Third grade African American students' views of the nature of science


  • Leon Walls

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    1. University of Vermont, Waterman Building, Rm. 532, 85 S. Prospect St, Burlington, Vermont 05405
    • University of Vermont, Waterman Building, Rm. 532, 85 S. Prospect St, Burlington, Vermont 05405.
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This study examined the nature of science (NOS) views of lower elementary grade level students, including their views of scientists. Participants were 23 third-grade African American students from two Midwest urban settings. A multiple instrument approach using an open-ended questionnaire, semi-structured interviews, a modified version of the traditional Draw-A-Scientist Test (DAST), and a simple photo eliciting activity, was employed. The study sought to capture not only the students' views of science and scientists, but also their views of themselves as users and producers of science. The findings suggest that the young African American children in this study hold very distinct and often unique views of what science is and how it operates. Included are traditional stereotypical views of scientists consistent with previous research. Additionally, participants expressed excitement and self-efficacy in describing their own relationship with science, in and outside of their formal classrooms. Implications for teaching and learning NOS as it relates to young children and children of color are discussed. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 49: 1–37, 2012

The present study seeks to contribute to efforts in science education to make science equitable for all students by focusing on one of the most fundamental aspects of science: nature of science (NOS). In particular, this study investigates young African American students' views of the NOS. NOS can be generally defined as the epistemology of science or the values and beliefs inherent in the development of scientific knowledge (Lederman, 1992). Operationally this includes, an individual's beliefs about, how scientific knowledge is constructed; where scientific knowledge originates; who uses science (including scientists); who produces scientific knowledge; and most importantly, where the individuals places themselves within the community of producers and users of science. An established line of research connects a student's understandings of the NOS and his/her science literacy (e.g., Crumb, 1965; Jungwirth, 1970; Meichtry, 1992; Tamir, 1972; Trent, 1965; Welch & Walberg, 1972). The American Association for the Advancement of Science defines a scientifically literate individual as,

One who is aware that science, mathematics, and technology are interdependent human enterprises with strengths and limitations; understands key concepts and principles of science; is familiar with the natural world and recognizes both its diversity and unity; and uses scientific knowledge and scientific ways of thinking for individual and social purposes (AAAS, 1989, p. 4).

With the relationship between NOS understanding and learning science in mind, science education researchers (e.g., Abd-El-Khalick, Bell, & Lederman, 1998; Lederman, 1999; Smith, Lederman, Bell, McComas, & Clough, 1997) and science organizations (AAAS, 1993; NRC, 1996) have placed great emphasis on ensuring that all students are provided the opportunity to attain science literacy. Not all agree with the emphasis on “science for all” however. Mutegi (2011), for example, questions the adequacy of the presently pursued science reform agenda and its effect on African American learners. He instead favors a socially transformative approach to science education curricula that is more specific to their unique sociohistoric needs.

Concurrent with this effort to instill acceptable understandings of NOS in K-12 students, there nevertheless remains disagreement about a universal NOS definition (Alters, 1997; Matthews, 1994; Suchting, 1995). Yet within this contested field of study there exists a general consensus on a set of tenets characterizing scientific knowledge that should be taught in the science classrooms (Abd-El-Khalick et al., 1998). The following list, though not exhaustive, is representative of the more commonly accepted tenets: (a) scientific knowledge is tentative, (b) scientific knowledge is empirically based, (c) scientific knowledge is subjective, (d) scientific knowledge is partly the product of human inference, imagination, and creativity, (e) scientific knowledge is socially and culturally embedded, (f) and scientific knowledge necessarily involves a combination of observation and inferences (Abd-El-Khalick et al., 1998; Lederman, 1992; Osborne, Collins, Ratcliffe, Millar, & Duschl, 2003; Smith & Scharmann, 1999). It is, therefore, this set of a priori consensus tenets that have been used in NOS research to date to assess and compare how informed or naïve a participant's science views are. Others however, have eschewed the tenet list template and feel that a more holistic and pragmatic approach to assessing NOS views should be adopted (Allchin, 2011). Three areas of particular interest and salience to the present study are: NOS views of K-5 elementary students, race/ethnicity of the NOS research participants, and the instruments used to assess and collect participants' views of NOS. In the following section, I review scholarship related to these four areas of interest.

Research on Students' NOS Views

The call for including NOS instruction into the K-12 science education curriculum for the purpose of instilling science literacy did not emerge without cause or provocation. It was in direct response to research findings that have consistently confirmed that students possess naïve understandings of NOS (Jungwirth, 1970; Meichtry, 1992; Tamir, 1972; Trent, 1965; Welch & Walberg, 1972). Additionally, some research has even highlighted the need to “explicitly” teach a core set of NOS tenets to improve these naïve understandings (Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000; Khishfe & Abd-El-Khalick, 2002; Khishfe & Lederman, 2005). Clough (2007) conversely advocates for addressing NOS issues as questions rather than as tenets. An individual is said to hold a more mature view of the NOS if they clearly understand a set of tenets characterizing scientific knowledge outlined by science education researchers (Abd-El-Khalick et al., 1998). Finally, most researchers concur in advocating for the use of inquiry-based strategies as the vehicle best suited to teach NOS because, “… these mimic as closely as possible how scientists go about their work” (Akerson & Hanuscin, 2007, p. 655). The most recent research into students' NOS views has focused on assessing students' conceptions at the K-5 elementary level (Akerson & Donnelly, 2009; Akerson & Volrich, 2006; Lederman & Lederman, 2004).

K-5 Elementary NOS Studies

Given the vast number of studies conducted on students' views of NOS, few have examined K-5 elementary children's views of science, and even fewer on the very young, 8 years and younger (Akerson & Donnelly, 2009; Mantzicopoulos, Patrick, & Samarapungavan, 2008; Smith, Maclin, Houghton, & Hennessey, 2000). This dearth of research on lower elementary grade level students was confirmed by a recent study conducted by Walls and Bryan (2009). In it they examined over 40 years of U.S. published peer reviewed NOS research in three of the field's leading journals. Of the 55 studies reviewed, only 15 (27%) involved investigations of students' NOS views. Thirteen of these involved secondary grade level students, with just two focusing on K-2 grade levels. Closer inspection of those two studies found that one, Akerson and Volrich (2006), actually focused not on the elementary students, but instead their preservice teacher's pedagogical skills. The investigation sought to determine the effectiveness of her explicit science instruction on influencing the inferential, tentative, and creative NOS aspects of the 1st grade students. Similarly, Lederman and Lederman (2004) investigated the NOS views of a 1–2 mixed grade level classroom of students using the VNOS-E questionnaire. Pre-test data indicated generally naïve views of NOS and scientific inquiry. As in the first study, these students also underwent explicit NOS teaching throughout the academic year and were then reassessed for any change in their NOS views. Post-test results indicated that the NOS views of the students improved as a result of the explicit NOS instruction. The explicit approach employed in both studies showed some positive results. However, it was not conclusive whether the very young students involved were developmentally capable of conceptualizing the NOS aspects.

Seeking a Diversity of Voices and Views

In the U.S., different lived experiences have long been associated with unequal outcomes in almost all social contexts, including education. Using outcomes alone as the point of context, African Americans in particular have unquestionably lived vastly different, and in many ways, separate experiences than their White counterparts (Steinberg, 2007; West, 1993). Therefore, understanding how children of different cultures, races and ethnicities see and interpret the NOS is critical. Though enhancing students' views of NOS as called for by science organizations (AAAS, 1989, 1993; NRC, 1996), is ultimately a desired outcome of this present research as well, assessing those views in the “traditional” sense was not one of its central goals. With so little research primarily involving populations of color and the very young, notions of the “traditional” research study were necessarily re-evaluated. Therefore, assessing the participants' NOS views for the purpose of ascribing to them an informed or naïve status was not a study objective. A more organic approach to gaining access to student views was favored for several reasons.

First, the main goal of this investigation was to document any and all views this selected population had with regards to science and scientists. As Allchin (2011) highlights, it was important to, “… allow students to articulate a multifaceted NOS understanding …” (p. 520). Previous research on majority White student populations has consistently observed them to possess naïve views of science. The assessment of those views however, was established along a very narrow set of consensus science tenets (Irzik & Nola, 2011). Intuition, history, and statistics suggests that it is highly unlikely that a group of very young marginalized African American children of color would hold views of science significantly more mature and informed than their White peers. The perspective of this researcher is that assessing this group's NOS views to see if they fit into these preconceived categories was less important for this combined age and racial group of children. One of the reasons for this is that research into whether children this young are cognitively equipped to hold or even understand many of the aspects of the NOS tapped in traditional instruments, is inconclusive. Intuitively, it would seem difficult for an 8-, 7-, or 6-year old with a limited history themselves, to be able to grasp the somewhat abstract characteristic of science being tentative (changing over time) for example. Moreover, the salient finding already established is that an explicit approach to NOS instruction is most effective at improving an individual's NOS understanding and ultimately helping them achieving science literacy (Akerson & Volrich, 2006; Bell, Matkins, & Gansneder, 2011; Khishfe, 2008). In other words, instilling the tenets through effective NOS instruction is perhaps more critical not just for this historically marginalized group, but for all emergent learners, than confirming yet again that their views are inadequate.

Second, the call for science literacy for all is at least an implicit if not a direct mandate aimed at equitably confronting the aforementioned disparate outcomes (Lee, 1999). Children of color, especially those in poverty, have long ranked amongst the poorest performers in science achievement (Parsons, 2008; U.S. Department of Education, 2001). In addition, according to the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) report, U.S. White and Asian fourth and eighth—graders scored higher in science, on average, while U.S. Black fourth and eighth—graders scored lowest (Gonzales et al., 2008). Developing effective methods and strategies to successfully improve the science literacy of an increasing number of linguistically, culturally, and racially diverse children must be a long-term goal. To accomplish this, science educators must first gain access to these unique perspectives through purposeful and targeted efforts to involve a more diverse population in NOS research. Presently it does not appear that those individuals being included in NOS research to date reflect an image of racial/ethnic diversity.

