Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Students' Conceptual Understandings of Science after Participating in a High School Marine Science Course

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Students' Conceptual Understandings of Science after Participating in a High School Marine Science Course

Article excerpt


This study analyzes responses to a researcher-developed science assessment given to students before and after their participation in a high school marine science course. While a paired-sample t test revealed a significant improvement (p < 0.001, t = 4.42, n = 399) on the post-instruction science content assessment, achievement gains were small based on Cohen's measure of effect size (d = .22) and varied among the nine teachers' classes. Student performance significantly improved for all groups of questions, with small gains for questions on the flow of matter and energy and the properties of water and less than small gains for questions about Earth's geologic history and interactions between the ocean and atmosphere. The results, based on improvement of students in two teachers' classes, indicate that marine science can be used as a successful model for teaching integrated science if curricula and instructional activities, assessments, and teacher education programs are aligned to the National Science Education Standards (NSES).


Scientific literacy, a term commonly used to describe the goal of science education, refers not only to a person's knowledge of science but also to his or her ability to use this knowledge in making socially responsible decisions. The National Science Education Standards (NSES) (National Research Council (NRC), 1996) and the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (Benchmarks) (American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 1993) define scientific literacy by identifying the science standards and benchmarks that students should learn throughout their K-12 education. High school students who take the traditional courses such as earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics courses are the most likely to learn the content outlined in the NSES and Benchmarks and become scientifically literate adults. However, the majority of U.S. students do not choose to complete this sequence of traditional science courses. Integrating science curricula offers a potential solution, and marine science, in particular, can provide a means to address all of the national science standards in one course: Unifying Concepts and Processes in Science, Science as Inquiry, Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, Science and Technology, and the History and Nature of Science. Although marine science courses have existed for decades and provide a valid integrated curriculum model, they have not received national recognition as a potential reform mechanism for science education. By measuring high school students' understanding of general science concepts before and after their participation in a marine science course, this study provides initial support for an integrated approach.


Three primary premises support the rationale for integrating high school science curricula. First, according to large-scale science assessments, the majority of U.S. students are not learning the national science standards and benchmarks. In 1995, students in 41 countries took the Third International Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS), the most globally competitive and broadly publicized test. The study's most significant finding revealed that U.S. children, by the eighth grade, had fallen behind children of other countries in terms of science literacy (Valverde & Schmidt, 1998) and by twelfth grade, not only performed below the international average, but also were among the lowest scorers (USDOE, 1998). The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has monitored student achievement in the United States for over three decades. In 1996 and 2000, NAEP was administered to nationally representative samples of 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade students. The 1996 NAEP science results showed students performing more poorly in 12th grade than in 4th and 8th grades. In 2000, the average science scores for the 4th- and 8th-grade students were not significantly different from scores in 1996; however, 12th-grade students' scores were significantly lower in 2000. …

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