Conceptual understandings of seasonal change by middle school students with visual impairments.
Junior high school students
Disabled students (Behavior)
Disabled students (Educational aspects)
Literacy (United States)
Sciences education (Methods)
Wild, Tiffany A.
Trundle, Kathy Cabe
|Publication:||Name: Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness Publisher: American Foundation for the Blind Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 American Foundation for the Blind ISSN: 0145-482X|
|Issue:||Date: Feb, 2010 Source Volume: 104 Source Issue: 2|
|Product:||Product Code: E197300 Students, Junior High|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
Abstract: The purpose of this study was to understand and describe
the misconceptions of students with visual impairments about seasonal
change. Students who participated in traditional instruction exhibited
alternative conceptions before and after instruction, whereas those who
participated in inquiry-based instruction had alternative conceptions
before instruction and scientific understandings after instruction.
The National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, NRC, 1996) and Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS, 1993) both state that middle school students (in Grades 6-8) should understand the causes of seasons. Empirical research has shown that school-aged children, university students, and schoolteachers have difficulty fully understanding many astronomical concepts, including seasons (Atwood & Atwood, 1996; Bakas & Mikropoulos, 2003; Bisard, Aron, Francek, & Nelson, 1994; Kikas, 2003, 2004; Roald & Mikalsen, 2001; Trumper, 2001a, 2001b, 2006; Zeilik & Bisard, 2000). The most common misconception that has been reported is that seasons are due to the varying distance of the Earth from the Sun (Atwood & Atwood, 1996; Bakas & Mikropoulos, 2003; Kikas, 2003; Roald & Mikalsen, 2001; Trumper, 2001a, 2001b, 2006; Zeilik & Bisard, 2000). Although understanding of seasonal change tends to improve with age, students and teachers alike still struggle with these important concepts. There has been a dearth of research on the understanding of seasonal change by middle school students with visual impairments.
Students with visual impairments have a challenging time with most scientific phenomena because they are frequently left out of critical experiences in the classroom (Beck-Winchatz & Riccobono, 2008). In astronomy, the problem is compounded by the reliance on curricula that use visual representations and observations. Astronomy is typically not accessible to students who are blind. Wild, Paul, and Kurz (2008) reported that the students with visual impairments in their study learned astronomy through memorization, the Internet, audio descriptions, and tactile diagrams or manipulatives. Only 3.67% actually participated in authentic experiences with astronomy, such as making observations or interacting with astronomers from the community.
There has been a lack of educational research on science for students with visual impairments. Many manuals explain how to teach science to students with visual impairments (Dion, Hoffman, & Matter, 2000; Hadary & Cohen, 1978; Koenig & Holbrook, 2000; Kumar, Ramassamy, & Stefanich, 2001; Willoughby & Duffy, 1989). However, little research has been conducted to determine the effectiveness of these curricular materials (Erwin, Perkins, Ayala, Fine, & Rubin, 2001; Linn & Their, 1975; Long, 1973; Struve, Their, Hadary, & Linn, 1975; Waskoskie, 1980). The purpose of the study presented here was to understand and describe misconceptions about seasonal change that may exist among students with visual impairments, and to suggest instructional techniques that may help them learn scientific concepts.
Conceptual change provided a theoretical framework for the study, which focused on constructing knowledge in specific areas and described learning as the reorganization of existing knowledge (Vosniadou, 2007a; Vosniadou, Ioannides, Dimitrakopoulou, & Papademetriou, 2001). Conceptual change theory reflects a constructivist epistemology. It provides a framework that focuses on constructing knowledge in specific areas and describes learning as a reorganization of existing knowledge to make sense of new knowledge (Vosniadou, 2007a; Vosniadou et al., 2001).
The belief systems of students can directly affect their ability to undergo conceptual change (Stathopoulou & Vosniadou, 2007; Vosniadou, 2007b). As children have more experiences, their set of beliefs may begin to change or may become resistant to change. They begin to connect their belief system to different contexts for different uses in different contexts.
The students in the inquiry group attended a residential school for students who are blind in the Midwest, and the students in the comparison group attended a residential school for students who are blind in the Southeast. Residential schools were used for the study to ensure that the student participants had similar demographic characteristics and instructional participation time in the science curriculum. State standardized test scores, data on the school population, and curricular requirements for the two groups were examined by the researcher, the lead author, and were found to be similar.