Third, although equitable treatment of all children is an incontrovertible goal, it presently is not being put into action regarding selections of participants in NOS investigations. It simply is not enough to include racially/ethnically diverse populations incidentally. This has most often occurred in the convenience studies performed thus far in which children of color might be included in small numbers within a larger, predominantly White grouping. Confirming this sentiment, Walls and Bryan (2009) found very little racial diversity among the participants during their review of over 40 years of NOS research studies. Though racial demographics were reported in some of the studies, in others it was not. A clear rationale for the arbitrary treatment of this data was not evident. Yet a disaggregation of the participants that were identified by race found that the overwhelming majority (97%) of them were White. This imbalance over time may have occurred innocently but certainly not unintentionally. Researchers themselves select the instruments, research questions to pursue, and the participants who will be included, none of which happens accidentally. Walls and Bryan (2009) also found that race/ethnicity played a role in neither the research questions pursued, nor in the findings that emerged from those examined studies. This pattern of research if taken to its logical end will continue to yield very little knowledge about diverse populations, over a very long period of time. It will also ensure that science literacy if at all a potential byproduct of a mature and informed view of science, will also continue to elude a group long identified in need of just that.

Finally, if it is an important goal to teach NOS in order to improve scientific literacy, then it is also of equal importance to know as early as possible the nascent NOS views of young learners, including children of color. Ausubel and Robinson (1971) concurred,

The most important factor influencing the meaningful learning of any idea is the state of the individual's cognitive structure at the time of learning … if new material is to be learned meaningfully there must exist ideas in cognitive structure to which this material can be related. (p. 143).

Determining an individual's prior cognitive status is a fundamental and necessary step involved in any inquiry-based constructivist pedagogy. As a result, findings to date generated via NOS research are in reality a procedural means of accessing prior knowledge from the individuals investigated. This is especially pertinent given that these findings constitute an important cornerstone used in developing the K-12 science curricular agenda (Knapp, 1997). By not insisting upon an inclusive and diverse population in NOS research, we again place the same students in the same disadvantageous position to fail (McLaughlin, Shepard, & O'Day, 1995).

Nature of Science Instruments

Since at least the early 1960s, the development of instruments capable of “validly” capturing an individual's understanding of the NOS has been pursued. In his critique of the state of NOS research to date, Lederman (2007) includes a thorough summary of the evolution of assessment instruments thus far. As he points out, many of the early assessment instruments (e.g. Allen, 1959; BSCS, 1962; Fraser, 1978; Fraser, 1980; Hungerford & Walding, 1974; Korth, 1969; Moore & Sutman, 1970; Ogunniyi, 1982; Schwirian, 1968; Stice, 1958; Swan, 1966; Wilson, 1954), all likely had poor validity. Still other instruments evaluated were deemed valid in their assessment of NOS views (e.g. Abd-El-Khalick, Bell, & Lederman, 1998; Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000; Aikenhead, Fleming, & Ryan, 1989; Billeh & Hasan, 1975; Cooley & Klopfer, 1961; Cotham & Smith, 1981; Hillis, 1975; Kimball, 1968; Lederman & Khishfe, 2002; Lederman & Ko, 2004; Meichtry, 1992; Nott & Wellington, 1995; Rubba, 1976; Scientific Literacy Research Center, 1967; Welch, 1967). Additionally, the validity of some instruments has been brought into question based on faulty assumptions supporting them (Aikenhead, Ryan, & Desautels, 1989). One such faulty assumption identified by Aikenhead et al. (1989) and Lederman & O'Malley (1990) was that individuals interpret an instrument's items in the same way as the instrument developers. Likewise, Lederman et al. (1998) adds that standardized instruments usually reflected the NOS views and biases of their developers.

Khishfe (2008) rightly asserts that the instruments used to assess students' views of NOS have influenced the focus of the research studies in their description of the process by which students' views of NOS change. However, instruments in and of themselves are merely tools at the disposal of the researcher. These instruments combined with “a researcher's beliefs and ideologies influence all aspects of the research process, from the design of the research questions, through to the interpretations that are drawn from the analysis of data” (McDonald, 2010, p. 1142). The current dearth of NOS research on the very young is due in part to the difficulty in developing reliable instruments to do the job. Put simply, the reason that science educators have focused on individuals in the fourth grade and above is because it is much easier to do so. Though this may be the reality, it nevertheless contributes very little towards our collective understanding of the nascent views of science held by the very young. That being said some important work involving young lower elementary grade level students' views of science is being conducted (e.g., Akerson, Flick, & Lederman, 2000; Akerson & Volrich, 2006; Lederman & Lederman, 2004). The design format of the instruments used in these recent studies all appear to be cognizant of the limited and widely variant writing skill levels of the very young. Oral interviews are now fairly standard and requisite as part of the data collection methodology. Even so, more work obviously needs to be done in the area of assessing young children's NOS views. Yet if McDonald (2010) is correct about a researcher's beliefs and ideologies affecting all aspects of the research process, then the following two questions must be openly addressed:

  • What can be concluded about the validity of instruments that are not equipped to reflect racial/ethnicity and cultural influences that may play a role in shaping a child's NOS views?

  • What additionally can we make of an entire research agenda that effectively excludes the involvement or input of racial or ethnically described individuals?

In summary, the present study is a continued effort in the long history of developing, testing, and refining adequate NOS research instruments but with a mandate to broaden the scope and effectiveness of those instruments.

Research Questions

The goals of this study were, (a) to purposefully examine the NOS views of a traditionally under-researched group; (b) to purposefully examine the NOS views of very young children (8 years old); (c) to purposefully examine the participants' views of scientists and the work they perform; (d) to test the effectiveness of novel instruments separately, and in combination with slightly modified traditional ones, to examine the NOS views of a diverse population of very young children; and (e) to determine the students' own personal view of themselves as learners, users, and producers of science. This is not a perspective of NOS that has been generally highlighted in previous studies seeking to determine the NOS views of students. However, it is an important one to consider for this particular group. In light of the persistent underachievement in science experienced by African Americans (Parsons, 2008); it was therefore a goal of this study to determine whether any self-exclusion or disengagement (Andre, Whigham, Hendrickson, & Chambers, 1999; Ogbu, 2003), was evident with these young African American children. Hence, the following research questions guided this study:

  • What are the NOS views of third grade African American students?

  • How do African American third grade students view scientists?

  • Where do African American third graders place themselves within the community of science as either learners, users, or producers of scientific knowledge?

  • How effective are NOS instruments when used in a combinational study design?


The research methodology guiding this study was critical hermeneutics. Critical hermeneutics can generally be described as conventional hermeneutics enhanced with the purpose of identifying as well as rectifying societal inequities. In short, critical hermeneutics is a blending of critical theory with Gademerian hermeneutics (Gadamer, 1976). Hermeneutic accounts are renderings of coherent meanings by a reader of a literary text as s/he deliberately incorporates his or her subjective life perspective with the text's meaning. Hermeneutic studies also can involve interpretive readings of people or “life texts” as well (Green & Hogan, 2005, p. 223). Hermeneutics is further defined as,

Hermeneutics must start from the position that a person seeking to understand something has a bond to the subject matter that comes into language through the traditionary text and has, or acquires, a connection with the tradition from which it speaks (Gadamer, 1960/1998, p. 295).

When the subjects of research are the very young, stories provide the basis from which a fuller interpretation can proceed. It is then the responsibility of the adult to use the range and power of their language to not simply record children's verbal expressions but to communicate and interpret the sense and contextual situation (Green & Hogan, 2005). Green and Hogan concluded the following:

Rich description must capture not only words and actions of others, but their intentions, emotions, or other embodied expressions as well—expressions that may provide important intuitions to an overall sense and meaning of the experience for each participant. Since sensitive readings of children's experiences are so crucial to hermeneutic phenomenology, a researcher as-fully-concerned party might best be able to generate interpretive data. That is, one of those whose subjectivities are vitally engaged, whose lives are intertwined with children in a pedagogical way, such as parents, caregivers, teachers, and therapists. (p. 229–230).

Critical theory refers to one of a series of approaches to the study of culture, literature, and thought that developed during the 1960s. Whereas traditional researchers seek out neutrality, critical theory researchers frequently announce their partisanship in the struggle for a better world (Grinberg, 2003; Horn, 2000; Kincheloe, 2001). Critical theory researchers often use their work as a first step toward forms of political action that can redress the injustices found in the field site or constructed in the very act of research itself. In other words, the critical theory researcher is never satisfied with merely increasing knowledge (Horkheimer, 1972).


Participants in this study were 24 third-grade African American students (12 females and 12 males), from public school districts (PSD 1 and PSD 2) in two large urban Midwestern cities. Of the 24 selected, 23 (12 females and 11 males) took part in the interview portion of data collection. The average age of the participants was eight years. Data collection took place in a total of four elementary schools involving two schools from each district. The participants were selected from two high-density African American populations. The two schools within each school district were selected based on the following factors: (1) Percentages of African Americans in the school population, and (2) Percentages of students eligible for school-wide free or reduced lunch. The PSD 1 and 1a schools chosen were 81% and 94% African American and 79% and 78% receiving free lunch, respectively. The PSD 2 and 2a schools that were chosen had 84% and 89% African American populations. Each had 81% receiving free and reduced lunch.


