Developing Content Knowledge in Students
Through Explicit Teaching of the Nature of Science:
Influences of Goal Setting and Self-Monitoring
Erin E. Peters
Published online: 27 November 2009
? Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009
component of science because it provides a framework on which the students can incor-
porate content knowledge. However, little empirical evidence has been provided that links
nature of science knowledge with content knowledge. The purpose of this mixed method
study was to determine if both nature of science knowledge and content knowledge could be
increased with an explicit, reflective nature of science intervention utilizing self-regulation
over an implicit group. Results showed that the explicit group significantly outperformed
the implicit group on both nature of science and content knowledge assessments. Students in
the explicit group also demonstrated a greater use of detail in their inquiry work and
reported a higher respect for evidence in making conclusions than the implicit group.
Implications suggest that science educators could enhance nature of science instruction
using goal setting and self-monitoring of student work during inquiry lessons.
Knowledge about the nature of science has been advocated as an important
Nature of science knowledge has consistently been identified as a core goal for students of
all grades in national curriculum documents, such as those in New Zealand (MoE 1993),
the UK (e.g. DfEE/QCA 1999) and the United States (American Association for the
Advancement of Science 1993; National Research Council 1996), and has been advocated
as an important component of science education because it provides a framework on which
the students can incorporate content knowledge (Duschl 1990; Lederman 1992; Matthews
1994; McComas et al. 1998; Parkinson 2004; Peters 2006; Turner 2000). Science students
are expected to understand the body of knowledge known as scientific facts, as well as
possessing the skills to conduct scientifically designed investigations in order to be
One path toward scientific literacy for all students is development of nature of science
knowledge. The nature of science is a domain that draws from various disciplines such as
E. E. Peters (&)
George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MSN 4B3, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA
Sci & Educ (2012) 21:881–898
the philosophy, history, sociology, and psychology of science. The term ‘‘science’’ used
here refers to all of the various disciplines of science, biology, chemistry, physics, and
earth and space sciences, referencing a general approach. These sets of models viewed
collectively describe what science is and how it is performed. A scientifically literate
student would be able to be adept in knowing both content knowledge and nature of science
knowledge. However, there is little to be gained in knowing the nature of science as a list of
facts. The purpose of teaching nature of science knowledge is to provide students with
knowledge about the endeavor of science and how science content knowledge has been
generated and validated.
Historically, there have been many different orientations about what science is and how
it is performed. An incomplete list of examples might include positivism, logical empir-
icism, critical rationalism, new philosophy of science, structuralism, semantic views, and
postmodernism. New models of how science is done continue to emerge. One example of
emerging nature of science models is the use of distributed knowledge to solve large-scale
problems such as tsunami prediction using the cyberinfrastructure. This model requires that
large groups of scientists from different disciplines work together in web-based settings
and contribute their expertise to the aggregate knowledge of the community because one
research setting would not be sufficient to provide enough information to work to a
solution. Debates about the nature of science often lie in the source of perspective about the
scientific enterprise and whether it come from scientists, philosophers of science, or sci-
ence educators (Stenhouse 1985; Duschl 1988; Hodson 1993), the scope of the view taken
(Ryan and Aikenhead 1992), and the use of qualitative or quantitative measurement
(Gallagher 1991; Lederman et al. 2002). Choosing a nature of science orientation for this
study had not only philosophical implications but also educational implications. Within the
science education community, a relatively discrete list of such nature of science aspects is
beginning to crystallize (McComas 2005; Lederman 2006; Osborne et al. 2003) and is seen
as having educational value. All 50 states in the United States have adopted nature of
science knowledge standards, to varying degrees, based on this list into their curriculum
framework (McComas 2009). The convergent aspects of the nature of science were
adopted as the orientation for this study because of the educational value in the elements
and for the potential for assisting school systems in making research-based decisions about
The convergent aspects of the nature of science that have been explicated include:
(a) scientific knowledge is durable yet tentative, (b) empirical evidence is used to support
ideas in science, (c) social and historical factors play a role in the construction of scientific
knowledge, (d) laws and theories play a central role in developing scientific knowledge, yet
they have different functions, (e) accurate record keeping, peer review, and replication of
experiments help to validate scientific ideas, (f) science is a creative endeavor, and
(g) science and technology are not the same, but they impact each other (Lederman 1992;
McComas 2008). Students who attain a well developed understanding the nature of science
may gain more insight into the guidelines that the scientific discipline uses to generate and
verify content knowledge.
Scientific inquiry can be thought of as a variety of processes and ways of thinking that
support development of new knowledge (Flick and Lederman 2004). Teaching about the
processes that scientists use to perform inquiry can help develop student understanding of
the models that guide the generation of new scientific knowledge. In conducting scien-
tifically designed investigations, students need to be creative, often they conduct their
inquiry in small groups, need to select measurements and measuring tools that are
appropriate to their inquiry, need to have analysis tools to draw upon, and need to make the
882 E. E. Peters
logical decisions about the question they are pursing and generating conclusions from
trends in data. In other words, science students need to be able to apply the models that
represent the nature of science through inquiry in order to gain content knowledge.
Student knowledge of the nature of science has been promoted as a vehicle to help
students better fit content knowledge into their own personal conceptual frameworks of
how the world works. However, little evidence has been reported on the correlations
between nature of science knowledge and content knowledge. The study discussed in this
paper builds on prior successful work on teaching the nature of science through explicit,
reflective methods, and explores possible mechanisms for learning nature of science
knowledge and content knowledge simultaneously. The intervention took the approach that
students can learn the nature of science through comparing their own inquiry to the
guidelines inherent in the scientific discipline, and that students can learn the nature of
science through reflection on their own work, rather than interpreting work of scientists
as an outside observer. The study explores the effect of student goal setting and self-
monitoring for alignment to guidelines from the scientific enterprise during a guided
inquiry lesson on gains in content knowledge and nature of science knowledge.
