Conception of Quebec Students in Teacher Education Regarding the Construction Modes of Science Knowl...

Abdeljalil Métioui, Louis Trudel

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Conception of Quebec Students in Teacher Education Regarding the Construction Modes of Science Knowledge

Abdeljalil Métioui1,, Louis Trudel2

1Département de didactique, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, Canada

2Faculté d'éducation, Université d'Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada


In the present research, we identified the conceptions of 184 students registered in teacher education for the primary order, in relation to construction modes of scientific notions. To characterize their conceptions, we constructed a questionnaire with numerous choices (QCM) regrouping 16 questions. For every question, the student had to encircle the number which corresponds to its choice (1: In disagreement; 2: I do not know or 3: In agreement) besides pointing out the reasons of his choice. Questions were formulated around 4 topics: (1) the objectives of science and its development limits, (2) the role of measure, experimentation and theory in science, (3) the evolution of science: continuity and breakthrough, and (4) logico-mathematical reasoning in sciences. For example, regarding measure, experimentation and theory, their conceptions oscillate between several opposed tendencies, as realism and empiricism. Also, according to the majority, the development of science is uninterrupted and corresponds to an improvement of theories and of laws developed across different epochs and that theory must follow experience.

Cite this article:

  • Métioui, Abdeljalil, and Louis Trudel. "Conception of Quebec Students in Teacher Education Regarding the Construction Modes of Science Knowledge." American Journal of Educational Research 1.8 (2013): 319-326.
  • Métioui, A. , & Trudel, L. (2013). Conception of Quebec Students in Teacher Education Regarding the Construction Modes of Science Knowledge. American Journal of Educational Research, 1(8), 319-326.
  • Métioui, Abdeljalil, and Louis Trudel. "Conception of Quebec Students in Teacher Education Regarding the Construction Modes of Science Knowledge." American Journal of Educational Research 1, no. 8 (2013): 319-326.

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1. Introduction

It is a well known fact that from the primary school, secondary and to the university, the formal teaching of the disciplines as the physics, the chemistry and mathematics do not bring the expected results [1]. Several studies demonstrate that the pupils cannot formulate the scientific generalizations necessary to solve non canonical problems. In this regard, Niedderer [2] notes that after learning physics at the university level, students still demonstrate a lack of qualitative understanding of the basic concepts. How can one explain these results? The research shows us that the conceptions of student before teaching, generally "naïve", stay in spite of a formal teaching. The young people elaborate very early explanatory models of natural phenomena and those models are shown to resist to traditional teaching. The merit comes back, among others, to Posner et al. [3] and Matthews [4] to have explained the phenomenon of the resistance to change of these naïve conceptions while establishing a certain parallelism between the pupils’ conceptions of the natural phenomena and the various theories held by scientists throughout the history of the sciences.

In this view, one will understand why it is prescribed in the majority of the training programs for preservice teachers to include some history of science in science teaching. For example, in the science program of the ministry of the education of Quebec [5] one puts the emphasis on the development of expertise in science and technology among the pupils. According to the instructions of the ministry, one must teach these matters while taking into account philosophical and cultural aspects, among others, that have marked the most their developments during history. To this end, it would be necessary that teachers know how these factors intervene in science and technology learning and how scientists proceed to develop their knowledge. While reviewing literature, one must take note of the absence of systematic studies clarifying the conceptions of primary school teachers about experimentation, theory and scientific method. Otherwise, in the case of the secondary school teachers, we note some research in this area [6, 7, 8, 9, 10]. The present study follows the same line of research with respect to teachers’ conceptions about the experimental process and the development of science throughout history. To this end, we are going to specify our conceptual framework, followed by a description of the sample and the retained methodology as well as a description of our results followed by a discussion about the impact of the present study upon teachers’ training.

2. Conceptual Framework

The present research is focused around 4 themes: (1) the objectives of the science and its limits of development; (2) the status of the measurement, the experimentation and the theory in sciences; (3) the evolution of science: continuity and breaks through; (4) the logico-mathematical reasoning in sciences.

Below, we list related researches in history and in epistemology of the sciences, our conception on each of these themes and the results of the experimentation.

This conceptual analysis will constitute, on a methodological level, our reference grid to analyze the discourse of pre-service students in science teaching at the primary order.

3. The Objectives of the Science and Its Limits of Development

3.1. Science has for Objective the Search for "Reality"

This realist representation of science implies the existence of a knowable and absolute reality, independent of our observations or our instruments of measure [11, 12]. However we know, since the advent of relativistic quantum mechanics, that the research of "reality", as independent and neutral entity, has been put into question since it is unthinkable, or even impossible, to study a natural or constructed phenomenon without disrupting it. In this view, one must consider science for example as the result of a cognitive activity allowing the scientists to construct representations of the universe that constantly evolve and that the research of the reality belongs more to our personal convictions.