Student participants were administered a multiple instrument assessment of their views of science and scientists. This included an open-ended questionnaire, Views of Nature of Science-Elementary Version (VNOS-E; Appendix A) in conjunction with semi-structured interviews; a drawing activity, Modified Draw-A-Scientist Test (M-DAST), a version of Chambers (1983) traditional draw-a-scientist activity (Appendix B); and a photo eliciting activity (PEA), Identify-A-Scientist (IAS) activity (Appendix C). Data collection occurred in three stages. In Stage one, all students in each of the four selected classrooms preliminarily completed the M-DAST. There were a total of 82 students from the four classrooms that took part in the drawing activity—PSD 1 [N = 19]; PSD 1a [N = 21]; PSD 2 [N = 25]; and PSD 2a [N = 17]. All M-DAST drawings from all students were analyzed, however, only those produced by students who returned parental/guardian consent forms, were eligible for possible inclusion in the one-on-one interviews. The activity was administered by each classroom teacher, but without the researcher present. This drawing activity took approximately 20 minutes to administer.

In Stage two, the researcher was introduced to the student participants in the first of the four classrooms scheduled for observations. Two goals were specifically targeted during this stage: (a) To record field notes relative to general classroom operations and (b) To identify 24 total students (3 males and 3 females from each of the 4 participating classrooms) who would ultimately take part in the final one-on-one tape recorded interviews. The first classroom observations also took place at this point, followed by an additional day of observation. All M-DAST drawings were analyzed for stereotypical image content by this stage. Based upon the recommendation of the classroom teacher, the number of returned consent forms, analysis of drawings, and the classroom observations—three males and three females from each classroom were randomly selected for the one-on-one interviews. An effort was made to select as wide a range of types of students to undergo the interviews as possible. This included unique drawings of scientists, and talkative versus less talkative personalities.

Stage three consisted of the individual face-to-face interviews with each of the six students answering questions from the VNOS-E questionnaire in conjunction with the IAS scientist PEA. Interviews took place in locations recommended by administration officials at each school. In most cases the interviews took place in the school library or other designated quiet areas conducive to quiet discussions and conversation. In an attempt to maintain the interest level of these third graders, the PEA was introduced to them as a “game” that would be played while they answered questions about science. Though it was not certain whether the students believed the PEA to be a game, it was clear that they all willingly and enthusiastically cooperated. During this phase students wrapped up the interviews by providing commentary about their M-DAST drawings they had made prior to the start of classroom observations. All responses and interactions between the researcher and student participants taking part in the one-on-one interview were audio-taped and transcribed for analysis.


To date, the use of single instruments and audio-taped interviews to investigate the science views of children is now a fairly standard practice in NOS research (e.g., Khishfe, 2008; Lederman & Lederman, 2004; Lederman & O'Malley, 1990; Meichtry, 1992). However, studies of this type are inherently limited in their ability to capture the panoply of NOS perspectives children hold. The open-ended and orally administered VNOS-E questionnaire was used in conjunction with two other instruments, the M-DAST drawing activity and the IAS PEA, to assess students' NOS views. All interviews were tape recorded.


The items for the VNOS-E questionnaire were used in a previous study (Lederman & Lederman, 2004) that investigated the change in NOS views among a mixed classroom of 1–2 grade level students. The questionnaire is one in a series of previously validated instruments (Lederman, Abd-El-Khalick, Bell, & Schwartz, 2002) used to assess the NOS views of both students and teachers. Naive conceptions of science and scientists can be uncovered through the administration of this questionnaire. The VNOS-E includes approximately 30 items of which roughly half deal specifically with views of science and the other half with views of scientists.


As in the Lederman and Lederman (2004) study, the decision was made to orally administer the VNOS-E and audio-tape record the interview. This was done for several reasons, resulting in a number of benefits. One benefit of audio-taping the interview is that the researcher was able to ensure that interpretations gathered during the entirety of the study corresponded accurately to those intended by the participants. Orally administering the VNOS-E also effectively negated any concerns for those students who did in fact have vocabulary, reading, or writing deficiencies. Another benefit gained was that it also allowed the researcher to establish an easy conversational atmosphere and rapport with the student participants. Finally, given the number of students interviewed, time was also of the essence, particularly when considering maintaining the interest level of a young child. Each interview took approximately 35 minutes to complete.

Drawing Activity

The M-DAST required students to draw on paper their idea or conceptualization of a scientist. This activity was based on the commonly administered Draw-A-Scientist Test (DAST) (Chambers, 1983). The DAST has been previously used to uncover stereotypical views relating to the drawn scientists' gender; race; physical appearance; tools of the profession; how they are typically dressed; and how they are imagined to do their work (Barman, 1996; Finson, 2002). The M-DAST extends the capabilities of the DAST through the addition of three minor modifications. The first modification involved requiring each of the participants to provide a name for the scientist they drew. The skill levels, specifically artistic ones, vary widely within this age group. Requiring that the students include a name for their drawn scientist provides an additional clue for making a more informed and accurate determination of the scientist's gender without introducing additional bias. The value of this additional information was quickly realized when non-gender specific drawings (e.g., fully suited astronauts) or in some cases, simple stick figures, were encountered.

Second, the M-DAST also included a section in which students could write a story about their scientist(s). The story section of the M-DAST was designed to provide more opportunity for the students to share as many conceptualizations about their scientist as possible. The students were also asked to read their story aloud to provide an additional confirmation of what they had written in cases of illegible penmanship. Finally, the students were specifically asked to provide confirmation of their drawn figure's race whether racial identification (e.g., shading of drawing) was in evidence or not. These additions, while taking advantage of the strengths and flexibility of the DAST, also kept intact the validity of the instrument.

Photo Eliciting Activity

During the interviews and at the end of each set of three questionnaire items, the students took part in the IAS activity. The objective of this activity was to gain additional insights into not only whom the participants conceptualize as scientists, but who they actually see as scientists as well. Whereas the M-DAST activity asks the students only to draw their conceptualizations of a scientist, the IAS asks participants to select from photographs of real individuals, whom they believe is a scientist. The IAS was administered from the screen of a laptop computer. The laptop screen displayed ten folders numbered 1–10. Each of the folders contained eight color photographs. The photographs were of males and females in the following racial/ethnic categories: African American (AA), White (W), Latino/a (Lat.), Asian (As), and Asian Indian (AsIn). Along with race, ethnicity, and gender variance, the individuals in the photographs also varied in age and formality of attire as well. To limit the number of choices to only eight photographs, one demographic group was omitted from each folder that the students viewed. The decision to limit the number of photographs presented to the students was done as a precaution against overwhelming them with too many choices. This decision was made arbitrarily by the researcher for that reason only. The IAS was initially introduced to the students as a game. The activity was interwoven into the larger context of the VNOS-E questionnaire under this pretext. Researchers (e.g., Capello, 2005; Clark, 1999; Horstman & Bradding, 2002) have encouraged the integration of visual methods of data collection (e.g., photos, drawing) into interviews to make interviews fun and not like a test in school.

Data Analysis

Qualitative content analysis was the most appropriate method to use for analyzing the transcribed text obtained from these young children. Content analysis is defined as, “analysis of the manifest and latent content of a body of communicated material (as a book or film) through classification, tabulation, and evaluation of its key symbols and themes in order to ascertain its meaning and probable effect” (Krippendorff, 2004, p. xvii). Stone, Dunphy, Smith, and Olgilvie (1966) defined content analysis as any research technique for making inferences by systematically and objectively identifying specified characters within text. Specifically, the qualitative content analysis approach utilized in this study was directed content analysis. Hsieh and Shannon (2005) describe the goal of a directed approach as follows:

The goal of a directed approach to content analysis is to validate or extend conceptually a theoretical framework or theory. Existing theory or research can help focus the research question. It can provide predictions about the variables of interest or about the relationship among variables, thus helping to determine the initial coding scheme or relationship between codes. (p. 1281).

When using direct content analysis, existing theory or prior research is central, thereby allowing the researcher to begin by identifying key concepts or variables as initial coding categories (Potter & Levine-Donnerstein, 1999). The following paragraphs describe the data analysis procedures used to interpret participant responses to the four research questions guiding the study, “What are the nature of science views of third grade African American students?”, How do African American third grade students view scientists and the work they perform?, “Where do African American third grade students place themselves within the community of science either as users or producers of scientific knowledge?” and “How effective are NOS instruments when used in a combinational study design?” The data sources analyzed in this study were 23 full transcriptions of responses resultant from the: (1) VNOS-E questionnaire; (2) M-DAST drawings and narratives; (3) IAS PEA responses; and (4) all interview transcripts.

This study utilized a qualitative content analysis methodology to analyze and interpret the responses of 23 third grade student participants on the NOS instruments used in this study. Neuendorf (2002) described how the individual type responses to open ended questions on a questionnaire or in an interview such as those in this study, makes contributions to NOS research in general by generating themes in greater detail than typically obtained in NOS studies.

Documents were edited to permit coding at the sentence level. Sentence units were straightforward throughout the interviews given that responses were generally to a specific question and not extemporaneously or randomly provided. Some sentences were re-edited to separate multiple thoughts being supplied in one response. Each student was assigned a pseudonym in order to maintain anonymity and confidentiality. Only student participant dialogue was analyzed, with a focus on their responses rather than the researcher's comments and input. After data were segmented according to research questions, coding relative to the three a priori categories was performed. New codes for subcategories were created using open coding, which involved naming and labeling units of text to describe the data within a category. Focusing on deepening the data, the researcher relied heavily upon the use of multiple sources to support any assertions or coding decisions. After the coding was completed the results were compiled. This iterative analysis process was continued throughout this interval. Through this process of breaking down subcategories within the main category headings, 10 subcategories and 25 themes emerged. Though not all of the themes that emerged from this investigation were supported by overwhelming percentages of students who cited it, each theme/view that surfaced was nevertheless considered valid and valuable. All data were compared across the breadth of schools and districts involved in the study. No qualitatively substantive differences in participants' views were found and so the findings represent the participants as one whole group.