The research was approved by the Ohio State University Institutional Review Board. Informed consent and assent were obtained from all the participants. In addition, consent from parents or guardians was obtained for participants who were not of legal age.
Two groups of students participated in the study. The first group, the comparison group, were seventh graders who had various levels of visual impairment and levels of academic achievement. These students received traditional instruction. They were given preinstruction and postinstruction assessments.
Three students (two boys, aged 13 and 15, and one girl, aged 15) in a class of four had parental consent to be interviewed for the comparison group. One student used braille as a reading medium, one student used large print, and one student used regular print. One female and one male student participated in the preinstruction interview; the third student did not return his permission slip to the researcher until after instruction had begun and therefore was unable to participate in the preinstruction interview. However, all the students participated in the written statements and postinstruction (see Table 1 for the type and number of participants in each group in each portion of the study).
The second group of students received inquiry-based instruction. Students in Grades 7 and 8, with various levels of visual impairment and levels of academic achievement, were asked to participate, but only students in Grade 7 agreed to do so. The students in this group were given preinstruction and postinstruction assessments with the same questions as were asked of those in the comparison group.
Four students (two girls and two boys, aged 13 and 15) out of a class of seven had parental consent to be interviewed for the inquiry group. Three students used braille as a reading medium, and the fourth used large print. One female and one male student participated in the preinstruction interview; two students did not because they turned in their paperwork after instruction had begun. All the students participated in the written statement and the postinstruction interview.
The inquiry group received specific modified instruction from their classroom teacher. The teacher was certified to teach science in the state where the school was located, but was not a certified teacher of students who are visually impaired (the teacher was pursuing this licensure). The comparison group received instruction from a science teacher. This teacher was certified to teach science in the state where the school was located, but was not a certified teacher of students who are blind and was also pursuing this licensure.
The inquiry group participated in a series of inquiry-based lessons. This type of curriculum allows students to engage in the process skills of observing, measuring, classifying, inferring, hypothesizing, engaging in controlled investigation, predicting, explaining, and communicating (Carin, Bass, & Contant, 2005). Students' misconceptions are acknowledged, and opportunities are provided for the students to construct a scientific conceptual understanding in a meaningful way.
Most lesson plans were adapted by the researcher from The Real Reasons for Seasons: Sun-Earth Connections (Gould, Willard, & Pompea, 2004). For example, the students were engaged in lessons involving exploring planetary temperate data, daylight data, orbital paths, and scale models and assessing common misconceptions of seasons. Lesson plans were adapted for the students using recommendations from the field (Dion et al., 2000; Hadary & Cohen, 1978; Koenig & Holbrook, 2000; Kumar et al., 2001; Willoughby & Duffy, 1989), as well as field observations of successful astronomy methodologies. The lessons were taught for approximately 12 days during a 45-minute instructional period.
The comparison group participated in a traditional curriculum. Lessons were taught over two 45-minute instructional periods. The teacher spent most of the time lecturing the students. However, a model of the Earth and a model of the Earth, Sun, and Moon relationship were used to describe the rotation and revolution of the Sun. Students also spent time answering questions from the state-approved textbook in their chosen reading medium.
Each student was asked to respond to the general question, "What causes the seasons for different locations on the Earth that experience winter, spring, summer, and fall?" (Atwood & Atwood, 1996). A semistructured interview was conducted following the written responses. The interview centered on nine questions that were based on key concepts that were identified in National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996), as well as in previous research (Bakas & Mikropoulos, 2003; Bisard et al., 1994; Roald. & Mikalsen, 2001; Trumper, 2001a, 2001b, 2006). Each student was asked the same series of questions before and after the instruction. Interviews for both groups were conducted approximately one week before and two weeks after instruction. Observations of the classroom curricula were recorded in field notes to allow the researcher to gather information about each form of instruction that the students received and the fidelity of the implementation.
Constant comparative analysis was used to analyze the data (Trundle, Atwood, & Christopher, 2002, 2007a, 2007b). This process allowed for qualitative data to be collected, analyzed, and coded as an ongoing process to look for gaps, omissions, and inconsistencies in the data (Glasser, 1965). According to Glasser (1965, p. 438), "the constant comparative method is concerned with generating and plausibly suggesting (not provisionally testing) many properties and hypotheses about a general phenomenon." Constant comparative analysis is essentially a method for describing and exploring a phenomenon.
