Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Curriculum & Instruction

Committee Chair

David Eichinger

Committee Member 1

Selcen Guzey

Committee Member 2

Alberto Rodriguez

Committee Member 3

Anita Roychoudhury

Committee Member 4

David Sears


Achieving widespread scientific literacy has been a longstanding goal of US science standards, requiring that students and teachers possess contemporary nature of science (NOS) conceptions. However, NOS conceptions are repeatedly found to be wide-ranging or ‘naïve’, resulting in regular efforts by science education researchers to hone, or standardize them. While this has improved some aspects of NOS conceptions, others remain relatively unchanged, specifically within prospective, or preservice elementary teacher populations.

One unaffected aspect concerns preservice science teachers’ views of science as socially and culturally embedded, or mutually connected with changes in society and culture. However, understanding this facet of NOS is paramount to engaging with scientific issues. Science is embedded within society and culture everywhere, from what we wear to what we eat and buy, locally and globally. As society and culture change, so does the work that scientists pursue. That is, science affects both culture and society, and vice versa. Given the extent of this embeddedness, not surprisingly students and teachers have been found to understand science in numerous ways.

Thus far, much NOS research has been focused on developing standardized NOS conceptions, assessments, and curricula. While working toward this goal has been useful in helping students and teachers develop baseline understandings of NOS, many ‘naïve’ NOS conceptions have not been explored or presented in detail. Yet, what may be ‘naïve’ when compared with standardized NOS conceptions, might instead represent the diverse ways in which science is understood and practiced in different societies and cultures. The current study aimed to start exploring these trends in more depth, employing survey methodology and a grounded approach to investigate elementary preservice teachers’ views of science as socially and culturally embedded.

The context of the study was a required, introductory biology content course for preservice elementary teachers at a large, research-intensive university in the Midwest, designed to help preservice teachers learn about biology using inquiry-based, collaborative, reflective, metacognitive experiences. Aligned with the theoretical frameworks of sociotransformative constructivism (sTc) and culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP), both representing multicultural education approaches to science education, the current study supplemented this curriculum with regular opportunities for students to engage reflexively (introspectively and critically) with course content and activities. This was accomplished through reframing the current curriculum to be set within the students’ own community, and the addition of monthly critical reflections focused on the course curriculum and weekly discussion prompts focused on various socioscientific issues.

Collectively, these curricular changes provided the preservice teachers with multiple, regular opportunities to express and explore their views of science, as well as their roles as future teachers, civically engaged citizens, and participants in the progression of science. They also represented a practical, but entry-level approach to integrating multicultural science education approaches focused on the course curriculum.

Participants in this study included all the students enrolled in this course during a single academic semester (n = 16 weeks; 146 preservice elementary teachers), the majority of which were Anglo or Caucasian females in their first year of college. Data were gathered via pre- and postsurveys employed at the start and end of the semester, as well as from students’ responses to monthly reflections and other major classroom assignments. Surveys consisted of open-ended and Likert-style questions aimed at establishing preservice teachers’ demographics, science experiences and beliefs, and views of science as socially and culturally embedded.

Data analysis consisted of open coding of these sources, which were triangulated through the reading and re-reading of all data sets focusing on preservice teachers’ conceptions of science as socially and culturally embedded and how these conceptions had changed after immersion in the intervention curriculum.

Results suggested students’ views of science as socially and culturally embedded were more wide-ranging than previously reported in the literature. Furthermore, their views had changed significantly following engagement in long-term inquiry-based activities, and in various aspects of the sTc framework (metacognition, authentic activity, and reflexivity). In contrast with existing NOS literature and assessments, when given more choices beyond describing science as either “Universal” or “Socially and Culturally Embedded”, most participants suggested they viewed science as a “Combination” of these views.

Yet, when compared with the traditional curriculum which already used NOS instructional best practices, it was not entirely clear how impactful the intervention was in changing these views. While preservice teachers’ views of science as socially and culturally embedded had changed significantly throughout the semester, the numbers of students holding each view were similar to pilot data results.

However, findings also showed a wide-ranging increase in students’ positionality and environmental awareness, as well as a smaller-scale increase in accessibility to science as socially and culturally embedded, both which could be traced directly to the current study. Implications of this work are provided for preservice teachers, teacher educators, curriculum developers, and science education researchers, and opportunities for future studies are discussed.