3.2. Science has for Objective to Describe and Explain Nature

For a long time, science had effectively the ambition to describe and explain nature. Today we know, since the works of the famous physicist Heisenberg, that the scientist does not have the pretention anymore to reach the knowledge of the Nature in itself; rather he is interested in phenomena of which he is both the spectator and the actor, phenomena his instruments of measurement and methods of investigating transform once and for all [11, 12].

3.3. The Scientists are Motivated by the Research of Truth

Research of truth is not an objective for science, but rather for philosophy, because the scientific knowledge developed by the researchers result from an interaction between the studied phenomenon and the theoretical framework to which they adhere. Besides, we know that several scientists are motivated by the research of glory and prosperity rather than by the research of "truth". To reach these objectives, some scientists may even resort to immoral practices such as fraud and plagiarism [13].

4. The Role of Measure, Experimentation and Theory in Science

4.1. Scientists First Do Some Measures before Defining the Concepts

This representation joins a current of thought according to which scientific reality is the very measure, more than the measured object.

In this perspective, the scientists tend to measure first and to define later; the instrument seems to precede theory [14]. This representation was criticized severely since the advent of modern physics where the measure of a physical variable takes place inside a given theoretical framework and outside of it, it remains unexplained.

4.2. The Experience is to the Basis of All Scientific Knowledge and One Cannot Apply for Anything without Verifying It in the Laboratory

This conception is erroneous since all experience is theoretical interpretation [2, 11]. The scientific theories are concrete since to develop them, one must resort to our sensory device. This representation granting a central place to the sense organs in the development of scientific theories belongs to naïve inductivism [12, 15]. This conception is erroneous because in the history of science, the recourse to senses was often considered a source of mistake and imprecision (the electric fluid, the heat as substance, etc.). Then, the science starts with a question and not with an observation, as stated in the model of the experimental method inherited of Claude Bernard.

5. The Evolution of the Science (Continuity and Rupture)

5.1. The Scientific Problems of the Past are Bound Intimately With Those of Today

The scientific work takes place while being based on a set of central concepts that provides, for a group of researchers, problems and types of solution [16]. For example, the problems associated with free fall of objects, defined in the framework of the physics of Aristotle's movement, are defined differently in the framework of Galilee. Hence, in the last one compare the first, the framework excluded from its explanations the prejudices of mythical order to the benefit of a rational explanation to give, for example, account of the free fall. In this perspective, the scientific problems of the past are not bound intimately with those of today.

5.2. Tomorrow's Scientific Theories Will be in the Extension of Today’s Theories

As previously stated, we think that tomorrow's scientific theories will not be extensions of today’s theories. Let's note with respect to this topic that the present works in physics are throwing into question the space-time theory formulated by Einstein [17]. According to Bachelard, the scientific theories developed through different times are in discontinuity and in epistemological rupture. The passage of a theory to another constitutes a radical change in the epistemological premises that compose the theoretical building. An interesting illustration of this rupture notion is given by the historic evolution of the mass concept explained by Bachelard [18]. In the same way, Kuhn [16] qualifies the passage of a theory to another of scientific revolution that occurs when the scientists are incapable of solving a certain number of problems in the framework of a given theory, the central concepts that underlie this theory must be modified radically; for example, the notions of movement and applied force in the Galilean physics have been redefined in the setting of the Newtonian physics to solve some enigmas such as the problem of the simultaneity. Otherwise, Kuhn did not qualify a revolution when this development takes place inside a given paradigmatic setting and in this view one can speak of a continuation of improvement and sophistication of the theories.

5.3. When a New Theory Can Predict More Experimental Results Compared to Another Theory, It Replaces It

Such as change is not so simple because it can meet big reticence's on behalf of the scientific community, or even a dismissal of the theory in spite of its superiority. We have several examples of scientists that could not adhere to a new theory for reasons that have nothing to do with its formal framework.

6. The Logico-mathematical Reasoning in Sciences

6.1. The Scientific Theories Lean on Logico-Mathematical Reasoning

Mathematics is indispensable to the development of physics, but is a field of knowledge completely different from the physics since they are independent of the observations of the real world (Le Strat, 1990). In this perspective, the scientists do not conceive their theories while resorting solely to logico-mathematical reasoning [19, 20].

6.2. In the Development of His Thought, the Scientist Excludes All Recourse to His Religious Convictions

This representation is false. Indeed, at the time of the development of the quantum mechanics, some physicists had the difficulty to reconcile the probabilistic interpretation of the physical phenomena on an atomic scale with their metaphysical conceptions. To this topic, let's recall the famous controversy between Einstein and Bohr [21] capable to sum up in a simple picture according to which, for the first "God doesn't play the dice" and for the second, "God plays the dice."