A coding framework was developed on the basis of the literature (Glasser & Strauss, 1967) and the students' answers to the interview questions. The scientific model of seasonal change (Jones & Edberg, 1990; Ridpath, 1987) was used to establish the criteria for coding scientifically accurate responses. Creation of the categories to define alternative and scientific conceptions was based on the work of Trundle et al. (2002, 2007a, 2007b). This system provided for conceptual understandings to be divided into six major categories: scientific understanding of the cause of seasons, scientific fragments, scientific with alternative fragments, alternative, alternative fragments, and no understanding.
STUDENTS' CATEGORIZED RESPONSES
For a student' s understanding of the cause of seasons to be categorized as scientific, a student had to exhibit a conceptual understanding of four critical elements of scientific understanding: (1) The Earth is tilted (SCI-TILT), (2) The Earth moves in an orbit around the Sun (SCI_ORB), (3) The tilt in relation to the orbit results in different places on Earth receiving various amounts of sunlight throughout the year (SCI_LIGHT), and (4) This variable in the amount of sunlight results in changes in temperature and daylight (SCI_TEMP) (AAAS, 1993; Jones & Edberg, 1990; NRC, 1996; Ridpath, 1987). The following excerpt from the transcript of the postinstruction interview with Student 6 in the inquiry group is an example of a scientific understanding. Key concepts from the interview are in brackets with the related code in parentheses.
Researcher: Now I want you to tell me verbally what causes the different seasons on Earth.
Student : ... [the axis being tilted] (SCI_TILT.) [The light can reach the Earth at different intensifies, so we get more light in certain seasons than we do in other seasons.] (SCI_LIGHT.) Researcher: OK. Anything else?
Student: ... [temperature change] maybe, because that is an indicator of seasons, really. Temperature change might be an indicator. (SCI TEMP.)
Researcher: OK. What does the Earth do in relation to the Sun?
Student: lit goes around the Sun.] (SCI_ORB.)
Researcher: OK. So we will try it with the model. We are going to use a tactile globe that you have in your hands and the lamp to represent the Sun, and then I want you to explain to me first what causes seasonal change. Can you get up and show me what causes the different seasons on Earth?
Student: I think ... (stands up and begins [moving the Earth in an orbit around the "Sun," keeping the globe tilted at an angle). (SCI_ORB; SCI_TILT.) And the light intensity increases and decreases with the seasons.] (SCI_LIGHT.)
The most common type of conceptual understanding among students during the preinstruction interviews was alternative conceptions. The students who had alternative conceptual understandings held beliefs about seasonal change that did not agree with the scientifically accepted norms (Atwood & Atwood, 1996; Hsu, 2008). Students with this type of conceptual understanding believed such propositions as: the causes of seasons are the change in moisture levels in the atmosphere, the rotation of the Earth on its axis, and the wobble of the Earth's tilt during the orbit around the Sun--a movement similar to a windshield wiper where the Northern Hemisphere is moving from left to right as it orbits the Sun. The alternative conceptual understandings just described represent the codes of rotation, wobble, and moisture. For example, a commonly held misconception was that the Earth's rotation on its axis causes the seasons. The students with this misconception indicated that the part of the Earth that is facing the Sun has summer, while the part of the Earth that is facing away from the Sun has winter (Atwood & Atwood, 1996). The change in geographic position that causes seasons is due to the rotation of the Earth on its axis, according to the students with this misconception. Excerpts from the responses from the preinstruction interview with Student 5 of the inquiry group that were coded as rotation follow. Responses that were coded as rotation are in brackets, with the code (ALT_ROTATION) listed in parenthesis.
Researcher: What causes the different seasons on Earth?
Student: The Earth turns while it's going around the Sun. (Student moves hands in a spinning motion while speaking....) My hand is the USA, and this here is the Sun. (The student makes a fist with his other hand.) [OK. The USA, this is summer right now. Now it is going around here and is turning; now it is fall. The student moves the "USA" hand a quarter turn clockwise while keeping the "Sun" in close proximity.] (ALT_ROTATION.) [The student continues to make these quarter-turn motions with his hand to describe all four seasons.]
Similar to the hand motions just explained, the student continues this explanation when given a globe and a lamp representing the Sun until all the seasons are explained.