Qualitative accounts of students' views of science are described in the following four sections. The first section presents the emergent views of science expressed by the third grade participants. These students generally answered the question, “What is science?” by defining it in terms of “what it's for” and “how it works.” For these children, it appears that learning about the natural world is what it's for and experimenting, inventing, and discovering are all descriptions of how it works. Section two describes the students' images and views of scientists including what they do. Results suggest that the students hold dually opposing images of scientists in their heads. One based on a drawn conceptualization of a scientist and the other based on selecting from groups of real photographs who the scientist is and why they chose him or her. Section three discusses results of the children's views of science specific to the intersection of themselves as learners, users, and producers of scientific knowledge. Included in this personal aspect of the NOS is the student's emotional connection or disconnection with science as well. Results indicate they see themselves not only as capable and confident learners and users of science, they also think that “doing it” is fun. The final section discusses results relative to the different instruments and how they were used. To obtain these results, the study's design as well as the performance and utility of the NOS instruments themselves were all assessed. The results provide ample evidence suggesting that the multiple instrument design used in this study was quite effective at capturing complex views held by the students. The results also show that NOS instruments are limited only by what they are asked to investigate. Emergent themes represented by the participants' responses are displayed in Table 1.

Table 1. Emergent themes (N = 23)
 What it's forNatural world2191
 How it worksExperimentation1774
 What they look likeGlasses2296
 Professional attire1983
 Lab coat1357
 What they doProblem solver1670
 Qualities they possessIntelligence835
Students and science
 Where they learn it
  In-schoolActive learning1357
 Science textbook939
  Out of schoolTV/movies939
 Home /family members626
 How they feel about itPositive2296

What Is Science?

In discussing what science is the students often defined what it was by speaking of it in terms of how it works and what it's for, or in short, its processes and functions. Whereas process appears to denote the students' views that science involves certain unique steps, techniques, and actions, function refers to the students' views of science as having a specific purpose. Science as function suggests their vision of it as being specifically designed to accomplish certain tasks and needs of humans. Conversely, students who described scientific processes often referred to the things you “do,” or the active steps involved in science. Generally speaking they were in effect, describing not only what science is but also how science works.

What It's for

Natural World

Even before we are fully developed we humans begin interacting with the world around us in the only ways possible, through our five senses. It is here that we initiate our own personal experimentations with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations that pique our curiosity and interests as children. These experiential interactions with the natural world are encouraged through National Science Education Standards (NSES) and are further reinforced through formalized K-5 science instruction. As a result the most significant theme to emerge from the assessment of the participants NOS views was their connection of science with the natural world. This theme was dominant within the group, with the largest majority of students (91%) making the connection. Their responses indicated a view of science as a tool used by humans (including themselves), to learn about the world and its surroundings. They described the natural world in terms of its biotic (animals, plants, and humans); abiotic (weather, unknown discoveries, and rocks); and astronomic (planets, stars, and universe) features. It was in the context of studying and learning about these various components that the students saw science fulfilling its designed purpose.

How It Works


Whatever questions that may remain unanswered with respect to these participants' views of science; they were unambiguous about the intrinsic connection between the experiment and how science operates. Experimentation as a theme was surpassed only by the natural world in the frequency it was referenced by the students (74%). As highlighted previously, children begin their own informal experimentations with the world around them at a very early stage. The images of, and allusions to experimentation were consistent across each of the three instruments used to assess the student participants' views. The numerous references to the term “experiment” prompted an additional query of “What does experiment mean to you?” Because of this additional prompt, it was evident that their definition was much broader than first intuited by this researcher. To some of the students the term meant to “test something out” or “to do something that you think that you should do to figure out what it is.” Dissecting the last comment reveals that some of the students understand experimentation to be a requisite process or procedure [to do something], conducted in a specific way or method [that you think you should do], to gain some scientific knowledge [to figure out what it is]. In a recent study, much older university students provided almost identical definitions of experiment as the third graders in the present study (Gyllenpalm & Wickman, 2010). They too defined it in terms of “trying or testing” something out. A similar conceptualization of the term can be seen in the following student's narrative response accompanying their M-DAST drawing:

Dr. Star was out in the woods once. He seen an ant, “Hey there is a ant, hey there is a table the sun is shining bright I want to know if this ant will burn. I've got my magnifying glass the sun looks good, and the ant is on the table ready to start. Yes I have my time 5pm, I have my place the woods, time to go tell the people at the office”

It is not clear where or when this student first encountered the above steps and procedures, ultimately internalizing them. Interestingly however, several steps of the well-known scientific method approach to experimentation are clearly recognizable in her narrative. A testable question is posed [I want to know if this ant will burn?]; the scientist takes into account variables [the sun is shining bright], checks equipment [there is a table; I've got my magnifying glass]; notes the time and location [Yes I have my time 5pm, I have my place the woods]; reporting findings [time to go tell the people at the office]. Again, I cannot ascribe intentionality to this student's remarks since it was not confirmed in the interview whether she was familiar with the scientific method as a process. However, what is clear is that this third grader and her peers in this study do hold this perceived view of how science is done.


Though not overwhelmingly cited by a majority of the students in this study, a theme that nonetheless provoked considerable interest was the potion (39%). The striking aspect of this theme is that it appeared not only across more than one instrument (M-DAST and VNOS-E) but also across both school districts. As a point of reference, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) provides a definition of the potion as, “A liquid, usually taken orally, with healing, magical, or poisonous qualities.” Most commonly, when these students discussed potions, they referenced the act of “mixing” and the inclusion of colored liquids. This definition was close to that provided by one student:

Science is like art because you have green stuff, red stuff, black stuff, blue stuff, and all kinds of different things in science and sometimes you got to mix stuff that you are not supposed to use for science to get something out of the potions.

The magical component of potions did come through during the interviews as well. One student explained that her M-DAST drawing was directly taken from a popular Disney Channel sitcom, “That's So Raven.” In it the title character uses psychic and magical powers to alter situations she finds herself in. Potions also play a significant and prominent role in the pop culture sensation, the Harry Potter book series and movies. This media portrayal of wizards, potions, magical spells, and science, has been consumed in historic and unprecedented quantities by children nationally and internationally. Finally, though the instruments and tools of science students chose to include in their M-DAST drawings were few, bubbling test tubes filled with colorful liquids was most prevalent. An example of this can be seen in Figure 1, Sarah's M-DAST drawing, and in her accompanying narrative made reference to potions as well:

My scientist name is Ms Rabota, she loves making potions and she likes reading a lot and she study. Her most favorite thing to do is study about potions. Rabota is 29 and now she is finding another thing to study about which is the earth. Before Rabota was a scientist she was a doctor and she got paid a lot, so that's when she wanted to be a scientist so she bought her furniture for her scientist room and she bought her own scientist clothes. Now she is a scientist, oh yeah, she speaks English and a little Spanish.

Figure 1.

Sarah's M-DAST drawing of scientist/student working with potions.

The potion is both a stereotypical as well as an iconic image in scientific settings. It is no wonder then that reference to it would make its way onto the drawn conceptualizations these students would produce.


While familiar exclamations such as “Eureka!” were absent from the students' responses, drawings, and narratives, over half of them (57%) did focus on the creation of something new—an invention, when addressing the question “What is science?” Of particular interest relating to this theme was the students' consistent referencing of the following phrases—never heard of, never made, or never knew to describe it. Invention to these students appears to be a product or creation of something, where moments before the knowledge or technology did not exist. The students who spoke of it did so in almost identical language across both districts. This suggests some degree of common understanding and acceptance of invention's role in science among this age group, at least in the minds of these participants.


Similar to invention, student participants in the present study also associated discovery with how science works (35%). As one student informed, “Science is something that you do like discover stuff …” However, a closer examination found that their concept of discovery was somewhat narrow and especially focused. Specifically, the students most consistently connected the term “discovery” with finding dinosaur fossils. Current guidelines as outlined in the National Science Education Standards (NSES) and the sheer popularity of teaching and learning about dinosaurs and their fossilized remains throughout K-5 classrooms, may partly explain this phenomenon associated with dinosaurs. Though closely related to invention, the students made a clear distinction between the two. Unlike invention for instance, qualifying phrases such as, never heard of, never knew, or never made used with invention, were absent when the students described science and discovery.

Who Are Scientists?

The students' views of science also include their views of who they believe are scientists. Based on their responses, these views appear to be influenced in part by how they physically look and dress; the innate qualities they possess; and the specific activities, functions, and roles they fill. The most common descriptors of a scientist provided by these students were: glasses, professional dress (suit and/or tie), lab coat, mature age, and male. These identifiers offered by the participants were indicators of a real life, though highly stereotypical image of scientists. Adding in race/ethnicity and gender and the following composite emerges—A mature, intelligent, hardworking, White male, wearing glasses, formally dressed or in a lab coat, who also teaches as part of work they do. Further discussions of the descriptors are provided in the following sections.

What They Look Like


The most prevalent feature that students in this study attributed to scientists was the wearing of glasses/goggles (96%). Not only was the wearing of glasses/goggles essential to being a scientist, the students also gave specific reasons why they believed they wore them. For example, when asked why they selected individuals with glasses/goggles during the IAS activity, a typical student response was, “… all scientist wear glasses and all scientists wear glasses cause if they couldn't see they would mess up everything and like they could blow up something.” This rationale was particularly noteworthy for its implied certainty. Of course, not “all” scientists do any given thing the same, yet this image is very much alive in the minds of this group of children. Additionally, the “blow something up” reference made by this student is just one example of the various outcomes students attributed to scientists while wearing glasses. Of course, this particular image of explosions and be speckled scientists has enjoyed a long standing, albeit ill informed, relationship with the media for quite some time.

