerals and their use in common products, information appropriate for elementary teaching. These drawings revealed preservice teachers' attitudes toward science in general and clay science in particular, providing the opportunity to examine how these dispositions change as a result of instruction. Because teachers often pass their attitudes toward a subject on to students (Oberlin, 1982; Sovchik, 1996) or alter their teaching methods to more rote methods when they lack confidence in content area knowledge (Bursal and Paznokas, 2006), it is important to examine preservice teacher attitudes toward science and ways to improve them.

Images of Scientists - The Draw-A-Scientist projective test, which asks the test-taker to "Draw a scientist," has revealed students' mental images of scientists for over fifty years (Finson, 2002). Projective tests measure implicit needs of an individual - the motives that automatically influence behavior (McClelland et al., 1989), in contrast to self-reports, which assess self-attributed needs (explicit needs) that an individual thinks are characteristic of his or her typical functioning. Projective tests are less susceptible to self-presentation bias, gender bias, and instructor manipulation than self reports (Bornstein, 2002).

Once the scientist drawing has been produced, it may be scored for stereotyped characteristics, the most common of which are male Caucasians working indoors with chemistry equipment wearing lab coats, eyeglasses, and facial hair. Unfortunately, the more stereotypical a student's drawing of a scientist, the less likely that student is to choose to take science courses and enter a career related to science (Hammrich, 1997). In contrast, students who draw scientists of the same gender, ethnicity, and characteristics as themselves can picture (project) themselves as scientists. Such students are more likely to take educational paths leading to a career in science (National Science Teachers' Association, 1992). Happily, several studies have shown that multiple exposures to real scientists along with other interventions reduced the number of stereotyped characteristics in students' drawings (Bodzin and Gehringer, 2001; Finson, Beaver, and Cramond, 1995; Flick, 1990; Mason, Kahle, and Gardner, 1991; Smith and Erb, 1986). …

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