Student: [I turn it 25 degrees counterclockwise, and now it is spring. (The student moves the vertically positioned globe in a clockwise motion a quarter turn around the "Sun.") I move another 25 degrees counterclockwise, and now it is winter.] (ALT_ROTATION.)
The final coded data of each group were reported. Preinstruction and postinstruction codes were compared in an effort to determine differences in the types of conceptual understandings of the students. Frequency counts were made for each group by type of conceptual understanding. Differences in the frequencies of each type of conceptual understanding were used to identify the differences and commonalities of both the inquiry group's and the comparison group's understandings of the causes of seasons.
The following strategies were used to enhance the trustworthiness of the data: member checking, triangulation, and interrater reliability. Member checking was used to confirm the participants' answers to the interview questions. The participants who gave vague or inconsistent answers were probed to check if the researcher was able to understand their responses (Seidman, 2006).
Triangulation of the data allowed the researcher to cross-check the data for the accuracy of the facts that were presented as well as her perspectives. The data that were collected for the study consisted of written responses, interviews, classroom observations, field notes, and analyses of the students' documents. The multiple forms of data were used in the data analysis as a cross-check for accuracy in the representation of the findings. Triangulation and member checking showed that the students' responses were consistent.
Upon the completion of training, the researcher and one other expert evaluated the preinstruction and postinstruction transcripts of the participants in a randomized fashion. The researchers were in 100% agreement after each student interview was coded.
The middle school students with visual impairments tended to have an alternative understanding of seasons before either type of instruction. One student, a member of the inquiry group, could identify the scientific fragment that the Earth orbits the Sun. All the other students held alternative ideas about the causes of seasons. They stated that the Earth's tilt moved back and forth during the orbit, that the Earth's rotation on its axis caused the seasons, and that the Earth's moisture levels led to different seasons.
Upon completion of the curriculum, the students in the comparison group continued to hold alternative conceptual understandings. None could identify all the scientific reasons for seasons. Only one student, Student 3, was able to identify that the Earth orbited the Sun, a scientific reason for changes of seasons that he included within his alternative understanding. Although the teacher thought that the students had learned the material and would successfully answer the interview questions regarding seasons, the students were not able to demonstrate a scientifically accurate conceptual understanding of the reasons for seasons.
Compared to the students in the comparison group, those in the inquiry-based group tended to have a more scientifically accurate understanding of seasonal change after they participated in inquiry-based instruction. Students 5 and 6 were able to identify all four reasons for seasonal change, and Students 4 and 7 were able to demonstrate scientifically accurate reasons for seasons but did not include all four reasons in their responses. No student in the inquiry-based group held an alternative understanding after he or she completed the curriculum (see Table 2 for a summary of the results).
This investigation found that the students with visual impairments had similar understandings of the causes of seasons before interventions were given. These misconceptions were different from those cited in the review of research on sighted students.
The students' conceptual understandings changed on the completion of instruction. After instruction, all three students in the comparison group still exhibited alternative conceptual understandings that were similar to their preinstruction ideas. In contrast, the students in the inquiry group all had some scientific understanding after participation in their intervention.
The inquiry-based methods appeared to be a beneficial instructional methodology to help students learn the causes of seasons. These findings support the theoretical ideas of Vosniadou (2001) that students' concepts can change. In addition, the findings also support previous work with students with disabilities on the need for inquiry-based instruction (Lynch et al., 2007; Mastopieri, 2005).
LIMITATIONS OF THE RESEARCH
The participants in this study were not randomly selected and thus may not be representative of the larger population of students with visual impairments, and hence the results may not be confidently generalizable. In addition, the intact classes were not randomly assigned to the comparison and inquiry groups, which limits the interpretation of a cause-and-effect relationship between the instruction and students' postinstruction understandings. Although the pretest results revealed that the groups were similar in their conceptual understandings of the cause of seasons before instruction, we cannot be sure that the groups were equivalent in terms of factors that may have contributed to their conceptual change because of the lack of random assignment to the groups.
Different teachers taught the comparison-group curriculum and the inquiry-group curriculum. Thus, the results may be attributed to nuanced differences in their teaching styles. Both teachers, however, were equally qualified to teach, since both were experienced state-licensed science educators who were pursuing licensure for teaching students with visual impairments. Also, to ensure the fidelity of the instruction, the researcher observed all class sessions in which concepts of the seasons were taught to each group.