Professional Attire

The students clearly held strong beliefs about how they perceived scientists to dress. A majority of them identified formal or professional attire as a hallmark of being a scientist (83%). Being professionally dressed included wearing a collared shirt, tie, or jacket, or any combination of the three. Though no females selected wore ties, a collared shirt and/or jacket was also a consistent part of their attire nonetheless. The idea of the scientist being professionally dressed was made distinct from those donning the stereotypical lab coat with responses such as, “… it looks like he's wearing a jacket and sometimes scientists wear jackets with a tie.” On a few occasions it was not explicitly clear whether the use of “jacket” was in reference to a lab coat or formal suit, the inclusion of the tie helped make the determination somewhat easier. It is of interest to note that the PEA (IAS) was capable of illuminating a feature of the scientists' attire that was not uncovered in previous DAST studies. In addition, the theme representing scientists in professional attire garnered more support among this group of participants than did the idea of scientists in lab coats.

Lab Coat

Lab coats have long been associated with the portrait of the stereotypical scientist (Barman, 1997; Fort & Varney, 1989; Jones, Howe, & Rua, 2000; Rosenthal, 1993; Schibeci, 1986), a majority of the students in this study made this connection as well (57%). The fact that these young children identified the lab coat with being a scientist was therefore neither unusual nor unexpected. It was instead their persistence in making this connection that was of interest. The IAS instrument was again most responsible for exposing this long standing stereotype. Data collected using this instrument revealed a number of creative ways the students described the “lab coat” when attempting to reference it. For example, some responded that it was, “… because he has on the robe that scientist wears” or “… looks like he has the little apron like a scientist,” or “… because scientists wear white capes and he looks like he got a white cape on.” This sentiment persisted even though none of the individuals in the photographs presented to them wore a lab coat.


Contrary to the results obtained from the M-DAST activity in which the students conceptualized children (see the following section for detail) as scientists, age or the signs of maturity were key factors in who they selected in the IAS activity. Nearly half (48%) of the scientists selected were chosen, “… because mostly people that are scientist has gray hair cause they love the job and they take it seriously and a long way for them” or “… because he really old and a scientist be old.” This phenomenon was most pronounced in the IAS activity in which commentary by the students directly addressing age as a component of being a scientist was.


The students overwhelmingly identified and associated scientists with being male. Of the drawings produced during the M-DAST activity, 68% were of males (23% were produced by females, and 45% were produced by males). No males drew female scientists. Of the scientists chosen in the IAS activity, 73% were male and was reflected in typical responses like that given in the following, “… and he's a man; I think most scientists are men.”


The students again demonstrated a dichotomy in their held images of the scientists. On the one hand, their M-DAST drawings accompanied by their narratives clearly indicated an African American or at the very least, a non-White individual as scientist (see the following section). Yet when they were allowed to select from “real” photographs in the IAS activity, the students most often chose a White scientist (35%). African American scientists were the next highest racial/ethnic group selected at 23%. An additional part of the data collection involved in the IAS activity affecting gender and race/ethnicity was a Likert Scale of Certainty. The scale allowed the students to choose a degree of certainty they held for each scientist they selected. The students were more certain overall about their White male selections as “the” scientist than they were about any other race/ethnicity and gender combination. Each of the top five White males selected received an average Likert Scale score of approximately 3, signifying “Sure.” When considered more closely, out of all 3's (Sure) and 4's (Very Sure) allotted to individual selections, White males received 35% of the 3's (African American males were next with 23%) and 40% of the 4's (Indian males were next with 26%).

Qualities They Posses


A common characteristic that the students attributed to scientists was intelligence (35%). To this group of students, “a scientist is a very, very smart person” indicating that they viewed intelligence as a positive and reasonable attribute to expect that a scientist would possess. It is significant that these students collectively associated being “smart” with being a scientist, and did so in a consistently positive light. This view of scientists has implications for students' views of themselves as capable users of science, which will be discussed in greater detail in the next section.


An additional attribute that scientists were believed to possess was studiousness (30%). Students acknowledged through their responses that they understood the practice of science to require hard work on the part of the users. Responses indicate that this penchant for studying must also be an inherent trait of all scientists. The following student response was typical of those the students used when describing a scientist,

A scientist is a person that studies really hard and persons that learns new things and creates new things and invents other things and a scientist is a person that loves science very much, and that's it.

Similar to being smart, studiousness is another attribute that the students cast in a positive nature. Even though students may not be on track at this age for a career in science, they nevertheless feel positively about those working in the field.


The final theme produced from the student responses was of a happy scientist who enjoys his or her work (30%). Participants' expressed evidence of the “happy” scientist in their PEA. During the part of the interview in which they had to choose who they thought was the scientist, they almost unanimously chose individuals who were smiling. Because the students had to provide a rationale for why they picked the photographs they did, their selections were not merely coincidental or random. They specifically indicated that this feature is something they associate with scientists. For example, when asked why she chose a particular photograph one student indicated it was because, “… how he is smiling, his hair, and his mustache, and his clothes, and his glasses.” The fact that these students see scientists as smart, hardworking, and happy about their work is an indication of a potentially positive overall disposition these students have toward them. Though this positive relationship is not direct proof of an overall positive attitude towards science as well, it is another piece of evidence pointing in that direction.

What They Do

When discussing scientists, the students clearly identified them as the people who put science into action. Supporting this notion, a majority of them (70%) connected scientists with activities associated with problem solving specifically tied to learning about the world we live in. The following response acknowledges this by clearly conveying the message that “finding out” is what scientists naturally do,

… a person who knows a lot about science and they like to go out and find more things about science that they did not know like say if they did not know ants walk on concrete they would find that out by going around and looking up stuff out there in the world.

One of the ways scientists construct scientific knowledge is through their inventions according to the participants. A majority of them (57%) identified the work of invention as integral to being a scientist. One student describes Delicious her drawn scientist, in the following manner,

The things Delicious does at work is to try to make new inventions to see if it will work out right and if it does work out right it is a new product that is made, and no one ever heard of until then.

Again it is noteworthy that the idea of something, “no one ever heard of until then,” accompanied the act of inventing. Whether the participants were aware of the scientist's history of repeated trials leading up to the invention is not clear. Another way the students described how scientists learn about the world is through the discoveries they make (39%). One student depicted her drawn scientist, Professor Jim, as the one who, “… discovered the dinosaur bones and invented the bus; his invention helps me get to school on time.” Thirty-five percent of the students connected the scientists to experimentation. For these participants a scientist, “… is a person that does experiments …” Finally, though the students provided evidence indicating that they encounter scientists in many different settings, 30% of them saw the scientist as someone who also teaches. The students' responses indicated that the role of scientist as teacher is one that they see as normal,

They put um … if they making medicine they have to put on gloves so nothing will get inside of it and when they teaching they gots to give everybody the same thing so that they don't get messed up.

As with several of the responses the above statement gives the sense that this student is familiar with the procedural aspect of scientists (“… if they making medicine they have to put on gloves so nothing will get inside of it …”). Yet it and the following response both indicate an understanding that scientists use a similar procedural approach when they act as teachers as well. The context of the teaching appears to, “… be in a class …” with the audience taking notes and writing “… the stuff down.”

He, there's a man that teach like everybody a lot of stuff and they like have to be in a class and he shows'em on the thing what you do and they have notebooks and they write the stuff down.

Finally, closely connected to the jobs and functions scientists take part in is the place they perform these jobs and functions. Though not a heavily supported theme, 26% of the students nonetheless mentioned the laboratory as a specific place where scientist do their work. The lab has long existed as the stereotypical and iconic work place of scientists, and this appears to be true for the scientists drawn or described by the participants in this study as well. This theme emerged even though the students acknowledged in their questionnaire responses that there are several places scientists do their jobs such as in schools, offices, and museums. The following student suggests that the only way a scientist can operate is, “… by doing stuff that they supposed to learn at their job, they stay at their lab every day.”

Students and Science

A critical goal for this investigation was to determine where and how these participants oriented themselves within the community of science as learners, users, and producers of scientific knowledge. It was therefore necessary to determine two things from them: (1) how they described their own acts of learning and using science; and (2) what their overall emotional status with science was, specifically if they held positive or negative feelings toward it. The rationale behind these two goals is simple. First, pinpointing origins of science learning has the potential to provide valuable insight into the construction of children's naïve notions of science. The on the ground, practical outcome of this knowledge is the development of effective K-5 science instruction that is targeted and specific instead of general. Second, human nature is such that, how successful we are at mastering or accomplishing any task is directly proportional to the positive or negative emotional attachment we develop over time toward the task. The more we take part while realizing success along the way, the more technically skilled we become as a result.

For example, in the early stages of learning to golf there are good experiences (i.e., hitting the golf ball as far and in the direction, as you intended it to go); and bad experiences, for which no explanation is needed. Should the good experiences happen to outnumber the bad ones, you are apt to return again putting in to motion the cycle of success breeding more positive feelings toward the game described earlier. If the converse is true, the number of times you return are likely to be fewer thus initiating the reverse spiral of negative feelings toward both the task and potentially our own abilities. If a person is convinced by enough bad experiences on the golf course that their abilities are inherently the problem, it is likely that they'll never like, play, or even understand golf. After reaching this final stage, it is not surprising when the person ultimately stops caring about golf because it has become irrelevant and a source of negativity. This process is also analogous and applicable to all children learning science, but is particularly significant for historically underserved children of color such as those in this study. As a theme many of the students described the extent of their involvement with science in terms of where they learned or encountered it. Not surprisingly, the students described the context of their science encounters as either “in school” or a “non-school” setting. Results and discussions pertaining to these.

Where They Learn It


Though a majority of the students stated that they had learned about science in school (65%), eight of the participants stated that they had not. When asked, “How is science different from other things you learn about?” it was clear that they interacted with it differently than they did their other curriculum. The difference appears to be their association of an “active” component with learning science (57%), but not necessarily with the other things they learn in school. The following is one example of the responses identifying active involvement in learning science as a positive and tangible difference from the other learning they do in school,

In science, we do like projects and we mix stuff, and in math and all that other stuff we get to do at school we got to use a piece of paper and write down the stuff, and in science we got to mix stuff together to see what it makes, and in math all you have to do is just have to write stuff down. Like in science we partner up and do activities with your friends and talk and in math we got to be quiet and do our work.

