An Interpretive Study of High School Students' Biological Explanations Elicited through the Science Writing Heuristic


Deniz Peker

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The purpose of this qualitative interpretive research study was to examine high school biology students’ written scientific explanations that were provided during six biology laboratory investigations. The research study specifically aimed to identify the understandings that the students attached to scientific explanations, characteristics of students’ scientific explanations, the nature of students’ epistemologies related to scientific explanations, and some genre characteristics of students’ explanations. The findings suggested students did not have a clear definition of scientific explanations; however, students attached meanings such as exactness, truth and reality to scientific explanations. The students held an empiricist view of scientific explanations. Student explanations were primarily based on first-hand knowledge gained in the science laboratories. Most students did not give explanations based on a theory or principle and did not use deductive reasoning in their explanations. Students’ explanations often included inferences from observations, evidence, and factual information. Students had difficulties in making causal explanations of biological phenomena particularly at molecular level. The language of students’ explanations represented more of procedural accounts rather than theoretical and abstract accounts. Students’ writings showed some of the genre characteristics defined in literature, such as use of logico-semantic relationships. The lexical density values indicated that students’ level of language is more complex than everyday speech, however, well below the level of scientists’ language. The results of this research implied that school science curricula should emphasize explanations tasks that require students to use scientific theories and make causal connections. Science curricula should also explicitly address the different types of scientific discourses giving more emphasis to the discourses that have theoretical/abstract language.

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