7. Methodology

7.1. Subjects

Research has been achieved in the context of a course aiming to train students to teach science at the primary order. The sample was constituted of 184 of these students, the majority of whom were of feminine gender, registered in second year of the program in preschool and primary teaching offered by a faculty of education.

The average age was 23 years; the majority came from the sector of the humanity so that their previous science knowledge was limited to high school science. Specifically, they had usually followed courses of ecology, physical sciences and human biology during their secondary studies. To collect their representations, with a multiple choice questionnaire (QMC) of a length of 90 minutes has been elaborated, such duration being sufficient for our respondents to answer all questions.

7.2. Instrument

Table 1. Questionnaire to multiple choices

To characterize students’ conceptions, we constructed a multiple choice questionnaire (QMC) regrouping 16 illustrated statements reproduced in Table 1 and clarified before in our conceptual framework. To answer each question, the student had to circle the number that corresponds to his/her choice (1: In disagreement; 2: I don't know or 3: In agreement) and to explain the reasons of his/her choice. The stage of explanation is important since it allows the researcher to be sure that the choice of the student is not unpredictable and is founded on clarified reasoning.

For the benefit of clarity, we presented these questions according to the following themes as illustrated in Table 2, although the statements were not classified in themes in the questionnaire answered by the students.

Table 2. Regrouping of the questions according to the themes

8. Results

The Table 3,Table 4,Table 5 and Table 6 presents the percentages of the answers given by students as well as some justification offered by respondents of their choice.

8.1. Percentages of Students’ Agreement to Questions of Theme 1: The Objectives of Science

With respect to theme 1 on the objectives of the science (see Table 2), the percentages of answers of the students to the questions of this theme as well as some justifications they brought are described in Table 3. Thus, for question 1 (see Table 3), a very important fraction of the students considers that the object of science is to discover reality (85%). With respect to the study of natural phenomena (question 6, Table 3), even though a majority considers that it is an objective of the science (62%), an important fraction is in disagreement with the statement (34%), because it doesn't include, for example, the phenomena created by the man in the laboratories. Otherwise, for question 8 (Table 3), even though an important part of the students (68%) is of opinion that the scientists are motivated by the research of truth, a minority among them is in disagreement with the statement (21%), while affirming for example that the scientists rather try to understand how and why the studied phenomena occur. Finally, for question 16 (Table 3), a majority of students (67%) considers that the object of science is to study the nature, whereas a minority is in disagreement (21%), because they consider, for example, that the science also pursues the objective to study the phenomena constructed by the man or the technology.

Table 3. Percentages of the answers followed of some relative subjects to the theme 1 (Objectives of the science: reality, truth and nature)

8.2. Percentages of the Answers and Subject of Student: Theme 2

With respect to theme 2 on the status of measure, experimentation and theory in science (see Table 2), the percentages of answers of the students to the questions of this theme as well as some justifications they brought forth are described in Table 4. With regard to the survey of the properties of the phenomena (question 2, Table 4), half of the students (50%) considers that the scientists first do measures, and then define the concepts. Still in relation to question 2, an important part of the students doesn't know (31%) whereas a minority is in disagreement with the statement (19%) and consider, for example, the inverse order where the hypothesis is emitted before the measure.

Table 4. Percentages of the answers followed of some relative subjects to the theme 2 (Measure, experimentation and scientific theories)

Otherwise, considering question 10 (Table 4), a majority (75%) considers that one must make the experiences to develop a theory, whereas a minority is opposed (19%), mentioning for example that Galilee made some experiences to prove an already existing theory. Apart from that, the opinions of the students are shared almost equally with respect to question 13 (Table 4), considering the replacement of a theory by another. If an important fraction thinks that for such a replacement to occur, the first theory must predict more results than the second (38%), a good number is uncertain (28%), mentioning, among others, that the experimental results are not the only criteria to decide the choice of a theory, whereas others are opposed (34%), insisting, for example, on the criteria of falsification of the theory by experience.

With respect to the development of the theories (question 14, Table 4), the majority grants an important role to the senses (66%), whereas others don't know, (14%) mentioning, for example, that the use of the senses can distort the results, whereas others are in disagreement (20%), proclaiming the superiority of the measure instruments for example.

8.3. Percentages of the Answers and Subject of Student: Theme 3

With respect to theme 3 concerning the evolution of the science (see Table 2), the percentages of answers of the students to the questions of this theme as well as some justifications that they brought forth are described in Table 5. To the question 3 on the direction of today’s science, the big majority of the students (72%) is of opinion that it is determined by the previous generations of scientists mentioning for example its cumulative character whereas others, in disagreement (17%), underline its evolutive character for example. Some are uncertain (11%) providing arguments that combine the precedents. With respect to the ties between the problems of yesterday and today (question 7, Table 5), the majority thinks that they are linked (61%), granting relatively to the first the role of framing the second. In contrast, some are in disagreement (19%), underlining for example that the reality of the scientists change and the problems also. Finally, others don't know (20%) because for example it is necessary according to them to really know the problems of yesterday and of today in order to be able to compare them. To the question 9 (Table 5) if the scientific progress results in an improvement of the theories, the very big majority is in agreement (81%). Among those that are in disagreement or don't know, the first ones (16%) mention other consequences of progress, for example the practices of every day, whereas the second (3%) rather insist for example on the interdependence between the scientific progress and the development of theories.