2 Considerations in Teaching Nature of Science Knowledge
Research has shown learning nature of science knowledge to be difficult, and there have
been emergent effective methods offered for teaching nature of science (Akerson and
Abd-El-Khalick 2003; Southerland et al. 2003). One technique that has shown promise in
increasing nature of science knowledge is an explicit, reflective method (Rudge and Howe
2009; Akerson et al. 2008; Khishfe and Abd-El-Khalick 2002). An explicit, reflective
method requires the teacher to openly pinpoint when students are emulating the scientific
way science generates and verifies knowledge. For example, Khishfe and Abd-El-Khalick
(2002) found success in teaching the nature of science by having students participate in a
the inquiry. The present study builds on this knowledge and utilizes concepts from the study
method of teaching the nature of science.
2.1 Self-Regulatory Theory as Foundation for an Explicit, Reflective Method
It has been shown that explicit, reflective methods are useful in teaching the nature of
science, and this study extends that idea by adopting clinically effective methods of
teaching and learning from the field of educational psychology. The particular learning
theory chosen for this study was self-regulation. Self-regulation refers to the degree to
which students are metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active participants of
their own learning, and has three components that compose an iterative cycle: forethought,
performance, and self-reflection (Zimmerman 1998). When students are involved in the
forethought phase, they consider the relevant knowledge to the problem they are trying to
solve. Given a problem to investigate that has ill-structured boundaries, students will begin
by organizing their prior knowledge pertinent to the problem during the forethought phase.
In the performance phase, students attempt the given task, and access their prior knowledge
to develop the new skills and knowledge used in the task. In the self-reflection phase,
students compare the outcome of their task with a standard to see how successful they
Influences of Goal Setting and Self-Monitoring883
were. After the students completed this cycle, they attained more knowledge and skills,
beginning the cycle with more extensive forethought.
The iterative cycle of forethought, performance, and self-reflection can be more spe-
cifically and tangibly implemented in the classroom with goal setting (forethought),
attention focusing (performance), and self-monitoring and evaluation (self-reflection).
Goal setting is the process of setting specific tasks and strategies to learn to master the task.
Attention focusing is referring to the methods used to screen out processes that have a
negative effect on learning and to concentrate on the methods that aid learning. Self-
evaluating is the process of comparing learning outcomes to the goals set in the forethought
phase (Zimmerman 2008). Efforts to incorporate goal setting and self-evaluation have been
shown to be effective in developing independent learners in other academic settings
(Schunk 1996; Schunk and Ertmer 1999; Zimmerman and Kitsantas 1999), but have yet to
be used in an empirical study in a science classroom. In this case a tangible method of self-
regulation was adopted to focus on student goal setting and self-monitoring of their success
in reaching those goals (Kitsantas and Zimmerman 2006). Attention focuses was built into
the intervention through the self-monitoring prompts which focused students on the sci-
entific behaviors that would progress their learning of the nature of science. Because
students are not familiar with the ways scientists conduct their work (Hogan and Maglienti
2001), it was necessary for the intervention to provide an example of scientific behavior
that set goals for the students during the forethought phase of the guided inquiry. During
the performance phase, student conducted the inquiry. In the self-reflection phase, students
monitored their own work in the inquiry units for alignment to a particular aspect of the
nature of science by utilizing checklists. The use of examples and supporting checklists
demonstrate the iterative cycle of self-regulation while also making the method of teaching
the nature of science explicit and reflective, and may create a learning environment where
students can make more meaning from the content knowledge they gain during the process
of conducting inquiry.
Student performance during scientific inquiry may be optimized by reflecting on and
being self-regulatory about the guidelines of the scientific enterprise. Setting goals based
on an aspect of the nature of science that is prominent in the particular inquiry could help
students form specific ideas about what they need to accomplish in order to think scien-
tifically. Goals that are set to help students conduct investigations in a scientific way are
advantageous for the following three reasons: (1) they provide tangible, specific standards
from which to conduct student work, (2) they can be placed strategically to proximally
emphasize a particular aspect of the nature of science, and (3) they make students aware of
the quality of their work and give particular ways to improve (Zimmerman 2008). Goals
set to achieve growth of nature of science knowledge help students by providing tangible,
specific standards for a very ambiguous subject. Goals to improve nature of science
knowledge can be placed strategically in a lesson, thus providing a timely, explicit prompt
to illustrate the rationale behind developing and verifying the content knowledge. The
nature of science can be difficult to teach because it cannot be taught without context, and
often the science content that is necessary to illustrate the aspect of the nature of science is
often complex (McComas 2008). Placing goals in proximity to the context can maximize
learning of the connection between the scientific guidelines that direct the decisions made
to conduct inquiry inquiry and the scientific content that is constructed from the experi-
ence. Additionally, goals made consciously are more reliably and directly tied to task
performance than unconscious goals (Howard and Bray 1988; Locke and Latham 2002).
Explicit examples of the scientific enterprise gives students conscious goals for their own
work and increase their ability to perform the inquiry. Goal setting includes features
884 E. E. Peters
necessary for effective learning of nature of science knowledge so in turn, student inquiry
can result in improved content knowledge.
Self-monitoring, one of the key sub processes of self-regulation, consists of focusing on
paying close attention to a singular feature of one’s behavior (Schunk 1996). Researchers
have found that self-monitoring can improve students’ academic performance (Malone and
Mastropieri 1992; McCurdy and Shapiro 1992), academic achievement (Sagotsky et al.