The active component of science is something that these students enjoy. The above response not only expresses the student's distinction between science and their other content disciplines, but it also implies the student's official endorsement of science as something they like. For instance, science learning includes a social collaborative component with their peers that their other learning does not. In addition, there is a notion of inherent curiosity and inquiry detected when the student highlights, “… we got to mix stuff together to see what it makes …” Finally, the student appears to prefer being actively involved in learning as opposed to “… just have to write stuff down.”

Science Textbooks

In at least one way, the participants in this study appeared to be typical products of K-12 environments with respect to textbook usage. Of those who indicated that they learned science in school, 39% of them further indicated that a prime source for science instruction and knowledge was their science textbook. The following response certainly confirms this but also provides an indication that inquiry science instruction may not be taking place in this child's classroom,

Because you got to read stuff and sometimes they have a packet that … is from science then you got to look in the science book and you got to see what the questions are then it's just going to be in the science book.

The reference to a “packet” that includes pre-determined questions from a textbook certainly suggests more “cookbook” science than inquiry. Research has shown that K-12 science instruction in U.S. classrooms is heavily dependent upon the science textbook. In their analysis of science textbooks over the past 100 years, Chiappetta, Ganesh, Lee, and Phillips (2006) noted how reliant teachers are on science textbooks: “In order to instruct students in the NOS with its history, development, methods and application, science teachers use textbooks as the primary organizer for the curriculum” (p. 45).


The participants stated that they frequently encountered science in non-school settings as well as in school. As you would expect, the media portrayals of scientists have undoubtedly impressed young children such as the third graders in this study. Accordingly, some students (39%) revealed that they learned science from television shows and movies. One such learning context appears to be the Crime Scene Investigation—CSI, on location television dramas (e.g., CSI-Las Vegas, CSI-Miami, and CSI-New York). One female student quite clearly expressed her pleasure with the science she learns from one of the shows. When asked where she learns science her response was,

At home watching TV on CSI-Miami, and we're going today to go get the movie so cause I tell my mom if we can go get it cause I like watching it, it teaches me different things about scientists and then there is this one game that's out, well it's not a game it's actually a movie and it teaches you about how different kind of scientists work on dinosaurs then we go to museum, and we go to children's museum, and then we go to, I forgot what you call it …

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the age appropriateness of 8 year olds watching adult dramas such as CSI, it is clear that they do and that as this young girl pointed out, “… it teaches me different things about scientists …” Another group of students (35%) mentioned museums and libraries as some of the places where they encountered, learned, or used science, particularly when the topic was dinosaurs. It appears that regardless whether science was taught frequently or infrequently in the four classrooms taking part in this study, those that emphasized dinosaurs were clearly lasting for these children. The following is just one of the ways the students responded to, “Where do you learn science?”

Like you learn science at a liberry [sic], at a museum where they make dinosaurs and they look for ‘em way out there and it's hot and they dig them up and then they find all kinds of body parts.

Developers of the VNOS-E instrument used to capture this statement themselves alerted users about one of its questions concerning dinosaurs. They suggested that the researcher be ready to redirect the conversation should students dwell too long on the many things they know about dinosaurs and fossils. The last emergent themes representing where students encounter science, was at home from family members (26%). Given that many of the students had older siblings and relatives, discussions about science in the home were neither unusual nor unlikely. One student recounted her experience with family members:

  • S: Well I have an older cousin, two older cousins, and a big sister and they know a lot about science and they tell me some things, so usually at my house or my cousin's house.

  • R: Anywhere else?

  • S: Home with my parents.

  • R: Anyplace besides school?

  • S: Sometimes me and my friends sometimes talk about what we learned in science … at my mom's job sometimes, sometimes outside somewhere um … school, home, a lot of places.

How They Feel About It

Another important indicator of the relationship the students had with science was judged by how they described their emotional connection to learning and participating in the practices and procedures of science. Judging by their responses, the affective or emotional relationship that these students held towards science was overwhelmingly positive, confident, and self-inclusive. The participants not only demonstrated an enthusiasm towards science, but they also expressed positive responses and feelings about their abilities to “do” science. The majority of the students interviewed spoke positively about their involvement with science (96%), appeared excited and animated during the interview, or smiled while answering questions or describing specific science related activities/experiments they had taken part in. The following response is representative of those expressing the students’ positive interactions with science,

I like science and it's different because you learn more stuff than all the other stuff like spelling, math, and English and it's more fun and that science is stuff that you really have to work on and it be hard on you put your mind to and the other stuff you don't … you have to put your mind to it but don't be hard, hard.

There is clearly no equivocation or ambiguity in the words of the above student. Science for her is, “… different … more fun … stuff you really have to work on … but it don't be hard, hard.” Not every student went to such lengths to describe their positive disposition and confidence towards science. One student simply stated, “I want to be a scientist” another more succinctly proclaimed, “I love science.”

The M-DAST instrument provided additional evidence to support the notion that these students held no reservations when it came to learning and implementing science. For instance, 41% of the M-DAST drawings produced by the students represented children, a departure from the traditional adult figure drawn. It is clear that this is reflecting a view that the students saw themselves as scientists. When asked what skin color their drawn scientist had, 86% verbally confirmed that the skin color was black, brown, or simply like their own. The students' responses were unlike the norm of “White” for the racial categorization of the drawn scientists in past studies using the traditional DAST activity (Barman, 1996; Chambers, 1983; Finson, Beaver, & Cramond, 1995) (see Figure 2).

Figure 2.

Jamaal's drawing of an African American child scientist.

The names that students gave their scientists provided more evidence that the drawings were not of just any children, but in fact were drawings of themselves as scientists. One student went so far as to not only draw a figure that was clearly a child, but also gave the scientist his own name. As with all of the students interviewed, I asked this child specifically where the name for his scientist came from. He confirmed that the drawing was in fact a self-portrait (see Figure 3).

Figure 3.

Greg's self-portrait of himself as a scientist.

Finally, Figure 4 offers some explanation for why the students may conceptualize themselves as scientist. The images presented are from the science textbooks used in the participating school districts and the classrooms that were the target of this study. The majority of the images in these students' textbook were of children.

Figure 4.

Images from the students' science textbook.

NOS Instruments

One of the limiting factors of any research study is the instrument chosen to collect data. A known limitation of the majority of instruments used up to now in NOS research was that they lacked the capability of addressing race/ethnicity while evaluating science views. Given that the participants were an under-researched group of African American children, race/ethnicity necessarily became an issue. Responding to this reality for the purpose of the current study required the modification of two previously validated instruments and the development of a third. It was therefore necessary to assess the effectiveness and utility of each instrument upon completion of data collection and analysis. Results suggest that the combinational configuration of the instruments provided a fuller account of the student's science views than could either instrument alone. Results also indicate that race/ethnicity must be incorporated into the instrument purposefully in order to account for it in assessing science views. In this final section discussions relative to how well the instruments performed and what they found are presented.

How They Performed

Views of Nature of Science-Elementary Version (VNOS-E)

The VNOS-E is a questionnaire with approximately 30 items within. The questionnaire is divided into two parts. The first set of questions in Part I are used to establish that the child has some knowledge of what science is as opposed to other disciplines so that when their opinions are asked during the rest of the interview the interviewer has faith that the child is referring to science. Part I also investigates the students' views of scientists as well. In Part II of the questionnaire more specific questions relative to the students' knowledge of the NOS were included. None of the items on the questionnaire were specific to race/ethnicity issues relative to science views. It was therefore necessary to make modifications to the instrument in order that it be capable of addressing race/ethnicity as a potential factor in shaping science views. This particular version, of which there are several others, specifically targets the very young child as a participant. It is suggested that 2 complete days be used to administer all items on the questionnaire. Through necessity and school time constraints, the complete administration of all instrument items was done in one day (approximately 30–35 minutes per student). The instrument did an adequate job of getting at the students' views of science and scientists, particularly how they defined each of the terms. It is an effective tool for assessing whether the students' views were more informed or naïve, though that was not a focus of this study.

Modified Draw-A-Scientist Test (M-DAST)

The Draw-A-Scientist Test (DAST) has traditionally revealed stereotypical images children have of scientists by having them draw what they conceptualize. The instrument is ideal for use with young children because it does not rely solely on a child's writing skills. Three weaknesses of the traditional DAST became apparent prior to beginning this study. First, like the VNOS-E it is limited with respect to its ability to tap into cultural influences shaping a child's ideas of a scientist. Second, it only allowed for conceptualizations of the scientist to be produced by the student, regardless whether they held single of multiple conceptualizations. Finally, for obvious reasons the instrument does not allow for much access into a child's overall views of science, only their views of scientists. The ways in which it was modified for this study included:

  • (1)Requiring the students to name their scientist. This allowed them to provide additional information about the gender of the scientist should the drawing itself prove indistinguishable or non-gender specific. A male or female name though not definitive, provided additional clues in situations such as that previously described.
  • (2)Requiring the students to provide a story about their scientist. Having the students tell a story about their drawn scientist again provides them with an opportunity to embellish on things such as what the scientist does for his/her job.
  • (3)Requiring the students to provide some commentary on the skin color of their scientists, whether they shaded their drawing or not. It is reasonable even to young children that all humans have a skin color, and having them state the skin color of their drawn scientist helps pinpoint any latent ideas about race.

Identify-A-Scientist (IAS)

The IAS was originally envisioned as being complementary to the M-DAST in that both dealt with images students had about scientists. The difference being that the M-DAST allowed the students to draw who could be a scientist, whereas the IAS allowed them to single out the real individuals they see as scientist in their daily lives and in the media. The most impressive feature of the IAS is its tremendous flexibility. Depending on the variable desired to be controlled, the instrument can be adapted to focus on specific features of interest. For example, should the affect of glasses be a concern, individuals can be presented photographs in which all individuals or of none are shown wearing glasses. The same holds true for other features such as race, and gender. Like the DAST, the IAS requires no writing skills whatsoever, only narration. Triangulation between this instrument and the M-DAST provided a means for students to present an additional conceptualization of who they view are scientists, and why. In using the IAS in the present study, the image of the scientist that emerged was one laden with stereotypes of the kind normally associated with the DAST activities. This conceptualization may not have emerged had this instrument not been utilized.