Implications and recommendations
The need for research-based practices in science education has been addressed by Congress in three pieces of legislation: Goals 2000, the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Education Science Reform Act. Congress has mandated that instruction in the classroom should be the result of research-based best practices. The field of visual impairments has many manuals that explain how to teach science to students with visual impairments (Dion et al., 2000; Hadary & Cohen, 1978; Koenig & Holbrook, 2000; Kumar et al., 2001; Willoughby & Duffy, 1989). However, little research has been conducted to determine the effectiveness of these curricular materials. The few studies that have been conducted concerned adaptations that were made to specific curricula (Erwin et al., 2001; Linn & Their, 1975; Long, 1973; Struve et al., 1975; Waskoskie, 1980). Many of these curricula point to the release of Sputnik as the inspiration for their work. These studies are out of date and do not reflect current content standards. Therefore, research needs to be conducted to determine which methodologies are best suited to teaching students with visual impairments.
The students who participated in this study exhibited many misconceptions regarding the causes of seasons. This is the first study of its kind in this field. However, we are unaware of the other types of misconceptions that students with visual impairments have in other areas of science. Science educators, science professors, science education professors, and preservice teachers need to know the common misconceptions held by their students to plan effective instruction on the causes of seasons. Until this study, no other researcher had examined the misconceptions of the causes of the seasons of students with visual impairments. Since astronomy is typically taught by visual information, it is imperative that this work be continued.
The results of this study suggest that instruction that uses inquiry-based methods and requires students to assess their own learning and ideas about the causes of seasons has potential as a beneficial instructional methodology to help students learn the causes of seasons. However, this methodology needs to be tested in other areas of science as well.
The curriculum that was taught to the inquiry group involved approximately triple the instructional time of the curriculum that was taught to the comparison group. However, inquiry-based instruction takes longer and is a component of the instructional methodology that the researcher chose. Beck and colleagues (2000) acknowledged that time can be a factor when teaching the use of constructivist inquiry approaches, suggesting that once teachers are able to see the benefits of this pedagogical technique, they are more apt to adapt it and less likely to worry about the greater amount of time that it requires. This point was evident in the remarks made by the teacher of the inquiry group. She was fearful of the amount of time that the lessons were going to take, but upon completion of the curriculum, she stated that the benefits were worth the extra time. Future studies should control for the amount of time on task to test whether time is a crucial component of inquiry-based instruction or if other aspects of the instruction are more important in promoting conceptual change.
The students in the inquiry group appeared to benefit not only from an inquiry-based curriculum, but from conceptual change theory. This theory has not been studied for students with visual impairments. Using this theory, the teacher using an inquiry-based curriculum was able to attend to the beliefs of the students by assessing their preconceptions of the seasons. She helped them to overcome some preconceptions through the lessons, addressing their beliefs, so they could make a connection to change, as demonstrated by Student 5 described earlier.
These are only a few of the many research questions that the science education community and the field of visual impairment must address as they continue to explore conceptual understandings of students in the development of scientific literacy.
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Tiffany A. Wild, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor, School of Teaching and Learning, Ohio State University, 333 Arps Hall, 1945 North High Street, Columbus, OH 43210; e-mail:
Table 1 Number of students who participated in each portion of the research phase. Number of Number of written Number of Group preinterviews statements postinterviews Comparison (n = 3) 2 (a) 3 3 Inquiry (n = 4) 2 (a) 4 4 (a) Not all students participated in the preinterviews. Table 2 Conceptual understandings before and after instruction, by group. Comparison group Type of conceptual Before After understanding instruction instruction Scientific 0 0 Scientific fragments 0 0 Scientific fragments with 0 0 alternative fragments Alternative fragments with 0 1 (33.3%) a scientific fragment Alternative 2 (67%) 1 (33.3%) Alternative fragments 1 (33%) 1 (33.3%) No understanding 0 0 Inquiry group Type of conceptual Before After understanding instruction instruction Scientific 0 2 (50%) Scientific fragments 1 (25%) 2 (50%) Scientific fragments with 0 0 alternative fragments Alternative fragments with 0 0 a scientific fragment Alternative 3 (75%) 0 Alternative fragments 0 0 No understanding 0 0
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