1978; Schunk 1983), and problem solving ability (Delclos and Harrington 1991). Self-
monitoring enables the learner to gauge their success in their performance so they can
decide to continue with their current performance for the task or to change strategies. This
reflective practice, using a self-oriented feedback loop during learning, helps students be
more efficient in their learning.
Self-regulated learning has been shown to be effective in other academic domains such as
strategy use (Weinstein and Underwood 1985), intrinsic motivation (Ryan et al. 1984), and
metacognitive engagement (Corno and Mandinach 1983), but has not yet been used in
empirical studies of science education. The purpose of this mixed methods embedded study
(Creswell and Plano Clark 2007) was to determine if both nature of science knowledge and
content knowledge could be increased with an explicit, reflective nature of science inter-
vention utilizing self-regulation over an implicit group. The following research questions
guided the study: (1) Will a group given a self-regulatory intervention that develops nature
of science knowledge explicitly outperform an implicit group on content knowledge tests
and nature of science knowledge tests? (2) What processes in the construction of scientific
knowledge are utilized by the implicit group and the explicit group?
3.1 Research Design
Two-hundred and forty-six (N = 246) eighth grade students from a middle school located
in an urban area of the mid-Atlantic region of the United States participated in the study.
One hundred and twenty-six boys and 120 girls were chosen from 12 intact classes over a
period of 3 years. All classes were taught by the same teacher who was trained in the
delivery of the intervention and who was mindful of the possibility of contamination
between the different strategies employed by the explicit and implicit group. The fidelity of
the teacher to the delivery of the intervention was checked daily through classroom
observations and by daily after school discussions.
The curriculum which was the foundation of the lessons for both groups, explicit and
implicit, in this study was based on scientific inquiry (National Research Council 1996).
Both the implicit group (N = 114) and the explicit group (N = 132) were given four
sequential guided inquiry lessons on electricity and magnetism. The lessons were taught
for 45 min each day over a 6-week period. Each lesson had three main pedagogical
elements: (1) explication of student prior knowledge, (2) hands-on activities promoting the
construction of knowledge about scientific content and processes, and (3) student-gener-
ated summary of the overarching understandings (National Research Council 1996).
Student prior knowledge was generated in each of the four lessons through a think-
pair-share paradigm (Johnson and Johnson 1994). At the beginning of the lesson, students
were given a question that engaged their knowledge about the relevant electricity or
magnetism phenomena and asked to write their thoughts individually for 3 min, discuss
Influences of Goal Setting and Self-Monitoring885
their ideas with a partner for 5 min, and then the teacher conducted a whole class discussion
of their collective ideas.The next portion ofthe lesson,hands-onactivities, were designed to
help students learn more detail about the phenomena by making observations, writing
descriptions of the physical interactions they witnessed, and making attempts to explain the
physical interactions in the activity. Lastly, students were expected to synthesize their new
knowledge from the hands-on activities by describing three or four big ideas they found in
the lesson. In their summary of the overarching understanding, students were also expected
to refer to empirical evidence gathered in the hands-on activities to back up their description
of the big ideas. During the hands-on and synthesis portions of the lesson, students were
expected to work in assigned groups of three or four students.
Although both groups were given identical content knowledge tasks, each group was
given a different way to develop nature of science knowledge. The explicit group was given
a self-regulatory training model that set goals for the students regarding their performance
of a selected aspect of the nature of science and gave students checklists and questions to
self-monitor their progress in aligning their inquiry work to ideas about the nature of science
(Metacognitive Prompting Intervention—Science or MPI-S). The implicit group learned
about the nature of science implicitly through the inquiry activities and was given additional
content questions to account for equal time-on-task. The self-regulatory training model,
based on the work ofZimmerman (2000), wasused in MPI-S to modelscientific thinkingfor
a specific aspect of the nature of science (goal setting) and to teach students to align their
decisions about processes and knowledge in the inquiry activities with the guidelines of the
nature of science on their own (self-monitoring). MPI-S focuses only on the aspects of the
nature of science, and is free of content instruction. For example, the MPI-S prompts for
the empirical aspect of the nature of science have the following four phases in the inter-
vention: (1) example of an empirical observation made by a scientist that includes detailed
descriptions and standard units for implicit purposes and the instruction by the teacher on
the use the checklists to attain an empirical observation that would be accepted in the
scientific community (goal setting), (2) checklist that was used in the example for students
to compare their decisions in the inquiry to the empirical nature of science (self-monitor-
ing), (3) short checklist for students to align their work with the nature of science and a short
list of questions asking about the validity of their empirical evidence (self-monitoring and
evaluation), and (4) a longer list of questions probing students’ rationales in their decisions
about inquiry processes and construction of knowledge based on empirical evidence (self-
monitoring and evaluation). MPI-S was given to the students iteratively, so that they had
further practice in the training. It was anticipated that students would set goals to learn the
strategy of making quality empirical observations based on the modeling and the strategies
given in the checklists. Additionally, the training model encouraged students to make
with observations that would be considered scientific.
3.2 Implicit Group
The implicit group was given four guided inquiry modules that covered the same science
content as the explicit group: characteristics of permanent magnets, characteristics of static
electricity, characteristics of current electricity, and characteristics of electromagnets.
