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Discovery stories in the science classroom

  • Author(s): Arya, Diana Jaleh
  • Advisor(s): Pearson, P. David
  • et al.
Abstract

School science has been criticized for its lack of emphasis on the tentative, dynamic nature of science as a process of learning more about our world. This criticism is the guiding force for this present body of work, which focuses on the question: what are the educational benefits for middle school students of reading texts that highlight the process of science in the form of a discovery narrative? This dissertation traces my journey through a review of theoretical perspectives of narrative, an analysis of first-hand accounts of scientific discovery, the complex process of developing age-appropriate, cohesive and engaging science texts for middle school students, and a comparison study (N=209) that seeks to determine the unique benefits of the scientific discovery narrative for the interest in and retained understanding of conceptual information presented in middle school science texts.

A total of 209 middle school participants in nine different classrooms from two different schools participated in the experimental study. Each subject read two science texts that differed in topic (the qualities of and uses for radioactive elements and the use of telescopic technology to see planets in space) and genre (the discovery narrative and the "conceptually known exposition" comparison text). The differences between the SDN and CKE versions for each topic were equivalent in all possible ways (initial introduction, overall conceptual accuracy, elements of human interest, coherence and readability level), save for the unique components of the discovery narrative (i.e., love for their work, acknowledgement of the known, identification of the unknown and the explorative or experimental process to discovery). Participants generally chose the discovery narrative version as the more interesting of the two texts.

Additional findings from the experimental study suggest that science texts in the form of SDNs elicit greater long-term retention of key conceptual information, especially when the readers have little prior knowledge of a given topic. Further, ethnic minority groups of lower socio-economic level (i.e., Latin and African-American origins) demonstrated an even greater benefit from the SDN texts, suggesting that a scientist's story of discovery can help to close the gap in academic performance in science.

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