Middle School Students’ Scientific Reasoning Ability: Is it related to Classroom Learning Environment Perceptions?

Bezci Bircan, Filiz
Sungur, Semra
Contribution Today’s education need to equip students’ with 21st century skills to prepare them as the workforce. This aim can be achieved by educating scientifically literate people. According to Lawson (2009), scientific reasoning is an important component of scientific literacy. Scientific reasoning involves a range of thinking patterns between empirical-inductive thought to hypothetical-deductive thought (Lawson, 2004; 2009). And it includes thinking and reasoning skills involved in inquiry, experimentation, evidence evaluation, inference and argumentation that support the formation and modification of concepts and theories about the natural and social world (Zimmerman, 2005).In addition, it is the process to apply the principles of logic meaningfully to scientific process such as the pursuit of explanations, the formulation of hypotheses, the making of predictions, the solutions of problems, the creation of experiments, the control of variables, the analysis of data, the development of empirical laws (Wenning & Vieyra, 2015). In general, the scientific reasoning is defined as a set of mental process and assessed in terms of students’ ability into grasping conservation of matter and volume, proportional reasoning, control of variables, probability reasoning, correlation reasoning and hypothetical-deductive reasoning (Lawson, 2000). Piaget (1964) and Vygotsky (1986) claimed that cognitive conflict, social interaction and discourse are important factors to configure out the schemata in students’ mind. Because scientific reasoning can be considered as a measure of the complexities of these cognitive frames (Adey & Shayer, 1990) factors like learning environment creating cognitive conflict or social discourse is probably related to the students’ scientific reasoning (Gerber, Cavallo, & Marek, 2001). Indeed, socialpsychological nature of the classrooms has been regarded as an important factor affecting students’ cognitive and affective learning outcomes (Fraser, 1998). Therefore, students’ experiences in the classroom has importance in facilitating the development of their scientific reasoning abilities. Although there are studies investigating the role of classroom environment in students’ reasoning ability, there is a need for further studies to ensure generalizability of the findings. For example, the learning environments found to be conducive to students’ reasoning ability in countries with non-competitive, student-centered educational systems may not be effective in countries where students experience teacher centered, competitive educational system. Thus, the purpose of the current study was to explore Turkish middle school students’ scientific reasoning in relation to their classroom learning environment perceptions. Method Participants A total of 274 Grade 8 students (151 girls and 123 boys) participated in the study. They ranged in age from 14 to 16 years. Instruments What is Happening in This Class Questionnaire (WIHIC). The 56-item version of the WIHIC validated by Aldridge and Fraser (2000) was used to examine middle school students’ learning environment perceptions in science classes. It is a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (always). The WIHIC includes 7 dimensions namely: student cohesiveness (e.g., “I make friendships among students in this class”), teacher support (e.g., “The teacher takes a personal interest in me”), involvement (e.g., “I discuss ideas in class”), investigation (e.g., “I carry out investigations to test my ideas”), task orientation (e.g., “Getting a certain amount of work done is important to me”), cooperation(e.g., “Getting a certain amount of work done is important to me”), and equity(e.g., “I have the same amount of say in this class as other students”). In the present study, Cronbach’s alpha coefficients ranged from .84 to .90. Lawson Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning (LCTSR). Revised version of the LCTSR (Lawson, 2000) consisting of 24 multiple-choice items in 12 pairs was used to assess students scientific reasoning ability. The items were developed to measure six main constructs relted to scientific reasoning ability, namely; (i)Conservation of Mass and Volume (n = 4 items), (ii) Proportional Thinking (n = 4 items), (iii) Control of Variables (n = 6 items), (iv) Probabilistic Thinking (n = 4 items), (v) Correlational Thinking (n = 2 items), and (vi) Hypothetical-deductive Reasoning (n = 4 items). In the current study, the K-20 value was .61 for the whole test. Expected Outcomes In order to examine the relationship between students’ learning environment perceptions and their scientific reasoning ability, multiple regression analysis was conducted. Results showed that students’ learning environment perceptions as measured by WIHIC instrument were significantly related to their scientific reasoning ability, R = .41, F(7,256)= 7.53, p < .05. The model accounted for 17 % of variance in students’ scientific reasoning ability. When the coefficients were examined, it was found that among learning environment perceptions variables, involvement (β = .38, sr2= .06), task orientation (β = .24, sr2= .03), and cooperation (β = -.19, sr2= .02) were significantly linked to the dependent variable. Thus, these findings suggest that science learning environments where students have opportunity to ask questions and to share and discuss their ideas (i.e. involvement) and remain on the task being aware of the goals of the activities and tasks (i.e. task orientation) appear to be conducive to students’ scientific reasoning ability. On the other, hand, a negative relationship was found between cooperation and scientific reasoning ability. The relationship between remaining learning environment perception variables including student cohesiveness, teacher support, investigation, and equity were non-significant. These non-significant findings and the negative relationship found between cooperation and scientific reasoning ability can be partly explained by the context of the study: This study was conducted in Turkey. Although Turkish middle school science curriculum is student-centered, the implemented curriculum does not reflect the written curriculum truly (Dindar & Yangın 2007). Science teachers appear to utilize the activities suggested by the curriculum just to explain the given content rather than to encourage active student participation (Gökçe, 2006). Thus, it may be reasonable that for students who were not extensively exposed to student-centered activities, classroom environments encouraging cooperation, investigation, students’ cohesiveness, equity or teacher support may not contribute well to their scientific reasoning ability.
Citation Formats
F. Bezci Bircan and S. Sungur, “Middle School Students’ Scientific Reasoning Ability: Is it related to Classroom Learning Environment Perceptions?,” presented at the The European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) (2018), Bolzano, İtalya, 2018, Accessed: 00, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://hdl.handle.net/11511/71203.