Students in the implicit group were exposed to the nature of science through the design of
the guided inquiry modules. The modules were designed with concept maps that required
each student claim to be supported with evidence. Students were allowed to change a
conclusion in their work after they discussed their results with another group, implicitly
886 E. E. Peters
demonstrating the tentativeness of the nature of science. The modules were written so that
students were interdependent within groups and students needed to be social in order to
conduct scientific inquiry. Students were implicitly exposed to the relationship between
science and technology as they were free to choose the tools they needed to construct
scientific knowledge. Students needed to design their own data tables and forms of col-
lecting data, implicitly demonstrating the need for accurate record keeping in science.
Students were encouraged to work in small groups, to share their groups’ findings with other
groups and the whole class, implying that scientists used peer review in validating data.
Time on task was equal because the implicit group received additional content questions to
account for the time taken by the explicit group to set goals and self-monitor. Students in the
explicit group were expected to conduct the implicit processes above, but they were also
supported with the explicit training module based on aspects of the nature of science.
3.3 Explicit Group
The explicit group was given the same modules as the implicit group, but with the self-
regulatory nature of science prompts (MPI-S) embedded throughout the activity. Students
in the explicit group were asked to set goals and self-reflect on their work during the
science inquiry modules with the help of checklists and questions. A sample list of prompts
from the third module, separated by phase, can be found in Table 1. This training
Table 1 MPI-S for nature of science concept: Accurate record keeping, peer review and replication of
experiments help to validate scientific ideas
Self-regulation training Prompts
Goal setting Other people can agree that your observations, inferences and ideas are accurate if
they can redo your investigation and find similar observations, inferences and
ideas. Scientific knowledge grows when a new idea can be confirmed by the
scientific community. Example: I made a magnet out of an iron nail by rubbing
the magnet in one direction 50 times. When I did this, the nail, which was not
attached to the magnet, picked up 3 paperclips for 1 min. When I rubbed the
same nail 100 times in one direction, the nail, which was not attached to the
magnet, picked up 5 paper clips. I need to perform more trials to confirm the
idea that rubbing a metal object more times makes it more magnetic
Self-monitoring I would be able to understand my data table weeks or months from now
I paid attention to all possible observations
I did not intentionally ignore any observations because they did not support my
My data are organized to show my point of my conclusion
I thought about different ways to organize my data and decided on the one that
best emphasizes my conclusion
Could you understand what you did to get your data weeks or months from now?
Did you ignore any data/observations that happened?
Could you understand what you did to obtain your data weeks or months from
Are your data organized to clearly illustrate your point?
I would be able to understand my data table weeks or months from now
I paid attention to all possible observations
I thought about different ways to organize my data and decided on the one that
best emphasizes my conclusion.
Are your data organized to clearly illustrate your point?
Have you ignored any factors in taking the data?
Are all factors accounted for? Explain
Influences of Goal Setting and Self-Monitoring 887
technique focused on goal setting and self-monitoring of the nature of science. For example
in the first module, the first task the students were expected to complete was to observe the
behavior of 2 bar magnets to determine the points where the attraction was the strongest.
Students in the explicit group were given an example of how a scientist might write their
observations, focusing on a large amount of detail and using standard measurements, which
set the targeted performance which students should work toward. Then, students were
given a different situation to observe and asked to write observations, but were supported
with an extensive checklist to self-monitor their level of detail and clarity for outside
readers. In the new situation, students were given disc-shaped magnets and again asked to
determine the position of the strongest attraction. Next, students were given irregularly
shaped magnets and expected to conduct the same scientific process, given a short checklist
with a few open-ended questions to evaluate their self-monitoring. The open ended
questions helped to explicate student reasoning so the student could examine the student’s
decisions in the inquiry unit for alignment with the nature of science. The purpose of
asking students to observe the behavior of different shaped magnets was to demonstrate the
general idea that all permanent magnets have two poles regardless of shape. Finally,
students were given higher level questions that elicited their reasons for making decisions
in the inquiry module, for example ‘‘Can other people who did not perform this activity
understand your observation? How do you know that?’’ The purpose of the higher level
questions was to help students see that the decisions they were making during the inquiry
should be based on the nature of science, so that their results would be valid. It was
expected that once the students saw that they were operating according to the nature of
science, they would understand the ‘‘rules’’ that govern scientific discovery and continue to
be guided by the nature of science in their decisions during scientific inquiry. The length of
time spent on the nature of science prompts was determined in a prior study and the
implicit group was given content questions to account for equal time spent in the tasks.
The first module, which addressed magnetism, focused on the empirical aspect of the
nature of science because this module focused on finding patterns in qualitative observa-
tions. The second module, which was on static electricity, focused on the differences
between laws and theories because students were expected to differentiate between what
happened and why the phenomena happened. The third module, which was on current
electricity, focused on the need for peer review and data collection, because conclusions
about current electricity were to be made based on small differences in quantitative data.
Because the differences in the patterns were small, it was useful to have groups combine
their results to have a larger data set to verify trends. The fourth module dealt with
electromagnets, and focused on aspects of creativity in scientific thinking because students
needed to synthesize new knowledge from prior modules to make conclusions. The
impacts, and the tentative nature of science were not explicitly included in the intervention
because of time constraints in the classroom. However, because students were involved in
peer discussions that often caused them to change their conclusions, the tentative nature of
science was implicit in the modules.
3.4 Quantitative Measures and Data Sources
Mixed methodology was chosen for this study to explain the student outcomes of the
intervention through quantitative results, as well as explaining the processes the students
used to achieve the outcomes with qualitative results. Quantitative data were gathered from
pre-and post-tests of nature of science knowledge and content knowledge. Qualitative data
888 E. E. Peters
were gathered from student work products, teacher memos, think aloud protocols, and
focus group interviews.
3.4.1 Test of Electricity-Magnetism Knowledge (TEMK)
This test assesses each student’s individual attainment of content goals for magnetism,
static electricity, current electricity, and electromagnetism using 19 short response items.
