The examination of elementary preservice teachers' reflective diaries and epistemological beliefs in science laboratory

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  • This article was downloaded by: [134.117.10.200]On: 29 November 2014, At: 12:11Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Teaching in Higher EducationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cthe20

    The examination of elementarypreservice teachers' reflective diariesand epistemological beliefs in sciencelaboratoryGkhan Gvena, Yusuf Slna & Aylin amaa Department of Elementary Science Education, Faculty ofEducation, Mula Stk Koman University, 48000 Mula, TurkeyPublished online: 07 Jul 2014.

    To cite this article: Gkhan Gven, Yusuf Sln & Aylin am (2014) The examination of elementarypreservice teachers' reflective diaries and epistemological beliefs in science laboratory, Teaching inHigher Education, 19:8, 895-907, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2014.934350

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2014.934350

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  • The examination of elementary preservice teachers reflective diariesand epistemological beliefs in science laboratory

    Gkhan Gven, Yusuf Sln and Aylin am*

    Department of Elementary Science Education, Faculty of Education, Mula Stk KomanUniversity, 48000 Mula, Turkey

    (Received 21 August 2013; accepted 4 June 2014)

    The study investigated the reflective dairies and epistemological beliefs of sophomoreelementary preservice teachers (PTs) who were taking a science laboratory course.Twenty volunteers were participated in the study. The data were collected through thereflective dairies and open-ended questions about their epistemological beliefs.The data obtained from the reflective diaries were evaluated using descriptiveanalysis. The participant answered the open-ended questions twice, before and afterthe intervention. Chi-square analysis was used to find out whether there was aninteraction between the reflective diaries and the epistemological beliefs of the PTs.The study has shown that the scores given for the reflective diary improved everyweek. The study also found that epistemological beliefs developed in all dimensionsexcept for the certain knowledge dimension. In addition, the results of this study maysuggest that there is a positive interaction between the participants reflective diariesand the dimensions of their epistemological beliefs.

    Keywords: science laboratory; reflective diaries; epistemological beliefs; elementarypreservice teachers

    Introduction

    This research examined the reflective diaries and epistemological beliefs of elementarypreservice teachers (EPTs) taking a science laboratory course. The study tried todetermine the EPTs understanding of the scientific phenomena, and how they used theirskills in the scientific process and related the subjects to everyday life. The present studyalso examined whether writing reflective diaries affected the EPTs epistemologicalbeliefs. The diaries played a significant role in the development of inquiry skills amongthe preservice teachers (PTs), as well as enhancing both communication between theteachers and self-awareness about their learning (Towndrow, Ling, and Venthan 2008),helping them create continuous records of their experiences and ideas, reinforcing theirlearning and assisting with their professional development (Griffith and Frieden 2000).The students belief systems also have an important role in the development of thesecharacteristics. Several studies that have examined the epistemological beliefs of bothstudents and PTs (Brownlee et al. 2011; Dart et al. 1998) have found that students andteachers who have sophisticated epistemological beliefs are very successful in the field of

    *Corresponding author. Email: aylincam@gmail.com

    Teaching in Higher Education, 2014Vol. 19, No. 8, 895907, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2014.934350

    2014 Taylor & Francis

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    mailto:aylincam@gmail.comhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2014.934350

  • education. For this reason, it is important to investigate the reflective diaries andepistemological beliefs of the EPTs.

    Epistemological beliefs and reflective diaries

    All the different and interrelated beliefs that individuals hold form a system of beliefs.Belief systems that affect thinking and behavior processes can be characterized aspersonal differences. Piaget (1972) proposed that people have different beliefs about thenature of knowledge and of knowing because each person is different from everyone else.This explains the concept of personal epistemology. According to a number of researchers(Perry 1970; Belenky et al. 1986; Baxter-Magolda 1992; Kuhn, Cheney, and Weinstock2000), epistemological beliefs involve a longitudinal and simple to complex thinkingprocess and have only one dimension. However, Schommer (1990) has proposed thatepistemological beliefs consist of more than one independent dimension. These includecertain knowledge, simple knowledge, quick learning, source of knowledge, and innateability. According to Schommer, epistemological beliefs can have a direct and an indirecteffect on learning, and epistemological beliefs can be changed through teaching methodsand over time.

    Reflective diaries are one of the factors that affect epistemological beliefs during thelearning and teaching process. Wilson and Jan (1993) define this type of writing as diariesthat reflect students own words or sentences, their scope of learning and personalresponses to the learning process, their doubts, feelings and ideas, and their knowledge.Reflective diaries are tools students can use to write about their actions, observations,questions, answers, and impressions in their science classes (Erduran-Avci 2008). Thesediaries are also useful for recording problems to be solved, guidelines to follow,observations, results, and impressions (Ruiz-Primo et al. 2004). In particular, diaries helpstudents to reflect on their experiences during labs and to put up bridges mutuallybetween teachers and students. As a result of these diaries, students are better ableidentify the situations or manners they fear or even try to avoid.

