Using Active Research to Drive Instruction and creating a collaborative classroom environment…

Earning my Master’s of Science Education degree from Lebanon Valley College led me to my thesis in 1998, an active research project entitled, Student Perceptions of a Scientist. During my time in the program, I was consistently immersed in the idea that ‘Anyone can be a scientist’ and that if we have students doing what scientists do that they will ‘See themselves as scientists.’ I decided to set-up an experiment to see if this in fact was accurate. The assessment tool that I used was the DAST otherwise known as the Draw A Scientist Test. The very first day of class, students were asked to draw a picture of a scientist doing science. They were also asked to record what the scientist looked like and was doing. Following the completion of the drawings, the DAST-C, Draw A Scientist – Checklist, was used to rate each drawing in the presence of 14 stereotypical traits of a scientist. The 14 stereotypical traits included, lab-coat, eyeglasses, facial hair, symbols of research, symbols of knowledge, technology, relevant captions, male gender only, Caucasian, middle aged or elderly, mythical, secrecy, working indoors, and signs of danger. Each drawing received a total number identifying how stereotypical the student perceptions were of what scientists looked like and did. All of the data was collected and analyzed by me. The test was administered by the three 6th grade science teachers who each was responsible for teaching three classes. The testing included 225 students. My classes were the experimental group. The other two teachers made no change in their approach in regards to altering student perceptions about scientists throughout  the school year. I took every opportunity to help students in my classes to see that everyday when they came into my room for science class that  they were challenged to step into the shoes of scientists and DO science! Students were taught about the many science contributions of men and women from varying ethnicities. The students learned to work together and collaborate with their peers to solve scientific problems presented. The students were immersed in a variety of science topics and saw that the field is much more vast than just ‘working with chemicals using test tubes/beakers. Students realized that depending on the science work at hand determined what should be worn for clothing, Finally, students were immersed in the inquiry cycle and found themselves doing the science experimentation process just like ‘Real Scientists.’ This led them on a course to see  themselves as scientists! Teachers facilitated their curriculum throughout the year and once again facilitated the Draw A Scientist Test at the close of the school year. Using the DAST-C they tallied the scores and I then compared each student’s score to their previous test for any changes. Did the student’s perception of a scientist improve, stagnate or worsen? What I found out was that in the classes that I immersed students constantly making them aware of realistic traits of scientists that their perception improved immensely. Students instructed by the other two teachers making no effort to alter student perceptions of scientists, these students scores stayed the same and worsened due to ongoing stereotypical images used in media and society. The data gleaned was very eye opening and validated the power of teachers instructional planning and presence in a classroom. I continue to use the DAST during the start of each school year. Students more now than ever need to be involved in their learning and make real world connections. Having realistic perceptions of what scientists look like and do, will hopefully open the door for future scientists. By doing this with my students, it challenges them to enter the classroom daily with an open mind, to think outside the box when problem solving as young scientists, to think critically and to collaborate with others, are just some of the necessary skills for 21st century learners. More to come about rethinking, thinking….


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