Each question on the TEMK was open-ended and used visual, logical, and analytical forms
of communication to assess the content goals. The assessment was designed by the
researcher and was evaluated for content and construct validity by a team of national award
winning teachers from the United States who worked in the same content area and with the
same age group of students. A sample item from the TEMK is ‘‘Why are some materials
magnetic while others are not?’’ In order to determine content validity, two questions
designed for the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP (National Center
for Educational Statistics 2007) were included in the 19 items on the content instrument
and were aligned to the grade level and content objectives of the study. The NAEP,
otherwise known as ‘‘The Nation’s Report Card’’ in the United States, is given to a random
sample of students nationally and represents the level of content knowledge for students
across that country (National Center for Educational Statistics 2007). The rating criteria for
the NAEP were identical to the rating criteria for the TEMK content test for this study. An
omitted answer received a 0, a partially correct answer received a 1, an answer that was
essentially correct but had a flaw received a 2, and a completely correct answer received a
3. Raters of this assessment were given a code book that indicated the level of answers for
each score. Interrater reliability was calculated for consensus with a Cohen’s kappa sta-
tistic. Forty percent of the responses randomly chosen were found have a Cohen’s kappa of
.92, which indicates substantial agreement. The Cronbach alpha reliability on the TEMK
scoring was measured at .82, indicating high reliability within the test.
3.4.2 The Views of the Nature of Science- Form B (VNOS –B)
The VNOS-B (Lederman et al. 2002) assessed student understanding of inherent guidelines
used to conduct science and consists of seven open-ended questions corresponding to the
seven identified aspects of the nature of science: (a) scientific knowledge is durable, yet
tentative, (b) empirical evidence is used to support ideas in science, (c) social and historical
factors play a role in the construction of scientific knowledge, (d) laws and theories play a
central role in developing scientific knowledge, yet they have different functions,
(e) accurate record keeping, peer review and replication of experiments help to validate
scientific ideas, (f) science is a creative endeavor, and (g) science and technology are not
the same, but they impact each other (McComas 2005; Lederman 1992). Lederman et al.
(2002) argue that nature of science knowledge is best gathered using qualitative methods,
and because of the divergent nature of the content, should be free-response and should
include an interview component in data collection. Each question on the VNOS-B was
ranked using a 0–3 scale: 0 representing no answer, 1 representing novice knowledge,
2 representing emerging knowledge, and 3 representing proficient knowledge using a
rubric designed from the research literature recommendations. Interrater reliability was
calculated for consensus on 100% of the responses resulting in a Cohen’s kappa of .94,
which indicates a substantial agreement. In addition to the scoring rubric, questions from
the VNOS-B were included in the focus group interviews, as suggested in the literature
(Lederman et al. 2002).
Influences of Goal Setting and Self-Monitoring889
3.5 Qualitative Data Collection Methods
3.5.1 Student Products from Inquiry Units
Student learning outcomes for the inquiry units, given to both the explicit and the implicit
groups, were focused on observable phenomena in electricity and magnetism. For example,
the first module guided students to investigate interactions between permanent magnets
that were oddly shaped. Students were challenged to use empirical evidence to determine
the location of the poles of the magnets, and then to determine the role of domains in
magnetic orientation. The completed student products resulted in written responses to
student prior knowledge, open-ended content questions, explanation of processes to obtain
results, and summarization of findings into enduring understandings and how the evidence
from the activities support their ideas. Two other trained science educators who were not
directly involved with the project coded 80% of the student products using the code-book
developed by the researcher which resulted in a Cohen’s kappa of .92 agreement in coding.
3.5.2 Teacher Memos
Memos are a reflective tool used to in many ways such as helping researchers document
events that are occurring during the research study or recording confusing events for later
analysis (Maxwell 2005). The teacher in this study was given a daily form to record any
critical incidents when students had an ‘‘ah-ha’’ moment or when students talked about the
nature of science. Teacher memos and student products were used to situate the context for
the transcripts of the focus groups and the think aloud groups.
3.5.3 Think Aloud Protocol
Think aloud protocols are used to elicit cognition from students that may not be apparent
without probing. Since eighth grade students have little experience in expressing their
‘‘inner voices’’, an established protocol to encourage three levels of verbal reports were
used, verbalization of covert encodings, explication of thought content, and explanations of
thought processes (Ericsson and Simon 1993). Students were instructed to talk aloud about
what they were thinking throughout the course of one of the lessons, instead of focusing on
the answer to the problem. Randomly selected students from each group, six students per
group for each year of the study, were videotaped while they performed an investigation
from the intervention. The total number of students involved in the think aloud protocols
over 3 years was 36, 20 girls and 16 boys.
3.5.4 Focus Group Interviews
A focus group was chosen as a method of data collection rather than individual interviews
because richer data could be obtained from students building on other student statements
about the lessons. After each of the 3 years the intervention, six members were randomly
chosen from the explicit group and six members were randomly chosen from the implicit
group to participate in focus group interviews, totaling 18 members of the explicit group
(9 girls and 9 boys) and 18 members of the implicit group (8 girls and 10 boys). The
members of the focus groups were different from the members of the think aloud groups. A
semi-structured protocol was chosen because the researcher needed the flexibility to
explore phenomena that emerged. Sample questions from the semi-structured protocol
890 E. E. Peters
were (a) How did you act like a scientist in that lesson? (b) How do you think science class
is different from English, history or math class? (c) How can you think about your
thinking? (d) What does it mean to you to think like a scientist? (e) Are there other ways of
thinking? (f) Do scientists behave differently than other people? Focus group conversations
were audio-taped and transcribed using the software, Transana. Two additional researchers
open-coded transcripts of the think alouds and the focus group interviews for categories,
which were grouped into themes and there was a Cohen’s kappa of .73 agreement among
the themes. The researchers met to discuss the coding and adjust the themes until there was
a Cohen’s kappa of .90 for consensus agreement.