What They Found

The function of the instrument in all research is to act as a camera. If designed correctly the “snapshot” obtained by the instrument should validly reflect the phenomenon under investigation. Being a tool of the researcher, the instrument can only capture what the researcher has designated as its focus. In other words, each instrument has a range of vision beyond which it is incapable of accessing. This limitation was anticipated prior to initiating the present study and made more concrete by the study's completion. Take for example, the M-DAST instrument from which the students were simply asked to draw a scientist. Modified to be able to capture race/ethnicity for this study, the instrument was able to accomplish this goal. In fact the instrument revealed that these students definitely had race/ethnicity ideas given that the scientists they drew were overwhelmingly African American children. In and of itself, this fact alone is significant when the M-DAST outcomes are compared to traditional DAST products. The usual stereotypical and quite opposite image of a mature, White male did not materialize for these students. Moreover, because of the instruments limitation of only working through the medium of mental images and conceptualizations, we get only those filtered images regardless how many the child may possess. What may have gone unnoticed is the dually opposite image these students hold of the “real” scientists they see in their lives had the M-DAST been the sole instrument used.

What the M-DAST could not capture, the IAS instrument was able to do so clearly. The range of this instrument far exceeded that of the M-DAST in that it was capable of capturing not only race/ethnicity, but gender, age, and physical appearance as well. The advantage of the IAS over the M-DAST is that the participant does not have to sort through an assortment of mental images to try and reproduce on paper, they are responding to real images. Interestingly, the composite image these students constructed from analysis of their choices and rationales was of a mature White male, professionally dressed, and wearing glasses. On the other hand the VNOS-E is capable of securing definitions of who a scientist is but again is deficient in being able to be reflective of any racial, cultural, or ethnic influences that may be underling the students' responses. This problem in many ways is similar to that restricting the M-DAST. For example, in answering the question “what is a scientist?” the questionnaire is not equipped to allow the students to provide detail such as the race or gender of the scientist they may be describing. One modification to address this in the future would be to ask the students to not only define the word scientist but to have them provide a verbal description of their conceptualization as well. For very young children it would be simple to first ask them to imagine a “scientist” and then have them close their eyes and describe the scientist they have in their heads. By asking the students to state the name of their scientist, and tell a short story about what they do. As with the M-DAST it may be necessary to ask the students directly what skin color their imagined scientist has should they not volunteer this information.


Attaining science literacy for all is a central goal of current science education reform efforts (AAAS, 1990). Implicit in this statement is the unmistakable acknowledgement that embracing equity is a worthwhile endeavor. Therefore, any attempts at securing “Science literacy for all”, must at the very least involve meaningful attempts at including a diverse population as part of the process. It was this sense of equity that guided the present study in investigating the NOS views of two consistently under-researched populations: children of color and very young lower elementary aged students. The study's results with respect to the four research questions are discussed.

Students' Views of Science

Research question number one was designed to investigate the NOS views of third grade African American participants. The content analysis used in this study revealed that the participants' overall views about science are clearly formed, firm, and quite distinct. Their ideas and understanding of science operationalized along two themes: function and process.

When asked the question what is science?, students defined it in the function sense as “something that you do to like discover stuff,” the way we go about “… how to make stuff we never heard of,” and how we are able “… to learn about planets and universes.” In their eyes, learning about the natural world is an integral job of science. This coincides with similar findings made by Carey, Evans, Honda, Jay, and Unger (1989) in their study involving seventh-grade students. Unlike the students in that study, there was no evidence to suggest that the current participants understood or even made the connection that, “… ‘doing science’ means constructing explanations for natural phenomena” (p. 520). They did however, have quite similar ideas as the Carey et al. participants with respect to their mutual understanding that “doing science” means discovering facts and making inventions.

For the students in this investigation, science is not simply a tool designed to function in a specific way or to do certain tasks. They also viewed performing those tasks as inherently including specific steps, procedures, and rituals one must follow. The third grade students expressed most clearly their understanding that one of the more important rituals of science to them is experimentation. This is a finding similar to that uncovered in a study by Fralick, Kearn, Thompson, and Lyons (2009). In that study, middle school level students were asked to draw a scientist (Chambers, 1983). One of that study's goals was to analyze for the inferred action [what did it appear they were doing?] of the drawn scientist. The scientist's inferred action in the largest percentage of the drawings (46%) was of them performing experiments.

The students further explicated their concept of experimentation by identifying with it the idea of potions. Their consistent description of potions generally incorporated the image of “mixing colorful liquids” to explain how potions looked. This image of colorful liquids in beakers and test tubes, sometimes bubbling and boiling, continues to be a staple in the imagery that TV, movies, and print media present to the general public, including children (Brandes, 1994). Lederman and Lederman (2004) also recounted student usage of the term in their study using a mixed first grade and second grade class. This partly explains why the term was consistent across both drawn [DAST] and the narrative [VNOS] descriptions provided by the students. A further example of the enduring nature of the theme was also its consistency across school districts and neighborhoods hundreds of miles apart. Similar references to potion were made by students attending both PSD 1 and PSD 2. This consistency is also testament to the power of popular visual imagery to perpetuate stereotypes.

Finally, it is interesting to note that these students strongly view science in general as imbued with an inherently “active” characteristic. This sentiment was powerfully conveyed through an analysis of the students' own words when describing how learning science in school differs from other learning. They were very specific about their impression of being active and socializing when learning science compared to just writing in other classes.

Students' Views of Scientists

The second research question was directed at investigating the views and conceptualizations third grade African American students held about scientists and the work they perform. In some very fundamental ways the students in this study held images and views of scientists similar to those found in previous research. For example, the students in this investigation were able to produce two distinctly separate images of scientists based upon data analyzed from the M-DAST and the IAS instruments. The students orally ascribed traditional stereotypes onto the scientist by way of the IAS, yet they produced drawings and conceptualizations during the M-DAST activity that for the most part, contained few stereotypes. Research has previously supported the notion that children may possess more than one definition of the word “scientist” as well as maintaining more than one conceptual image of a scientist (Farland & McComas, 2006; Maoldomhnaigh & Hunt, 1989). Perhaps for these students, conceptualizing who can be a scientist is indeed different than who they really do see as scientist in their daily lives. Yet Driver, Leach, Millar, and Scott (1996) point out that:

School-age students are unlikely to have direct experience of the working of scientific communities, but will almost certainly have been exposed to images of science and scientists in the media, through conversations with adults and peers, and through the images of science portrayed both explicitly and implicitly in school science. (p. 44).

The places that the students in this study encountered, learned or used science were typical. However, confirming these contexts of learning for larger samplings of young children can shed light on where students' science ideas originate. Knowing conceptual origins of science ideas also provides an avenue to address sources that may be contributing to misconceptions that children form and keep. This was not an unusual result based on past research in which males drew females less frequently than males (Losh, Wilke, & Pop, 2008).

Students' Views of Themselves as Learners, Users, or Producers of Scientific Knowledge

Research question number three sought to investigate what relationship these students had with science and to what degree they viewed themselves as users and producers of scientific knowledge. The overall positive nature these students expressed toward science is an important consideration to take into account. Learning science both in school and outside of school appeared to impress the participants quite favorably. They felt that engaging in science enabled them to socialize with their classmates while they learned, whereas other learning did not afford them this opportunity. They saw science as generally being fun and unanimously spoke positively about it in their responses. Yet, when asked if they learned science in school, 8 of 23 students (35%) claimed they had not. It is unclear what to make of this statistic given that the same students provided ample evidence that they had encountered science in school. Perhaps these students were reflecting a paucity of science instruction rather than it being not carried out at all by their teacher. A prime concern relative to African American learners of science has consistently centered on apathy and disengagement. The effects of such negative attitudes have contributed to the low overall achievement experienced by many African American children throughout K-12 science education. Accompanying this academic record is the negative stigma that African Americans inherently cannot “do” science. At least until third grade, the African American students in the present study view themselves as full participants in learning and using science. This naturally begs the question of how soon after third grade will the self-efficacy in science begin to dissipate for these children?

Assessment of the Instruments

The final research question focused on evaluating the effectiveness of a multiple instrument approach to NOS research. In an effort to capture as complete a picture of the student participant's science views as possible, a study design utilizing multiple instruments in conjunction was employed. In the present study the value of multiple instruments became readily apparent once all data analysis was complete. For instance, through triangulation it was found that the M-DAST and the IAS each uncovered aspects about the students' views of scientists that the other could not. Thus combined, each was able to provide a more detailed and layered assessment of the children's overall views of scientists. A stronger case can be made from a validity standpoint when consistency between multiple data collection sources is attained.

Additionally, the IAS was being tested as a novel instrument designed to be easily and effectively used with very young children. A major strength of the IAS is its flexibility and ease of implementation. The IAS can easily be adapted to test for specific variables if need be. For instance, instead of having the photographs consist of a heterogeneous assortment of age, race, gender, style of dress, facial appearance, etc., each variable could be controlled for. It would be interesting to see who the students would select if all of the photographs were of one racial group, or none had facial hair, or if they were all females, or if none wore glasses.

Limitations of the Study

There are two major limitations that need to be acknowledged and addressed regarding the present study. The first limitation has to do with the extent to which the findings can be generalized beyond the participants studied. The number of individuals sampled is too limited for broad generalizations. The results of this study are applicable to the 23 participants selected for inclusion in this investigation. As such, any factors contributing to the development of participants' NOS views were determined from data obtained from these participants only. Therefore, these factors are directly applicable to these participants, and additional research is required before determining whether they apply more broadly to other participant groups.

