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.