Correlations were conducted to determine the reliability of the pre-tests and post-tests.
Additionally, correlations were performed to determine any interactions between the two
measures, content and nature of science knowledge, in the post-test. Significant correla-
tions between the two measures could provide evidence for a connection between nature of
science knowledge and content knowledge measures. Correlations between the pre-test and
the post-test by group were shown to all have strong positive correlations: pre-post VNOS-B
(explicit), r(132) = .61, p\.001, pre-post VNOS-B (implicit), r (114) = .58, p\.001,
pre-post TEMK (explicit), r(132) = .62, p\.001, and pre-post TEMK (implicit),
r(114) = .66, p\.001. In testing the strength of the relationship between the content
measure and the nature of science measure, a strong positive correlation was found,
r(246) = .71, p\.001.
There were no pre-test differences between the implicit and the explicit groups, nature
of science knowledge t(1,246) = .16, p = .87, and content knowledge t(1,246) = .51,
p = .62 as expected, because the school where the study took place employs policies to
ensure the heterogeneity of the science classes. The science classes are populated so that
there are approximately equal numbers of high, average, and low performing students, as
determined by their science teacher at the end of their seventh grade year. Table 2 presents
the means and standard deviations for pre- and post- tests in content knowledge and in
nature of science knowledge.
When an analysis of variance was performed, significant differences emerged between
the explicit group and the implicit group in both content knowledge F(1, 246) = 6.63,
p\.01 and nature of science knowledge F(1, 246) = 36.5, p\.01. The explicit group
demonstrated a greater gain in content knowledge (M = 2.15) and nature of science
knowledge (M = 1.60) than the implicit group (M = 1.91) and (M = 1.12) respectively.
Table 2 Implicit and explicit means for content knowledge and nature of science knowledge
Pre Post PrePost
Test of electricity and magnetism knowledge .56.36 1.91 .47.60.41 2.15.42
Views of the nature of science version B1.01 .481.12.55 1.04 .321.60 .36
Influences of Goal Setting and Self-Monitoring891
The effect size, calculated by Cohen’s d, for the content measure was d = .5 and for the
nature of science measure was d = .8, demonstrating a large effect size.
An analysis of the VNOS-B items was conducted to determine if there were between
group differences for the four aspects of nature of science taught in this study over the three
aspects not taught in the study. A omnibus test using multiple analysis of variance
(MANOVA) revealed significant differences between the groups on the 4 aspects of the
nature of science that were taught versus the 3 aspects of the nature of science that were not
taught, F (4, 246) = 7.21, p\.001, g2= .53. Specifically, univariate analyses showed
that the explicit group outperformed the group in all four aspects taught in the study:
empirical evidence, F(1, 246) = 40.72, p\.001; laws and theories, F(1, 246) = 2.85,
p = .007; habits of mind of scientists, F(1, 246) = 28.13, p\.001; and creative nature of
science, F(1, 246) = 10.9, p\.001. There were no significant differences between groups
on the aspects not explicitly addressed in the study: social/historical, F(1, 246) = 2.32,
p = .07; or science/technology, F(1, 246) = 1.79, p = .07; The tentative aspects of the
nature of science approached the threshold significance F(1,246) = 3.37, p = .05, which
could have been due to the tentativeness of the construction of knowledge found in inquiry
learning, which was a pedagogy used for the overall lesson given to both groups.
In examining the construction of scientific knowledge in the groups, two themes
emerged regarding the connection of content and nature of science knowledge from the
qualitative data: the development of an extensive knowledge base through reflection of the
scientific enterprise, and respect for evidence in making conclusions. Both groups reported
that they recognized that scientists have extensive knowledge base. However, the explicit
group reported using checklists to help develop more detail in their own observations,
while the implicit group did not report any reflection of their written observations. Evi-
dence, in the form of observations and data, helped the explicit group make decisions on
conclusions, even when there was a conflict in the group. The control group reported that
they relied mainly on the teacher to provide the evidence for valid conclusions.
All of the eighth grade students reported that a characteristic of scientists was their
extensive knowledge base. Members of both explicit and implicit groups made parallel
comments in terms of the large amount of background knowledge scientists must have to
conduct their work. A representative sample of comments from the explicit group follows:
‘‘science is the study of pretty much everything, you have to know a lot of material to be a
scientist,’’ ‘‘You have to be able to know lots of information if you are a rocket scientist—
there is more stuff to know,’’ ‘‘You have to know enough so if your data is wrong—can
recognize when the data is wrong,’’ and ‘‘Scientists are a lot more thorough, more than
everyday life.’’ Statements that characterize the control group are comparable with the
explicit group: ‘‘A scientist thinks about ‘Why does this happen?’ more than a regular
person who doesn’t really care. A scientist would think about conclusions. Scientists are
more serious about the world. Regular people don’t wonder about the world,’’ ‘‘Ask a
scientist if the universe is expanding, and they can talk a lot about it. A non-scientist
wouldn’t be able to talk about it much,’’ and ‘‘Scientists would be able to answer a question
about atomic theory in a split second. If they don’t then they aren’t a scientist.’’ Both
groups agreed that an important factor in thinking scientifically is to have a broad and deep
framework of background knowledge.