The second limitation concerns the IAS instrument used to assess the views of scientists held by the young students. A crucial test of the instrument is its ability to identify racial and gender trends based on who the participants selected and why. The responsibility for providing racial designations of the individuals in the photographs was solely within the purview of the researcher. My designation of who qualified as African American, Latino, Asian Indian, Asian, and White in many cases relied on non-scientific parameters such as visual inspection and surnames. This subjective process is an obvious weakness of the instrument that must be considered when it is employed. This limitation extends through to the manner in which the individuals were dressed and how old or young they appeared in the photographs.

Implications and Future Research

The results of this study provide implications for improving elementary students' understandings and conceptions of NOS, elementary teacher preparation and instructional practice, and NOS research. I will discuss these implications in the sections below.

Implications for Student Learning

A primary contribution of this study is that it deals specifically with a designated population of color and one who is developmentally 8 years old or younger. First, the study represents an initial step in determining specific influences on how children's views of science are formed. An implication of this finding is that classroom teachers of science must become more invested in explicit NOS instruction to very young students. This even though previous studies have questioned whether students this young are developmentally ready to attain more informed NOS views (Akerson & Volrich, 2006). For example, a student possessing the state of mind that holds science to be tentative is necessarily one that has developed this condition over time.

Prior research has also shown that culture does play a role in shaping students' views of the NOS (Farland-Smith, 2009). What the findings in this study may indicate is that understanding the cultures that impact the formation of children's thinking is perhaps more important than the racial/ethnic category they are assigned to. An initial hypothesis of the present study was that NOS views of children of color are shaped in some ways by the fact that they belong to a particular racial group. This hypothesis is faulty from the perspective that race is an artificial construct with no biological basis whereas culture or the conditions under which a child is raised is ever present and enduring. Finally, these young African American students are eager to learn science and see themselves as full participants in the enterprise of science. Failure to capitalize on this enthusiasm with consistent quality instruction throughout their K-5 years may be one reason that interest is lost beyond those early years. Lederman and Lederman (2004) provide encouraging support for precisely the explicit NOS instruction in the K-5 setting this study suggests.

Implications for Future NOS Research

With respect to future NOS research, the present study itself stands as a template for where the field needs to head if indeed science literacy for all is a serious goal and not merely a platitude. First, researching children's views of science cannot continue to operate as a “one size fits all” operation. On the issue of race, culture, and ethnicity, this is especially true. For instance, researchers in the field use many of the same instruments for each study with little consideration of the racial, cultural, or ethnic orientation of the individuals they are working with (Walls & Bryan, 2009). It can be argued, for example, that from the moment that African slaves became African American citizens, their lived experiences have been, not just different than Whites, but significantly different. No more relevant example of this divergence exists than in the area of science education and science career choices historically afforded to African Americans. The same inequities bestowed upon this group by society in general, also extended into the science classrooms and science work places. NOS researchers themselves appear to understand this disparity, and subsequently the need to be inclusive of “all” as their stated goal in the pursuit of science literacy. Yet the majority of studies conducted to date have eschewed research questions, study designs, or instruments capable of ascertaining whether race, culture, or ethnicity play any role in shaping NOS views. I contend that they do and not just for students of color, but for White students as well.

Through the modification of traditional instruments and the creation of a novel one, the present study was successful in going beyond “tradition” in pursuing student views of science. Traditional NOS studies for instance, have been primarily interested in assessing students' understanding of the epistemology of science or the values and beliefs inherent in the development of scientific knowledge (Lederman, 1992), for the sole purpose of ascribing some level of adequacy to their NOS understandings. Where the student places him or herself in that context appears to be of little consequence. However, that specific reference point was more central to the present study and its participants than even determining the adequacy of their views. The reasoning behind this is simple. A gap between the science achievement of African American and White students has existed since the time such assessment data began being recorded. The consistency of this gap can be explained by only one of two things, either intellectual inferiority is intrinsic to African American students or the modes or methods in which they have been assessed are to blame. My personal experience with diverse populations as a former middle school science teacher, combined with an abundance of sociological and anthropological research data clearly refutes the former. Yet questions surfaced prior to the design of this study. “What if African American students have actually internalized and believe what centuries of those modes, methods, and even society have told them … that they really cannot ‘do’ science?” “What if they have self-excluded themselves from learning science or as users and producers of scientific knowledge?” This line of thinking is supported by previous research related to identity issues facing African Americans. Clark (1955) for instance, in his renown “black doll, white doll” study; Steele and Aronson (1995) in their study of stereotype threat; and Fordham and Ogbu (1986) on African American students avoidance of appearing smart for fear of being accused of “acting white,” have all written of this particular phenomenon. NOS research to date on predominantly White student populations have for whatever reason, regarded this “personal view of science” as outside the “traditional” scope. More studies targeting children of color, specifically Latinos, African Americans, and Native Americans, must be conducted. As previously highlighted, though race is less important than culture, race appears to have garnered the most attention. In order for the field to become more conscious of the influences race, culture, and ethnicity may have on shaping NOS views, a more diverse population must first be studied. The question of whether these children share the same science views as the White majority so often selected as participants, is one that NOS researchers are unable to answer with any degree of certainty at present. Some would contend, and I agree, that this is in fact the wrong question to ponder. A more urgent and pressing question might instead be, “Why have they been excluded from NOS research?”

Second, the present research also stands in response to the reality that so few NOS studies to date have involved very young children (Walls & Bryan, 2009). The previously described one size fits all mode of research also applies to the age and developmental stages of those whose NOS views are being assessed. Therefore, based upon the investigation just completed it is suggested that a two tracked process of research, one for children 8 years and younger and one for those older than 8 years of age, should be purposefully and vigorously pursued. The two research agendas should also be conducted with distinctly different expected outcomes in mind as well. The rationale for this recommendation is supported by research that has repeatedly concluded that: (a) students older than 8 years have been consistently shown to possess naïve views of science (Jungwirth, 1970; Meichtry, 1992; Tamir, 1972; Trent, 1965; Welch & Walberg, 1972); and (b) the few studies that have attempted to assess the NOS views of the very young with respect to accepted NOS “tenets” have been inconclusive in their impact on producing conceptual change (Akerson & Volrich, 2006). It was primarily for these two reasons that the present study avoided assessing only for adequacy relative to NOS tenets, but instead opted for gathering any and all views of science the participants might express. Given the unique makeup of this group of participants (very young and persons of color), I wanted to provide as large a canvas upon which to capture their views as possible. An additional reason for not assessing for NOS adequacy had to do with a sense of urgency specifically surrounding African American students and science education. Conducting a traditional NOS study was deemed less important than ascertaining the origins of nascent views of science of the very young. For this age group, the expected outcome from researching their views of science should be for the purpose of better preparing preservice and inservice teachers to institute the rich targeted science instruction all children deserve. Expected outcomes for assessing older students' views of science should then be for the purpose of evaluating NOS adequacy in order to determine the effectiveness of foundational K-5 science instruction. In theory, each research agenda would be operating in a symbiotic fashion to inform the other.

Finally, I would also advocate for the use of multiple instrument study designs over the usual single instrument and interview approach. Had the present study only opted for this approach, it is clear that some important perspectives of these young children's science views would have been missed. For instance, the M-DAST instrument used with these students revealed a unique finding relative to scientists and the work they perform. The conceptualized view of scientists outlined via their drawings did not follow the usual stereotypical descriptors that previous DAST research has consistently uncovered. The students' drawings were not populated by White males; with beards/mustaches; wearing glasses; and in lab coats. Instead, the scientists they drew were of children doing science, but not just any children, they were drawing themselves as scientists. Had the IAS instrument not been used in tandem with the DAST a separate contradictory view they also held of scientist would have gone undetected. While viewing “real” photographs and selecting from them who they believed was “the” scientist these students did a complete reversal on their image of scientists. When asked to provide the reasons why they made their selections, the students predominantly selected White males; because they had beards/mustaches; because they were wearing glasses; and because they appeared to be in lab coats (though none were).

It is certain that developing instruments capable of accurately assessing the views of the very young is without question no easy task (Lederman & Lederman, 2004). It should also be a given that children of color too deserve to be full and purposefully included participants in NOS research that purports advocating science literacy for all (Walls & Bryan, 2009). No more compelling reason than equity and fairness to all children we serve need be the rationale for doing so. Yet, an agenda that largely fails to incorporate either as research participants will succeed only in repeatedly validating what is already known about the science views of a select group of students. As a result we will continue to miss the rich perspectives that children of color and the very young can provide. The instruments used, the methods employed, and the questions pursued in the present study work for all children regardless of culture, ethnicity, and yes, even race.


The present study sought to contribute to efforts in science education to make science equitable for all students by focusing on one of the most fundamental aspects of science: NOS. In particular, this study investigates young African American students' views of the NOS. So what conclusions can we take away from this present study? First, with the “potion” theme being the lone exception, the findings that emerged paint a fairly standard portrait of the participants themselves. Though many of their views of science were quite unique and interesting, none stood out as unusual. Second, there were no “minorities,” at risk', “disadvantaged,” or “disengaged” beings sitting across from me during the one on one interviews, only children. Subsequently, none of those terms were deemed necessary or even accurate in describing the unforgettable individuals taking part in this study. Unfortunately NOS research continues to describe non-White individuals in just these terms when talking about them, even while failing to talk to them as research participants. The present study stands as proof that NOS studies can be framed differently and more equitably. Each of the instruments, techniques, and procedures used in this study can be used effectively with any group of children, regardless of skin color or ethnicity. Throughout our history African American children like those taking part in this investigation have been short changed in science education. NOS research has the potential to have a major impact on the science literacy achievement of all children like these thereby changing the current script. However, it can also turn out be just one more in a long line of adults who have failed them once again.