Conceptualizations of Nature: An Interpretive Study of 16 Ninth Graders' Everyday Thinking

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The research reported in this article sought to provide a broader understanding of high school science students as persons by describing the personal thoughts, or everyday thinking, about a question relevant to science: What is Nature? The purpose was to gain an understanding of students' fundamental beliefs about the world on the basis that developing scientific literacy can be successful only to the extent that science finds a niche in the cognitive and cultural milieu of students. The theoretical background for this research came from cultural anthropology and the methodology was interpretive, involving student interviews. The assertions of the study in summary form were: (a) The ninth-grade students in the study tended to discuss Nature using several different perspectives (e.g., religious, aesthetic, scientific, conservationist). A rich breadth of perspectives typically characterized any one student's discussion of Nature. (b) After 9 years of schooling, however, the level of science integration within everyday thinking remained low for many of these ninth graders. In their discussions of Nature, most volunteered little school knowledge of science. They were aware of school science topics such as the ozone layer, rain forests, and the Big Bang theory. Such topics were voluntarily mentioned but usually without elaboration even when asked. (c) Science grade success was not correlated with the concepts these ninth graders typically chose to use in a discussion about the natural world. The students with the most grade success in science had not necessarily grasped fundamental concepts about Nature and science. (d) Regardless of school grade success, including school science grade success, most of the ninth graders attached considerable importance to personal experiences with Nature. Their environmental inclinations were strong. The article ends with a discussion of the implications


SLCSP Paper # 127a

Published Citation

Cobern, William W., Adrienne T. Gibson, and Scott A. Underwood. "Conceptualizations of nature: An interpretive study of 16 ninth graders' everyday thinking." Journal of Research in Science Teaching 36.5 (1999): 541-564.