Although both groups reported the need for a scientist to have an extensive base of
content knowledge, only members of the explicit group acted on this idea in the inquiry
units. All of the students in the explicit focus group reported that the explicit method of the
checklists helped them to add more detail to their observations: ‘‘A lot of times [before this
series of lessons] we did not look at each other’s results but in this lab you got to write the
892 E. E. Peters
results and check them with other students,’’ ‘‘It helped you learn a lot because it helped
you analyze what you were doing with all of the questions you had to answer,’’ ‘‘At first I
wrote my answer and then I would go back to the checklist to see if my answers were
complete. I would not think to be so descriptive about some things, but the checklists said
to describe what you got,’’ and ‘‘I never thought about writing in science with all of those
things. I think if I did not have the checklists that I would have been more vague.’’ Even
when the checklists focused on other aspects of the nature of science, such as creativity,
members of the explicit group reported that they retained the ability to include detail in
their observations, ‘‘I retained some of it, most of it, I would be as descriptive as I was in
the first module.’’ The explicit group recognized that scientists have a great deal of
background knowledge and emulated this by reflecting on their observations, self-moni-
toring for an appropriate amount of detail, and adding detail when necessary.
Although the implicit group did not have the checklists to help them reflect they were
given additional content questions, which did not influence their ability to add detail to
their observations. Characteristic comments from the implicit group are ‘‘I wrote about the
same amount [of information] for my answers with these labs as I did for the step by step
labs we used to do,’’ ‘‘The labs seemed scientific, but I did not write anymore than I usually
do,’’ and ‘‘I wrote the observations, made the conclusions, but did not go back to change
anything.’’ Although the students in the control group reported that it was important that
scientists had a great deal of background knowledge, they did not adopt that habit of mind
in their own scientific work.
The students in the explicit group reported placing a higher value on empirical evidence
in making conclusions, while the implicit group reported valuing a more didactic approach
when making conclusions. The explicit group reported many cases of checking their
evidence for alignment with their conclusions, ‘‘Also made me realize what I was doing,
before I did not realize it… with checking for conclusions and then connect with the data. I
usually don’t think about that stuff, but the checklists made me do it. Then I realized what I
was doing,’’ ‘‘The first time we did the checklists, I was surprised that I did not know about
this stuff,’’ ‘‘I was doing that but I never thought about why I was doing that,’’ ‘‘I
remember everything that was on the checklist—I did not compare myself with a scientist
before—I did not think about what a scientist would care about,’’ ‘‘I would write it first and
then look at the checklist. If I forgot something then I would like go back and rewrite it,’’
and ‘‘I looked at what my own data said and see if it [the conclusion] made sense to me.’’
The checklists guided the students in examining their observations for correspondence to
In the inquiry modules given to both groups, the last task was to generate three or four
big ideas learned in the hands-on portion and back them up with empirical evidence.
Although both the implicit and explicit groups completed this task, only the explicit group
reported the association of their observations with their conclusions or answers. Addi-
tionally, the explicit group reported using evidence to resolve any conflicting conclusions
among the group members, ‘‘Sometimes our results did not come out the same. Then we
went to other groups to see what they had. We made them do it again to see how they got
it,’’ ‘‘If someone in our group did not agree, we would explain it to them until they
understood it better,’’ and ‘‘We went back and changed our answer when we redid it.’’
Whereas the control group depended on the teacher to resolve conflicting answers in their
group, ‘‘We would wait until the end of the period, then [the teacher]would tell us which
answer was right,’’ ‘‘If we thought something different in the lab, we would let them
answer their way and we would answer our way,’’ ‘‘We would change the answer if we had
something different that what [the teacher] told us,’’ and ‘‘I did not know what the right
Influences of Goal Setting and Self-Monitoring893
answer was in these labs, so I waited until [the teacher] explained it at the end to write
down my answer.’’ The control group did not reference their observations to develop
consensus in the group, but relied on the authoritative answer from the teacher.
5 Limitations and Discussion
A criticism of this study may be the short period of time of this intervention, 6-weeks, as
the literature calls for long-term student engagement with nature of science knowledge
(Akerson and Abd-El-Khalick 2003; Southerland et al. 2003). However, some strong
effects have been demonstrated over this relatively short period of time, perhaps because of
the direct application of learning theory that has been shown effective in other areas.
Additionally this study has been limited by a small minority population.
It is well documented that the nature of science is effectively taught using a reflective,
explicit approach (Akerson et al. 2008; Khishfe and Abd-El-Khalick 2002). Learning
theory is one way to make the nature of science explicit while leveraging on the success of
strategies developed in the field of educational psychology. In this study, nature of science
is made explicit through goal setting ad self-monitoring. Goal setting has shown to be
useful in that it makes the tasks specific, prominent, and meaningful to the students
(Zimmerman 2008). Goal setting and self-monitoring has been shown to be key processes
in self-regulated learning, and can develop a more pronounced student reflection of the
nature of science. Goal setting and self monitoring can also be effective in scaffolding
students who do not have any experience with the scientific enterprise to compare their
own work in inquiry with the ‘‘standards’’ of the nature of science.
The results of this study provide some evidence that nature of science knowledge is
positively correlated with content knowledge. The following explanations for the phe-
nomena of increased content knowledge when exposed to explicit, reflective nature of
science prompts are considered in detail below: attention to detail in conducting inquiry,
ability to recognize and act on the guidelines used by scientists to do work, and the
development of conceptual framework aboutthe natureof science used to organize concepts
in a meaningful way.
