Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 8, Issue 1, Article 11 (June, 2007)
Beverley JANE, Marilyn FLEER & John GIPPS

Changing children's views of science and scientists through school-based teaching

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Previous research studies of students' and pre-service teachers' perceptions of scientists

Consistent with cultural-historical theory, this section begins with a description of what is currently happening in science education, while also taking into account the consequences of the past that have given rise to the stereotypical views of scientists that are so popular with students. In the literature, the first to report on research that explored students' perceptions of scientists were Mead and Metrax (1957). Three decades later, science educators identified the characteristics of stereotypical images of scientists as depicted in students' drawings (Schibeci & Sorensen, 1983). Since then the 'Draw-A-Scientist' Test (DAST) (Chambers, 1983) has been used extensively as a tool for researchers to explore students' views about scientists. Students' drawings are coded according to the following DAST indicators of a stereotypical image of a scientist (Chambers, 1983; Purbrick, 1997):

  • laboratory coat;
  • spectacles or eyeglasses;
  • facial hair (beards, moustaches, very long sideburns);
  • laboratory equipment (bubbly solutions, scientific instruments);
  • books and filing cabinets;
  • technological products of science; and
  • captions (formulae, eureka!).

A further development generated the 'Draw-A-Scientist Test Checklist' (DAST-C) as a reliable and efficient format for analysing students' drawings of scientists (Finson, Beaver & Cramond, 1995). This checklist provides quantifiable scores for drawings that facilitate comparative data analysis. In a study undertaken in Indianapolis the DAST-C was used to analyse more than 1,500 K-8 students' drawings (Barman, 1999). Results showed that most scientists were depicted as white males, which supported previous studies (Chambers, 1983; Fort & Varney, 1989; Finson et al., 1995; Huber & Barton, 1995). More recent research shows that the stereotypical images influence how students perceive science, and that negative images of scientists can affect the choice of careers by minorities in general and females in particular (Finson, 2003).

An examination of studies of student teachers (McDuffie, 2001; Matkins, 1996; Rahm & Charbonneau, 1997; Rosenthal, 1993) revealed that all "confirm the prevalence of the scientist stereotype" (Schibeci, 2006:13). In Germany Markic, Valanides and Eilks (2005) evaluated 104 science student teachers' conceptions using a modified version of the 'Draw a Science Teacher Teaching-Checklist' (DASTT-C). They found that secondary chemistry and physics student teachers held conventional and teacher-centred views about science teaching and learning. In contrast, biology student teachers and primary science student teachers had more open, student-centred views on teaching (Thomas, Pederson & Finson, 2001).

Although DAST is a useful research tool to probe students' images of scientists, Schibeci (2006) favours other procedures such as interviews and 'Interviews-About-Instances' (White & Gunstone, 1992), because interviews facilitate in-depth probing of students' views. Probing students' views is an important component of teaching based on the view of learning called constructivism. Constructivism is the view of learning whereby individuals actively generate meaning from experience.


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