Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

The Effect of an Earth-Science Learning Program on Students' Scientific Thinking Skills

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

The Effect of an Earth-Science Learning Program on Students' Scientific Thinking Skills

Article excerpt


This study explored junior high school students' understanding of essential concepts of scientific thinking "observation", "hypothesis" and "conclusion" and the effect of the learning of the program "The Rock Cycle" on the development of such understanding. The study sample consisted of 582 students of the 7th and 8th grade, who learned in 21 classes, with 14 teachers from 8 schools in Israel. The data collection was based on a quantitative research tool that was specifically developed for this study and qualitative tools such as observations and interviews. The findings indicated that the students have considerable difficulties in understanding the basic concepts underlying the scientific inquiry, and that the "The Rock Cycle" has a potential to develop such understanding. An unexpected gender difference was found. Girls outperformed boys in scientific thinking, both in the pre and the post tests. The unique character of geoscience methodology, together with structured-inquiry and metacognitive activities, served as an appropriate framework for students to develop basic scientific thinking. The co-interpretation of quantitative and qualitative analysis indicated that the type of teacher (openness to innovative methods, enthusiasm and scientific background) was a crucial factor in students' ability to exploit the potential of "The Rock Cycle".


The "Science for all" reform identified the inquiry as a principal method in science education (e.g., AAAS, 1993; National Research Council, 1996). Scientific inquiry in different disciplines, although much alike in many fundamental aspects of the scientific method, is very different in others. The authors of Science for All Americans, in Project 2061 (AAAS, 1990) claimed that: "scientists differ greatly from one another in what phenomena they investigate and in how they go about their work; in the reliance they place on historical data or on experimental findings and on qualitative or quantitative methods; in tneir recourse to fundamental principles; and in how much they draw on the findings of other sciences." (p. 4).

Inquiry in the geosciences has a unique characteristic, which derives from their involvement with the "experiments" that have already been conducted by nature. Consequently, many geological inquiries are of a retrospective type - trying to unravel what happened in the past, using "fingerprints" left on the earth. Frodeman, (1995) describes geology as an interpretive, and historical science, which "embodies distinctive methodology within the sciences". He further argues that "the geologist picks up on the clues of past events and processes in a way analogous to how the physician interprets the signs of illness or the detective builds a circumstantial case against a defendant" (p. 963). Edelson et al. (1999) described several aspects of the geosciences as being "observational sciences". We believe that the focus ofgeology in making inferences from observations, rather than a focus in experimentation (AuIt, 1998), is a suitable milieu for internalizing the meaning of some of the most basic constructs of scientific thinking, i.e., observations, conclusions and hypotheses. An additional advantage in geology as a context for learning science, is the possibility to provide students with concrete materials of the earth (e.g., rocks, minerals, soils), from which they can conclude upon exciting phenomena like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes or formation of mountain ranges.

In the current study, the effect of a new learning program, on students' scientific thinking skills was studied. "The Rock Cycle" is a 30-hour learning program developed for the new Israeli curriculum, "Science and Technology", for junior high school students. The program, which focuses on geological processes that transform the materials found within the crust of the earth, takes advantage of the retrospective type of inquiry of the geosciences, in order to enhance students' general scientific thinking skills. …

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