Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Science Education, Mallinson Institute


Preservice elementary teachers enrolled in an elective biology course participated in an eight-class unit of instruction based on the history of research in understanding the disease sickle-cell anemia. Students were introduced to the disease as a “mystery” for them to solve, and subsequently developed an understanding of the disease from several disciplines in biology (e.g., genetics, ecology, evolution, molecular biology). The unit involved open-ended problems in which students examined evidence and developed explanations in a manner analogous to the reasoning used by Anthony C. Allison and his colleagues during the early to middle part of the twentieth century.

Throughout the unit, students were challenged to explicitly and reflectively connect their work with the historical material to more general conclusions about aspects of the nature of science. These aspects included (a) the nature of scientific theories, (b) the tentative nature of science, (c) the difference between scientific theories and laws, (d) the validity of observational methods in science, and (e) the subjective (theory-laden) nature of science. The research measured students’ pre- and post-instruction views by using both an open-ended survey (VNOS) and follow-up, semi-structured interviews.

The results indicated that an appreciable number of students underwent a change or enrichment in their views for some of the nature of science aspects. Moreover, change or enrichment in students’ views was directly attributable to their work in the sickle-cell unit as evidenced from the specific examples students articulated in their post-instruction responses in support of their more informed views. In general, the findings of this research lend empirical support to the value of having students actively recapitulate the history of science to improve their nature of science conceptions. This is facilitated when the lessons challenge students to explicitly and reflectively develop views of the nature of science in tandem with their examinations of the problems taken from the history of science.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access