Date of Award

Spring 1998

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Eleanor Abrams


The purpose of this research was to develop descriptive accounts of precollege students' conceptions of the nature of science from two project-based classrooms, and track those conceptions over the course of an academic year. A model of the nature of science was developed and served as the criterion by which students' beliefs were evaluated. The model distinguishes between two major categories of science, the nature of the scientific enterprise and the nature of scientific knowledge. Five students were selected from each class and interviewed individually for 30-45 minutes each, six times over the year. Data from semi-structured, formal interviewing consisted of audio-recorded interviews which were transcribed verbatim. All passages were coded using codes which corresponded to the premises of the model of the nature of science. Passages in the transcripts were interpreted to develop a summary of the students' conceptions over the year. Qualitative methodologies, especially formal interviewing in conjunction with participant observation, were effective for uncovering students' conceptions of the nature of science, adding to the knowledge base in this field. The research design of the current study was a significant factor in explaining the inconsistencies seen between findings from this study and the literature. This study finds that participants at both classroom sites held fully formed conceptions of the nature of science for approximately 40 percent of the premises across the model. For two-thirds of the elements which comprise the premises, participants held full understandings. Participants held more complete understandings of the nature of scientific knowledge than the nature of the scientific enterprise. Most participants had difficulty distinguishing between science and non-science and held poor understandings of the role of questions in science. Students' beliefs generally remained unchanged over the year. When their conceptions did evolve, project-based instruction was sometimes a factor. Conceptual change theory provides a framework by which these changes can be understood. These findings demonstrate that merely involving students in science-related projects will not always foster an improved understanding of the nature of science. Implications for science teaching include making the nature of science explicit throughout instruction.