Students in both the explicit and implicit groups reported their perception that scientists
are unique in their ability to retain a great deal of detailed knowledge and their ability to
use that detailed knowledge to make new conclusions. However, only the students in the
explicit group reported that they went back to their observations and added details after
they completed the hands-on portion of the lessons. This may be a function of the self-
monitoring aspect of the checklists, rather than directly attributed to nature of science
knowledge. The self monitoring aspect of the intervention caused students to reflect on
their work and evaluate the level of detail. The strategy of comparing the level of detail of
their work to a standard level of detail for scientific work could have helped in generating
more content knowledge. The strategy of returning to your work in inquiry, re-reading it,
and checking it for appropriate detail may have helped students develop more elaborate
networks of concepts and, in turn, learn more content knowledge because of sheer volume
Another possible reason for increased content knowledge due to exposure to the inter-
vention could be the development of respect for the guidelines used by scientists to do work.
The nature of science prompts were designed to cause students to reflect on empirical
evidence they provided to support their conclusions (empirical), examine the differences
between how a phenomena works and why a phenomena works (theory and law), utilize
894 E. E. Peters
peer review to improve the quality of their methods of valid data collection (habits of mind),
and consider multiple perspectives in making conclusions (creative). Both the implicit and
explicit groups needed to use reason to extend their prior knowledge through the use of
hands-on activities, summarizing their ideas for the lesson, and justifying their reasons for
summary statements to the whole class in order to complete the lesson. However, the
explicit group reported they resolved differences in their results by redoing the procedure to
verify their knowledge. The implicit group always sought the answer from the teacher as
described in the qualitative results. The explicit group could have scored higher on the
content knowledge post-tests than the implicit group because they developed a more
elaborate knowledge network than the implicit group who depended on a succinct ‘‘final
answer’’ provided by the teacher. Although both groups were required to perform the same
inquiry tasks (making descriptions and explaining the phemonena), the explicit group
reported using evidence to resolve contradictions in their work, thus gathering more
information to confirm a perspective in the inquiry. This would result in more content
knowledge than if the teacher provided a final answer for the group without making them
think through why they made their choices for conducting the inquiry. An example from this
study can be illustrated in student development of the concept of poles in magnets. In the
implicit setting the group obtained the information by seeking help from the teacher, which
resulted in the endpoint of the knowledge, that the flat sides of the magnets were the poles.
In receiving information in this succinct manner, the extent of student knowledge is the
location of the poles. If students were to redo the activity to find more empirical evidence to
confirm or deny an idea about the location of the poles, they need to observe similarities and
differences in behavior of the two magnets given different positions of the magnets, and
they need to deduce fromcommon behaviorsof magnets(attraction and repulsion)that there
are locations on the magnets where the behavior is stronger and locations where the
behavior is weaker. The amount of detail in the information is greater when students use the
self-monitoring strategies to reflect on their inquiry work.
The nature of science prompts can explicitly describe to students who have little
exposure to the scientific discipline how scientific knowledge is generated and verified.
There are definite aspects of the way information is validated in science, and the prompts
explicitly help students monitor the way they are completing a task with they way a
scientist might complete the same task. Therefore, the prompts offer a concrete method of
organizing information. Students in the explicit group reported that they did not realize that
they were supposed to write all of the detail until they used the prompts. Once students
used the prompts, they were able to understand how to communicate their observations and
explanations and reported continued use of the strategies listed in previous checklists on
their current task. The nature of science knowledge communicated through the self-
monitoring prompts show the rationale behind the construction and verification of scientific
knowledge. This leads to more meaningful organization of information, which is a well-
documented method to enhance student learning (Flavell et al. 2002; Miller 2002). It has
been shown that expert learners possess two qualities that novice learners do not have:
ability to attend to relevant information, and ability to call forward an intricate network of
connections to the concept at hand (Alexander 2003). The explicit and reflective method of
delivery that the nature of science prompts provide show students what is important to
attend to. The prompts explicitly tell students correct strategies for developing observations
and explanations, and help students pay attention to the important information used to
create detailed and connected observations and explanations. Once students can be adept in
identifying relevant important knowledge, then they can proceed to develop more intricate
networks of expert information.
Influences of Goal Setting and Self-Monitoring895
6 Implications and Conclusion
All students in this study reported recognizing that scientists must acquire a great deal
background knowledge to be successful in advancing the scientific body of knowledge.
Students in the explicit group of this study were able to acquire more content knowledge
because the intervention scaffolded their ability to recognize and act on the guidelines of the
scientific enterprise. Once students attained the understanding of why the processes of
science occurred, they were more adept at comprehending and utilizing content knowledge.
Science educators should consider this implication when dealing withthe implementation of
the breadth of curriculum called for in national standards. Increased student knowledge
about the nature of science can facilitate the acquisition of science content knowledge.
Science educators should carefully examine the role of the nature of science in curriculum
design in order to optimize knowledge about the scientific enterprise concurrently with
content knowledge. Nature of science knowledge may be better understood by students if it
were intricately connected with their own investigations as well as teaching it by using
examples from the scientific discipline.
Students in secondary educational settings are rarely exposed to the guidelines of the
scientific enterprise. Explicit, reflective methods of teaching the nature of science are one
way to introduce students to the ways scientists gather information and validate knowl-
edge. Results of this study has provided some evidence that self-regulation can be used to
make the nature of science explicit, resulting in increasing nature of science knowledge as
well as science content knowledge in students using this strategy. Science educators may
be informed by the results of this study to incorporate other effective learning theories that
make nature of science knowledge explicit and utilize reflection or student self-monitoring
of knowledge. Science educators should take advantage of the work done in educational
psychology to identify effective learning strategies, and apply the strategies in the class-
room setting to optimize student learning of nature of science knowledge as well as content
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