With respect to the evolution of theories (question 12, Table 5), the majority thinks that tomorrow's theories will be in the extension of those of today (66%) whereas several think the opposite (26%), while granting for example a certain role to the new discoveries.

Table 5. Percentages of the answers followed of some relative subjects to the theme 3 (Evolution of the science: continuity and rupture)

8.4. Percentages of the Answers and Subject of Student: Theme 4

With respect to theme 4 concerning the logico-mathematical reasoning used in sciences (Table 2), the percentages of answers of the students to the questions of this theme as well as some justifications that they brought are described to Table 6.

With respect to presentation of theories, the majority (72%) thinks that the scientists present their theories under logico-mathematical form, in part because they are rational beings, in part to convince others.

Among those that are in disagreement (19%) or don't know, (9%) some among those opposed mention that the exposed theories cannot be logical for everybody whereas others mention for example that they don't know what is a logical reasoning or doubt that other forms of scientific reasoning exist.

Table 6. Percentages of the answers followed of some relative subjects to the theme 4 (The logico-mathematical reasoning in sciences)

With regard to the place of religion in the evolution of scientific thought (question 5, Table 6), the majority thinks that religion and science exclude themselves mutually (62%), some mentioning that the religion is based on personal convictions whereas the science must demonstrate its affirmations.

Among those that are in disagreement with the statement (22%) or don't know, (16%) some of those in disagreement mention that the religion exercises a big influence on the way people thinks, including the scientists, whereas others, who don’t know, doubt that it is possible for a scientist to put his religious convictions of side.

With respect to the application of logical thought (question 11, Table 6), the majority thinks that it results in new scientific concepts (59%), for example that it encourages theory construction as well as discounts the erroneous reasoning's. Among those that are in disagreement (23%) or don't know, (18%) the first ones advance for example that there are other ways to elaborate new concepts (by trials and errors).

With regard to the arguing of the scientists (question 15, Table 6), the majority thinks that it should be adequately (66%) coherent and conducted, because to convince, for example, a theory must be structured and justified.

Those that are in disagreement (28%) mention for example that the scientists being also humans, it is impossible to them to present a coherent and adequate arguing always, and that the mistakes are part of life.

9. Analysis of the Data

The answers advanced by these students bring us to conclude that the majority have representations that appear in defect, compared to those to which we adhere and that are presented in the developed previously conceptual framework.

Thus, according to several participants, the science limits itself to the survey of the natural phenomena (62%) and of the nature (67%) and has for objective the study of the reality (85%) and the discovery of truth (68%). To this end, scientists must describe in an objective way their observations while resorting directly to their senses (66%). In this conception, the experimentation amounts to a simple observation of the facts that requires from the scientist the use of sharpened senses in order to describe faithfully what he sees, hears, touches and feels. In this perspective, one can understand why, for a large number of these students, the scientists must exclude from their reasoning all recourse to their religious convictions (62%).

Thus, they are not keen to the fact that in order to observe, a theory is necessary because the experimentation requires the use of a theory that guides it whereas for these students the experimentation precedes (75%) the theory. Also, the analysis of the principal themes reveals a cohabitation of several contradictory explanatory systems. For example, while adhering to the representations described above which could be classified as “naïve inductivism” according to our conceptual framework, they stated that the development of scientific theories is based only on logico-mathematical reasoning (72%).

Finally, we noted that for a large number of these students, today's science results from an improvement of the science of the past (61%).Thus, for these students, the scientific progress results in an improvement of the scientific theories (81%) and the direction followed by the today’s science is determined by orientations taken by the scientists at previous times (72%).For these students, the science pursues a continuous progress without revolutionary change as qualified by the historian of the sciences Kuhn (1972).

10. Implications to Science Teacher Education

•  On the didactic plan, the teaching of the history of science will probably place these students in situation of conflict towards their representations identified in this research.

•  Such a teaching will also permit to make them see the importance and the utility of proceedings, controversies, conflicts, mistakes and classifications in the development of the scientific knowledge.

•  Unfortunately, such a teaching is rarely put in practice in the formation of the teachers of the primary in spite of the ministerial instructions and the research that propose a didactic exploitation of the history of the sciences.

•  The science teachers still present science like a finished building where concepts, models and theories are constructed entirely and cannot be submitted to refutation because of their acceptance by the scientific community.


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