    Literature review about epistemological beliefs and reflective diaries

    Most of the studies that have been conducted on epistemological beliefs have aimed atdefining the students or teachers epistemological beliefs and identifying other factorsthat are related to the beliefs they hold. However, researchers have now become interestedin how epistemological beliefs can be improved as well (Brownlee et al. 2011; Brownlee,Purdie, and Boulton-Lewis 2001; May and Etkina 2002). Improving epistemologicalbeliefs is important because students and teachers with sophisticated epistemologicalbeliefs have been found to be more successful in the field of education, to use skills thatare more scientific and inquiry thinking and to have higher motivation (Neber andSchommer-Aikins 2002). Therefore, teachers with sophisticated epistemological beliefsapply teaching methods that best suit the need of their classes, have more confidence, andfeel that they have enough knowledge to teach both theoretical- and laboratory-basedlessons. In addition, it has been shown that teachers who have sophisticated epistemo-logical beliefs use different teaching strategies more effectively and are more sensitiveand open to the different points of view of their students. By contrast, teachers with naiveepistemological beliefs consider students views as wrong or insufficient and simplystate the correct answer immediately (Hashweh 1996). In order to help students and

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  • teachers improve their epistemological beliefs, some teaching methods and techniqueshave been developed, such as constructivist ones (Chang 2005), group discussion (Kinget al. 2000), inquiry laboratory techniques (Deniz 2011), and reflective diaries (Brownleeet al. 2011; Dart et al. 1998).

    The focus of studies that examine reflective diaries is considerably different fromthose that look at epistemological beliefs. Brownlee, Purdie, and Boulton-Lewis (2001)and Towndrow, Ling and Venthan (2008), for example, used diaries as an educational toolwithin their classes. These diaries have also been used as a technique for improvingreflective thinking (Nckles et al. 2004), an alternative assessment for better recognitionamong students within the learning process (Korkmaz 2004), a developmental assessmentfor students conceptual and factual learning (Erduran-Avci 2008), and an educationaltechnique in laboratory applications (Burke, Greenbowe, and Hand 2006).

    The current study

    In this study, reflective diaries were used as an educational technique in laboratoryapplications to help students in a science course learn about the nature of science,acquiring knowledge, and also understanding how this knowledge is related to facts andhow new evidence could change that knowledge. The students were involved in boththeoretical and hands-on science in the laboratory applications. By doing experiments,students can support theories at the same time as transforming abstract concepts intoconcrete ones and being able to learn by working in groups. Some research works haveshown the importance of laboratory applications for achieving the objectives of sciencecourses (Gecer 2005).

    It is, therefore, important for EPTs to understand the content and objectives of thescience laboratory course. However, in order to do this, they need to be qualified toperform analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Only then they can reach the target and thepoint of the activities (McRobbie and Fraser 1993; Singer, Hilton, and Schweingruber2005). In order to teach their own students, these skills and how to write reflectivediaries, EPTs need to learn laboratory applications and feel comfortable with their ownlevels of knowledge. However, EPTs have not been found to be good in sciencelaboratory applications, in terms of both understanding and assessing their students(Yung 2001).

    The science laboratory course is the first one in which EPTs are introduced to sciencelaboratories. It is important to find out about the epistemological beliefs of the EPTsduring their initial experiences of the science laboratory in order to examine thedevelopment of their epistemological beliefs. In this study, the EPTs learned aboutElectricity in our Lives. The reason for choosing this topic is that EPTs often havedifficulty understanding it (Yilmaz and Cavas 2006) and are not capable of doingexperiments on the topic. In addition, they have had problems holding the studentsattention while doing the experiments and connecting the topic to daily life. The EPTshad a chance to experience electricity experiments, to use the materials and to learn howthe experiments are performed. As a result, they were able to connect the topic ofelectricity to daily life and to see real-life applications for it.

    Through this laboratory course, the EPTs reflective diaries might also have a positiveeffect on their epistemological beliefs. Therefore, EPTs who participated in this study wereasked to write reflective diaries after each experiment and activity. The study investigatedwhether there was any change in the EPTs epistemological beliefs and any interaction

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  • between their reflective diaries and their epistemological beliefs. The purpose of the studywas to examine how EPTs learning experiences affect their epistemological beliefs.

    The research questions were as follows:

    (1) How effectively do EPTs use reflective diaries in the science laboratory course?(2) How do EPTs epistemological beliefs change when they take the science

    laboratory course?(3) How do the reflective diary writing and epistemological beliefs of the EPTs who

    took the science laboratory course relate to each other?

    Method

    Participants

    The study included 20 sophomore EPTs (11 males and 9 females), who participatedvoluntarily. The mean age of the participants was 21 years. The study was conductedthrough the science laboratory course, which all of the participants were taking. Thecourse covers laboratory applications, activities, and experiments related to chemistry,biology, and physics courses. Once the EPTs have graduated from the program, theyshould be able to apply these activities easily when teaching elementary students.

    Materials

    For this study, the EPTs were required to write reflective diaries each week and wereasked to answer open-ended questions about their epistemological beliefs at thebeginning and at the end of the intervention.

    Reflective diaries

    The EPTs were required to write reflective diaries so that the study could determine theirunderstanding of the course objectives, their use of scientific knowledge and language,their skills in the scientific process, their understanding of scientific concepts andphenomena, and the links they made between their subject and daily life. The diariesmight also reveal how EPTs sequence their ideas, support their views with knowledge andlogic, provide evidence to support their results, and use efficient models, diagrams,graphics, and drawings (Towndrow, Ling, and Venthan 2008). The EPTs were asked toinclude the following questions when they wrote their reflective diaries: what are myquestions on todays lesson, what did I le...

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