What Is a Scientist? Perspectives of Teachers of Color

By Quita, Isabel N. | Multicultural Education, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview
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What Is a Scientist? Perspectives of Teachers of Color

Quita, Isabel N., Multicultural Education

Literature shows that both children and teachers frequently visualize scientists as bespectacled, white-smocked, middle-aged White males with wild hair holding smoking, bubbling test tubes and working inside a laboratory (Barman, 1997; Ford & Varney, 1989; McDuffie, 2001; Moseley & Norris, 1999). These common stereotypic characteristics of scientists are strongly held by children between the ages of seven to twelve (Bowtell, 1996 Mays, 2001).

The presence of the scientist stereotype and the lack of contrasting images are seldom presented in literature. This article presents pre-service teachers' contrasting images or alternative views and images of a scientist.

Studies indicate that teachers' feelings and attitudes toward science affect their students' feelings and attitudes (Koch, 1990; Peters, 1998). For instance, Koch (1990) concluded that teachers with a positive view toward science tend to instill the same positive outlook in their students. Conversely, teachers with negative attitudes toward science often inadvertently discourage their students from pursuing scientific interests.

In the Sampler of National Science Education Standards, Peters (1998) maintains that how children are taught influences what they learn, and teacher actions are deeply influenced by their perceptions of science as a subject and how it should be taught and learned. This article discusses pre-service teachers' perceptions of scientists and examines factors that influenced their perceptions.

Method of Research

For the purpose of this study, a qualitative survey design is used to explore credential candidates' views and images of a scientist. With a qualitative method of documenting the richness of the candidates' perceptions of the nature of science, one can better understand how they can help their future elementary students develop positive attitudes toward science and scientist.

In a qualitative research project, the investigator seeks to understand the participants' perceptions and gain a holistic picture. According to Stainback and Stainback (1988), a holistic description of events, procedures, and philosophies occurring in natural settings is often needed to make accurate situational decisions. The purpose of qualitative survey research is to describe specific characteristics of a large group of persons (Jaegar, 1988).

The attitudes, beliefs and drawings of scientists are the variables that help to narrow the focus of this study, making this study more exploratory in nature. The data sources included a questionnaire survey (Draw-A-Scientist Test), interviews, and classroom observations. Each drawing was analyzed and scored based upon the stereotype indicators.

Setting and Participants

This study took place at San Francisco State University in one of the elementary science methods courses for the CLAD (Cross-cultural, Language & Academic Development Emphasis). The participants (N=282) were teacher credential candidates enrolled in my elementary science methods course during a three-year period (Spring-Fall 2000, Spring-Summer-Fall 2001, and Spring-Summer 2002). The 59 males (21%) and 223 females (79%) included the following racial breakdown: 70% Asian American, 20% Latino American, and 5 % African American. Approximately 28% were emergency-credentialed, practicing K-6 teachers; the remainder (72%) were pre-service teacher candidates.


The most common technique used by investigators to assess students' and teachers' images of scientists has been the Draw-A-Scientist Test developed by Chambers (1983). During the first class meeting, students were asked to complete the Draw-A-Scientist Test on a piece of white paper. They were instructed to draw a scientist at work and write a short narrative describing the job, work environment, family background and other personal information of the scientist. Stick drawing was encouraged for those who were not artistically inclined.

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